Photo: Julien Houbrechts under a Creative Commons license.
Common knowledge has it that in the summer months, especially August, the only people you can find in Paris are tourists, as the locals flee the hot, crowded capital for the Cote d'Azur, Brittany or Normandy, or go farther afield. But in the last ten years, a new vacation spot for Parisians has come in vogue. It's got beaches, games, concerts, aquagym classes, and kayaking. So where is it? It's the heart of Paris itself, on the banks of the Seine.
Photo: besopha under a Creative Commons license.
Every summer since 2002, for a month in July and August, stretches of highways along the River Seine have been declared no-car zones. Sand is trucked in, artificial beaches are made, and the locals settle in. Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) dates back to 2002, when newly elected Mayor Bertrand Delanoë saw it as a way to provide an easy-access vacation spot for Parisians (and tourists) who couldn't get out of Paris. Talk about a great staycation.
It started with a single beach on the Seine's Right Bank. In 2006, a second beach was added on the Left Bank, and the next year the number of visitors topped 4 million. In 2007, the project moved beyond just the Seine. Beaches were installed around the Bassin de la Villette in the 18th arrondissement, the largest artificial lake in Paris that is part of the City's canal system.
Now in its 10th edition, Paris Plages is pulling out all the stops. 6,000 tons of sand (ten times what was previously used) are being brought in to create a kilometer long, wider than ever beach on the Voie Georges-Pompidou, running from the Louvre to the Pont d'Arcole. The beaches at the Bassin de la Villette will be back as well. Visitors can enjoy swimming pools, food and ice cream stands, bocce courts, dance lessons, taï-chi, concerts, story-telling, and something called a "photo marathon."
Paris Plages fits into a wider movement to take urban waterfront space away from cars and give it back to pedestrians. And as Paris' project to remake its riverbanks as green spaces moves ahead, building a sand castle in the middle of Pairs just may lose its novelty. And that's a good thing.
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More clever ways cities are giving space back to residents:
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