Thursday 11 September 2014

Paris plants its first forest

In the last few weeks, Paris has opened access to the first forest ever to be planted within the city itself. Covering a narrow strip less than half a kilometre long, and currently home to mere saplings, will it ever feel like a wild woodland?

After visiting the transiant landscape of this creation in progress in 2013, I was curious to see what the final result would be. Final is an impossible word though for a living organism, and the city of Paris itself is quick to point out that this is very much an ongoing project. Indeed, it is expected that at least 15 years of growth will be necessary before this project actually begins to feel like a forest.

Already though it is not without interest. The 'forêt linéaire' covers a strip of land between a metalic wall of new-build offices and the concrete ribbon of the mostly invisible périphérique motorway, providing a necessary green breathing space. The trees are slight and unsteady, but, as we might do for our children, we will be able to slowly measure their growth against colourful posts in the coming months and years.

At one end the forest spills out onto the Canal Saint Denis, a forgotten waterway now being reawakened from its industrial past by out-of-town shopping centres. This is a good spot to enter, offering a more rustic perspective than the mammoth multiplex cinema complex that sits at the other end of the wood.

This may be a theoretical forest, the planting respecting natural growth principles, but currently it is more of a winding footpath leading from nowhere in particular to nowhere in particular. This is not necessarily a bad thing as walking without purpose and destination is an activity that should be encouraged in cities. 

More of a problem are the electric lights that zig-zag above the path. This is a city forest - a 24-hour facility - but it is a shame that urban safety considerations will make this environment a light polluter rather than a haven of darkness and mystery. 

The forest is on two levels, with the higher plateau - bordering the motorway - off-limits to people. These will be the hardiest trees, those feeling the constant whoosh of commuter traffic. Untouched by humans, it is hoped that nature will reclaim this environment, no mater how inhospitable it may seem to be.

Already, some of the more feeble trees haven't survived, the adaptation to this place of noise, dust and particles being too much to take. An orange splash marks these out, condemning them to the axe or the chainsaw. The other trees, stronger in root and branch, will lead the fight back against this environment, providing oxygen and a leafy cushion against the roar of traffic.

The traffic noise though is not necessarilly a distraction. Instead the constant unchanging rumble becomes hypnotic, like the crashing of a waterfall or the rhythmic thumping of waves. The lack of people here on a Saturday afternoon also makes it a place of escape, but it would be nice to be able to make out the humming of a bee or the rustle of a blackbird in the undergrowth. 

With the newly-planted trees being not much taller than me, it is left to dead wood to provide the drama. Chopped-down trees from forest management projects in the bois de Boulogne and bois de Vincennes have been reinstalled here, propped up like soldiers on inspection or thrown together like a giant game of pick-up sticks. The idea again is to mimic a mature forest, where decay encourages communities of insects and those that feed on them.

The end comes quicker than you'd expect and sooner than you'd want. There is little chance of losing yourself midway along this straightforward path, and this lack of menace, of possibility, of being surrounded by something bigger than you, makes the experience a little disappointing, something that will surely always be the case. 

This is not the mythical forest of fear and adventure, but it may be a precursor. Nearly 3,000 trees and 2,000 bushes now fill a space that was previously a post-industrial wasteland, and though it is barely more than a copse, it does offer an alternative urban landscape that could be repeated in numerous other locations.

Where is it?
The 'forêt linéaire' runs parallel to the Boulevard MacDonald in the 19th arrondissement, not too far from the La Villette park. The best way to get there is to take the T3 tramway to the Canal Saint Denis stop, then drop down to the canal footpath. The forest begins around 50 metres to the north. 


Terry said...

Thank you for this follow-up on your 2014 post. You will be surprised how fast this grows up and how wonderful it will be, even though it is a city-bound forest. Nature *will* move in and the species that can adapt to the circumstances will make their homes there. Some Spring day you will be in there and it will suddenly strike you that the little birds are singing their hearts out, looking for mates, even amidst the roar of the traffic and trains. One can wish they had it better, but they are doing all they can with what they have, just like people do. It will be a wonderful place, you just wait and see. Bravo, Paris!

Marc Piel said...

Bravo indeed!
Let us hope it will become a trend!
Marc Piel

Preeti said...

This was really good to read. I've been living in Paris for 2 years and am always looking to escape into nature. Thanks!

Vagabonde said...

Est-ce que c’est la nouvelle “forêt linéaire” du 19e ? Cela fera une belle promenade dans quelques années. Surtout je crois qu’ils ont plantés des arbres résistants à la pollution, c’est bien mieux pour une micro-forêt urbaine.

Adam said...

Oui, c'est bien la 'forêt linéaire' dans le 19eme. C'est certainement une micro-forêt actuellement, mais je pense que nous aurons l'illusion qu'elle est beaucoup plus grande dans quelques années.

obat kista alami said...

nice page and post. please visit back for walking :D

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