Like most cities, Paris is a city of contrasts. This fact becomes quickly apparent when you compare 2 abandoned rail tracks converted into urban gardens.
We went with the children to the Promenade Plantée (“Planted Promenade”), also known as “La Coulée Verte”, a disused above-ground railway line which has been converted into a beautiful urban garden. The promenade runs along the Rue Daumesnil in the 12th arrondissement. This promenade created in the 1980’s served as the model for the fabulous High Line elevated garden in downtown New York City which was opened in 2010. Chicago now is in the process of planning the Bloomingdale Line a similar elevated garden on a disused railway.
The Parisian Promenade runs for almost 3 miles from the Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes. My children loved it and wanted to keep walking all the way to the end. We turned back 1/2 way worried they’d be exhausted and need to be carried back.
The views of the tops of the Haussman houses and the boulevards below are lovely. The zinc roofs shimmer in the sun. The Parisians who are lucky enough to overlook the Promenade must have a fabulous view.
Lots of Parisians were ambling by or sitting on the park benches. We were on the Promenade in early spring of this year and the flowers were just starting to bloom.
Contrast this urban oasis with the Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture (“Little Belt Railway”) nearby in the 20th arrondissement. The Petit Ceinture is a railway that loops around central Paris for 17 miles. It was abandoned in 1934 when the Metro proved a more efficient method of transportation. Recently plans are afoot to renovate the Petite Ceinture into a mainstream urban oasis because many consider the railway to be part of the nation’s heritage. I’ve read there are over 200 species of flora and fauna that live along the rail tracks.
One entrance is on Rue Florian right across the Philippe Starck’s budget-friendly design hotel, Mama Shelter. In fact, parts of the railway tracks are visible from the terrace of the hotel restaurant.
I had read about in in a post by Messy Nessy Chic, one of my favourite blogs. Unlike when Messy Nessy went, the day I was there, the gates were open but no welcoming flea market was about. I wandered in and up the makeshift ramp of compost to get to the tracks. I didn’t get very far before I found homeless people bunking down and a group of teens smoking stuff. It seemed sensible to leave.
You could tell some people were trying to grow vegetable patches. Someone had even planted a sedum garden on the bottom of an overtuned car. There is a desolate beauty about the place. Once the area turns trendy (usually not far behind a Starck hotel) the French authorities may finally decide to fix it up.
I wandered back to the former train station entrance, the Gare de Charonne, which is now a cafe and music venue. The grandiose architectural details and soaring ceilings of the station are perfect for a grungy gig venue.
One city, two city gardens made from disused railroad tracks. They could not be more different from each other. Interestingly, the Promenade and the Petite Ceinture intersect in South-East Paris. Perhaps one day their paths will cross with both of them properly beautified.
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