The High Line’s French Ancestor: La Promenade Plantée
September 23, 2011 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
The model for its contemporary American cousin, The High Line, Paris’s Promenade Plantée, also known as the Coulée Verte (or “Flowing Green”), was the world’s first and only elevated park before its New York relative spawned numerous followers, including Chicago’s Bloomingdale Trail, Philadelphia’s Reading Viaduct, Rotterdam’s Hofplein station, and a recently announced new elevated structure in Mexico City that will link a subway station to Chapultepec Forest, the city’s largest park.
Built on the former train tracks of the Vincennes railway, it was resurrected in 1990 as an extensive urban green belt which runs about 2.8 miles along nearly the entire length of Paris’s 12th arrondissement, from the Bois de Vincennes on one end to the Place de la Bastille on the other, its last hundred yards opening onto the Opéra Bastille.
Rising almost secretly 3o feet above the busy streets below it, the roughly one mile long elevated portion of the Promenade Plantée is supported by the Viaduct des Arts–70 arches of the old crumbling railroad viaduct rescued from scheduled demolition and restored in 1998, now home to a restaurant and café, furniture showrooms, galleries, and the 45 studios of cabinet-makers, sculptors, ceramicists, tapestry-makers, violin and flute makers, restorers of furniture and art objects and interior designers.
I started my journey on the ground-level portion of the park, entering a few blocks off the Place Felix Eboué, where the Avenue Daumesnil intersects the Boulevard de Reuilly. There were no signs confirming I was anywhere near the park. Although I speak fluent French, when I asked several passersby, not a single person could direct me there. I tend to be geographically challenged, yet I managed to wind around several little streets until I saw a small sign beside a stairway alerting me to one of the park’s entrances.
Descending a flight of stairs, I was found myself on the sought-after verdant path which delivered me into an underground tunnel-turned-grotto with waterfalls providing a pleasant sound as I made my way to the other end.
After the Allée Vivaldi, there is a little bonus gift in the form of the Jardin de Reuilly. A tiny detour into this charming park took me off the trail for a moment, but one that was well worth it. There I have scoped out the perfect spot for a future picnic.
There are some incredibly narrow points on the promenade. Just after crossing the footbridge to the elevated portion, above, the park seems to slice through two buildings, letting walkers squeeze in between them. The park was like a living being with many personalities, each part of it offering a different view of the city, along with a variety of scents and flavors.
Joggers ran by, mothers pushed strollers, and lovers walked arm in arm or kissed on park benches as I navigated the linear greenscape past roses and hollyhocks, with the scent of rosemary in the air.
Punctuated with arched grapevine trellises, allées of bamboo, and columns of fragrant roses, ah–there were so many roses!
At some points, I had a voyeuristic bird’s-eye view of some Parisian apartments and terraces and was thinking how fortunate those residences were to live right next to this hidden garden in the sky.
I was hoping I wouldn’t been seen as I peered into neighbor’s windows!
The park’s allées are like entrances to its various sections, each defined by different plantings and hardscaping.
Every turn revealed another jewel: small reflecting pools, architectural details, and even a bit of al fresco Michelangelo: At one point, I looked out to see a building whose facade was adorned with 12 reproductions of Michaelangelo’s “The Dying Slave,” above. The original statues can be found in the Louvre Museum.
Just as I feel after enjoying of a fabulous French meal, when I arrived at the end, marked by the Bastille, I was sated, but planning my return for more. Anyone for a walk?
Photos by Robin Plaskoff Horton.