Saturday 16 October 2010

The Promenade Bernard Lafay

There are many things that are elegant in Paris, but the Promenade Bernard Lafay is not one of these. ‘Elégante’ though is exactly the adjective chosen by the city of Paris to describe this footpath that runs alongside the péripherique motorway between the Porte des Asnières and the Porte Maillot. Urban and rather grey, it is in fact a pleasingly functional city artery.

Opened in 1990, the promenade stretches over nearly 2km, stitching together a number of small gardens and parks. To one side, the motorway keeps up a steady roar, whilst on the other, contemporary buildings brood over you. In between, the twisting concrete pathway pushes its way around grassy banks and clumps of trees. At intervals, the promenade is interrupted by a busy road, and you need to look carefully across to the other side to see the point from which the path continues.

Benches are sprinkled along the route, often in inexplicable positions, and many seem to have seen little use. At certain points, groups of teenagers gather together to eat their lunch, but mostly this is a pathway that pushes people onwards. Alternative paths spin off towards other places, slipways to and from the traffic of the city, sending people back to work or bringing them home.

The word promenade really doesn't seem to suit this collection of disparate segments, despite the winding pink path that links them together. Nobody seems to stroll from one end to the other, and yet this is a city vein that is full of life. Joggers whisk by, heading towards the running track of an adjacent stadium. Small children cry out and pull their parents towards an empty play area. There is never silence. The thwack of tennis rackets connecting with balls, the indecipherable, permenant din of a school playground, the rumble of a building site, and always, always the hum of the motorway.

Trees and flowers line the promenade, but there is nothing bucolic about it. There is no escape from the city here, instead it is quite clearly a thread in the city's fabric. Professionally pragmatic as a doctor and politician as well as a President of the conseil de Paris, Bernard Lafay would surely appreciate being linked to this functional thoroughfare.

The promenade keeps the hours of a park, so at 6.30pm in Autumn and Winter, the gates are shut. For this reason, despite certain shady corners and grafittied tunnels, it never has the chance to become a threatening environment. Instead the promenade is residential, an extension of the buildings and roads that surround it. It feels adopted, integrated into the daily routines of the neighbourhood. It is not pretty, not elegant, but it is well worn like a favourite pair of comfortable shoes. For a promenade, that's certainly not a bad thing!


Cergie said...

Hier je suis retournée à Eragny qui fait partie de la même agglomération de ville nouvelle que Cergy. Et j'ai fait comme toi, je me suis promenée. J'ai habité là il y a 22 ans, cette véritable ville nouvelle d'une époque où les circulations voitures et piétons étaient bien séparées. C'était une grande émotion pour moi et en même temps agréable de me promener dans cette ville comme un parc ouvert à toute heure de la journée.

Sab said...

Great that there are still secrets of this crazy city unknown to me. I'll head over there some day. My current realm is the south, which also has its fair share of surprises.

Shane said...

Like the sound of this. Going to give it a try this week.

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