The Jardin des Halles, in Paris. Photo: Conny Liegl under a Creative Commons License
In terms of urban design and sustainability, Paris has been a real role model in the last few years. With simultaneous projects to remake its river banks as green spaces, build subsidized housing developments throughout the city, and to redesign a number of neighborhoods, the city is on a roll. Add one more project to the list: the redesign of Les Halles, the combination park, cinema, shopping mall, and transit hub that lies in the heart of Paris.First established at the end of the 12th century by King Philippe II, Les Halles was Paris' central market, but as the City grew, it required frequent enlargements and redesigns, and long proved a trouble for a series of kings, emperors and presidents. In 1971, the marketplace was demolished and replaced with an underground shopping mall, with a park and a central of the RER.
The Park and the Canopy
In February, the City broke ground on its project to give Les Halles a major makeover, starting with the park. The plans include the removal of 340 trees, but it's not a total loss: they will be recycled and eventually replaced by 513 trees. According to the City, it was a necessary evil: the trees had to be removed to allow the project to move ahead.
Another necessary evil: the removal of 50 stray cats, who previously lived in the Jardin des Halles and were cared for by a non-profit organization. The City is looking for news homes for them.
But looking to the future, the new and improved park will include play areas for children of all ages, as well as a pavilion, called La Place René Cassin, which will offer a remarkable view of the Eglise St Eustache, pictured below.
The south facade of the Eglise St Eustache, seen from Les Halles. Photo: Carles Tomás Martí under a Creative Commons License
One completely new feature of the redesigned Les Halles will be the Canopy, a covered area that will still be open to the outside, creating a patio that will connect the park to the shopping area and transit hub. Adjoining the Canopy will be an enlarged library and conservatory, a brand new hip-hop center, and commercial space.
Right in the middle of Paris, Les Halles can be a tricky place to navigate: five metro lines and three RER lines converge at its station, not to mention a huge number of regular and night bus lines that meet above ground. So the new and improved Halles will include numerous pedestrian walkways, both above and underground. Two new entrances will be added to bring the total to eight. And the RER and Metro station will be enlarged, reorganized and better connected to the outside to make it easier and quicker to get from Point A to Point B.
Overall, one has to be impressed with the scope and ambition of this project, especially as Paris has so much else going on. What remains to be seen is how well the City can pull it off, and whether its leaders will succeed where Napoleon and plenty of other France's best have failed. Will the city center finally be organized?
For photos, renderings and details of the project, visit its website.
Follow me on Twitter
More on organizing the city:
The Future of the City: A Review of the RPA's 20th Annual Conference
The New School Tackles Green Urban Design Through Environmental Education in NYC
Mass Transit: Bringing People Together Separately Since 1863