A visit to what will become, in 2014, the city's first forest.
You need a lot of imagination to visualise a forest in this location. It looks more like an oversight or a service road, squeezed between what was until recently a wasteland and the city's périphérique motorway. The wasteland - or friche - has given way to a strip of modern office blocks and a new multi-screen cinema that will open in a couple of months time, but the motorway still announces its presence with a continuous rumble.
'Ici, Paris plante sa première forêt' (here, Paris is planting its first forest) announce signs around the construction site, but currently it is just a large pile of earth being manipulated by mechanical diggers. A lady wanders past with a dog, a sign that people have already adopted this new neighbourhood. Perhaps the dog is already dreaming of the sticks it will be able to find, and the birds it will be able to chase.
The forest will be more of a wooded pathway, 350 metres long and around 30 metres wide. It will be made up of over 3,000 trees - oaks, ash, lime and maple, but also more exotic pines - but these will be planted as young saplings. The first explorers of this forest will feel like giants, strolling through the dwarf wilderness of 1 metre high trees.
The reason for this is twofold; younger trees will be able to adapt more easily to what will remain a hostile environment, and secondly 3,000 saplings are a lot cheaper than the same quantity of mature plants. "Une forêt ne se fait pas en un jour" explained Fabienne Giboudeaux, in charge of Green spaces for the Paris city council, in a recent interview. "Nous préparons aussi la ville de nos enfants et petits-enfants.*"
Walking through this environment today it strikes me that I'm experiencing a somewhat unique perspective on a feature of the city that future generations might look at as being without age. How often do we experience the creation of a forest in an urban setting? We are more used to the opposite situation, the chopping down of trees and digging up of fields to lay down concrete.
That said, the project is also clearly a form of reverse nostalgia, a longing for a future of things that never really were. The city is trying to reclaim a lost virginity, but the forest will also play a more practical role. A sound barrier is being built alongside the motorway, and the trees will provide a cosmetic shield. The boardroom of unsmiling BNP bankers, observing me as I wander around the construction site, must approve.
The rather garish multicoloured offices of the bank, recently transferred out to this city limit from the comforts of the city centre, mark one end of the forest, alongside the unkempt post-industrial Canal de Saint Denis. If this side is a reborn environment, at the opposite extermity of the forest to be, there is the mature landscape of a previous generation's vision for the city.
The trees here will provide a prolongation of the forest, a return to a carefully managed environment. The forest will - artificially - allow nature to be wild, but here we clearly see man's domination of nature. The city limits are though notoriously difficult to control.
Just beyond this garden is a strip of land alongside the motorway that seems to belong to no-one. It is just beyond the Paris city limits, but not yet in the neighbouring town of Aubervilliers. Installed here is a wooden shanty village housing those forced into such unmapped pockets. Although there are trees here this is not a forest but rather an island, an unplanned territory that no-one will remember in the future...or the past.
*A forest isn't made in a day. We're also building the city of our children and grandchildren.