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Local Matters / Changing Landscape

Sprawling pedestrian gardens could soon surround the Paris Opera


The City of Paris may pedestrianize the area surrounding the Garnier Opera, replacing busy streets and a chaotic crossroads with sprawling gardens.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is considering a proposal to transform the Place de l’Opéra — the square surrounding the Palais Garnier — into a pedestrian zone adorned with greenery and gardens.

Greens (EELV) representative Jonathan Sorel for the 9th arrondissement is behind the initiative which aims to “liberate the Opera” to “return it to Parisians”. So far, elected officials from both the right and left have also unanimously shown support for the measure.

Currently the site of severe traffic congestion, pollution and honking, the project would see the Place de l’Opéra surrounded with greenery, in line with Charles Garnier’s vision, according to Sorel. At the time, royal urban planner Baron Haussmann had vetoed the project.

Alongside gardens at ground level, Sorel wishes to green the roofs and façades of surrounding buildings, in a huge display of creepers, vines and urban shrubbery. The plan would also see surrounding streets and avenues blocked off to traffic and reserved for pedestrians. The boulevards des Italiens and des Capucines would be concerned, as would the diamond formed by the Auber, Halevy, Gluck and Scribe streets. Only buses would be allowed to drive through.

“Everyone agrees that the Place de l’Opéra is extremely inhospitable and even dangerous. It is a chaotic urban jungle resembling an obstacle course for pedestrians and cyclists,” says Sorel. He adds that the square has recently become a giant parking lot for tourist coaches, an “utter waste for the architectural gem” that is the Palais Garnier.

Another supporter of the project, 9th arrondissement mayor Delphine Bürkli had promised similar measures in her election campaign. These involved pedestrianizing part of the square and the nearby Haussmann boulevard and installing a reflecting water basin in front of the Opera steps, acknowledging however that her district was unable to single-handedly cover the costs of such a large operation.

Another issue stems from the hostility of motorists — as well as some storeowners — to the project. With this in mind, the deputy in charge of urban planning, Jean-Louis Missika, has expressed caution toward the plan: “While we won’t reject this proposal, we may suggest a less radical restructuring of the square, as the area may not need such extensive works. It would be complicated to fully pedestrianize adjacent streets as the opera sets need to be transported somehow.”

While it was widely accepted by elected officials, an in-depth study of the proposal still needs to be undertaken to assess its viability and funding. The results of this survey are expected for later this year. Meanwhile, the city has already provided 100,000 euros towards “minor upgrades” to remove the current chaotic roundabout and to “create a small square in front of the Opera steps”.

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