Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has given the go-ahead for a €250m makeover scheme to transform the French capital’s most famous avenue, the Champs Elysées, into and ‘extraordinary garden’. Although the ambitious transformation will not happen before the French capital hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics, it is sure to make a huge impact on the city and its residents and visitors.
The iconic Champs-Élysées, French for the Elysian Fields (the mythical Greek paradise), was originally a mixture of swamp and kitchen gardens. The original wide promenade lined with a double row of elm trees either side, named the Grand Cours, was designed by André Le Nôtre, Louis XIV the Sun King’s gardener, and was later renamed the Champs-Élysées in 1709 and extended. By the end of the century it had become a popular place for people to walk and picnic.
Today, however, the grand avenue that once celebrated the 1944 liberation from Nazi occupation is famous for its expensive cafes, luxury shops, high-end car salesrooms, some of the highest commercial rents in the world and the annual Bastille Day military parade.
2. Support for the project
Hidalgo’s announcement giving the go-ahead for the renovations was welcomed by the Champs-Élysées committee, who since 2018 has been campaigning for a major redesign of the avenue and its surroundings. In 2019 committee president, Jean-Noël Reinhardt, stated ‘It’s often called the world’s most beautiful avenue, but those of us who work here every day are not at all sure about that’, adding, ‘The Champs-Élysées has more and more visitors and big-name businesses battle to be on it, but to French people it’s looking worn out.’
The plans for the project were first unveiled in 2019 by local community and business leaders, and detail how the 1.9 km stretch of central Paris will be transformed into ‘an extraordinary garden’. A public consultation was held by the committee on order to decide what changes would be included in the plans.
3. A total makeover
Architect Philippe Chiambaretta, whose firm PCA-Stream designed the plans, stated that pre-Covid research showed that of the estimated 100,000 pedestrians on the avenue every day, 72% are tourists and 22% are workers. An average of 3,000 vehicles an hour use the eight-lane highway, most of which are just passing through, and it is more polluted than the périphérique ring road that surrounds the city. He described it as a place which sums up the problems faced by cities around the world, ‘pollution, the place of the car, tourism and consumerism’, which needs to be redeveloped to become ‘ecological, desirable and inclusive’.
The ambitious plans for the transformation include halving the space for vehicles, creating tunnels of trees to improve air quality, and encouraging more aesthetic use of commercial spaces like terraces. The committee also wants a major change of the surrounding area to make it more pedestrian friendly, up to and including the nearby River Seine, by diverting traffic into a tunnel. The famous Place de la Concord, Paris’s largest place, located at the south-east end of the avenue, will also be redesigned and has been described by city hall as a ‘municipal priority’. This part of the plan is expected to be completed before the Olympic Games, whist the total transformation project for the Champs-Élysées is hoped to be completed by 2030.
According to Hidalgo the project is one of several intended to transform the city both before and after the 2024 Olympic Games, with others including transforming the area around the Eiffel Tower into an ‘extraordinary park at the heart of Paris’.