As part of my walking experience on urban linear parks, I decided to take a short midweek trip to Paris’s Promenade Plantee and the Viaduct des Arts.
Having been in full shrubbery bloom since 1988 the former (1859) railway line was redesigned for the purpose of a linear park by Philippe Mathieux and Jacques Vergley. It links Place de la Bastille to Varenne Saint-Maur and runs 4 km through the South East part of the city. As this was an inspiration for the Manhattan High Line it felt only right to conclude my research for the Holbeck Viaduct Project and visit this green walkway. http://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71237/Promenade-plantée
After arriving by Metro I had to gather my bearings on the busy dial of the Place de la Bastille, wind and rain beating down – yes it’s even miserable weather here too. The Promenade did not immediately jump out at me, nor is it plastered on any tourist maps like the High Line is in New York. There are signposts to the Promenade but they’re within two seconds notice, by which time you’re on it anyway. I think Parisians like you to just ‘happen upon it’. Julie my travelling companion stared at me like (you’ve come all this way?)
We find a map board and see it tucked away down Rue De Lyon so change my direction and start walking. You see the Viaduct des Arts first. The beautifully restored brickwork of the arches stand 50 ft above street level and stretch as far as the eye can see down Daumesnil Avenue; a grand busy tree lined boulevard. Underneath every arch is very expensive looking shops, bespoke furniture, cafes, book shops, pottery. It just goes on and on – I can’t really see this happening in Holbeck but it works here. Look above this and you can see the bamboo leaves peeping over the garden above.
Walking above the viaduct you see and hear the city from a different perspective. The charm of the Promenade slowly takes effect. Your eye is guided through the romantic arched trestles adorned with out-of-seasoned climbing plants, disappearing into vanishing point. It is so green you can only imagine what this looks like in Spring or in the height of Summer. There is a fountain feature which reminded a bit of the Monet gardens in Roundhay (Leeds). Then the arches slowly dip into the ground level parkway of Jardin De Reuilly and through Alle Vivaldi for more shops. The plantee then splits to become cycle and path way changing it’s landscape through trenches and high embankments and under tunnels as though it becomes the opposite of itself.
Both viaduct and the walkway are like a living exhibition of French history. It is bold, beautiful and strong, celebrating transport and architecture stylishly winding through the city viewing restaurants a short distance below. When you’re walking along here even in winter it is almost as though you are being seduced to keep going to see what lies beyond.
The Promenade is different from the High Line in many respects. Firstly the High Line is made from steel and is an elevated line approx 30ft whereas the Promenade is a 50ft masonry viaduct. The High Line helped to regenerate an area whereas in Paris this doesn’t seem to be the case. It’s almost as though the viaduct has been revamped and lent itself to an already busy part of Parisian life. The High Line has improved the community making the subsection more safe.
However, I found the High Line landscape design more interesting in it’s features. Such as the Tenth Avenue Square vantage seating area. Or the way strips of modern sandblasted sleepers are interweaved with the original tracks of the railway alongside wild areas of grass. This does the make the two aesthetically different.
Both draw upon their own assets which make them equally original and unique.
So, what does this say for the Holbeck Viaduct? My blue sky thinking has already created a catwalk of ideas… Vintage garages in the substations leading out of the city? Slunglow Theatre Company performing seasonal Promenade pieces? Growing allotments by the community.. Leeds Climbing Wall extending their bungees from Geldard Road.. Leeds football club supporters experiencing a more ‘pleasant’ walk towards Elland Road.. Look North hosting our inaugural opening? Murals from local Schools.. A big slide?