Walking La Promenade Plantée: French Ancestor of New York City’s High Line Park

September 23, 2011 by

The view looking down into the park from the entrance above.

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 the city’s largest park, Chapultepec Forest.


Covered passages open onto open expansive and intimate seating areas.

Built on the former train tracks of the Vincennes railway, the city resurrected the park in 1990 to create 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.

Reflecting pools were dry but I could imagine how they looked filled.

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 that were once part of an old crumbling railroad viaduct rescued from scheduled demolition and restored in 1998. It’s now home to a restaurant and café, furniture showrooms, galleries, and 45 studios of cabinet-makers, sculptors, ceramicists, tapestry-makers, violin and flute makers, restorers of furniture and art objects and interior designers.

An outdoor gallery: the trellised wall beside the stone and painted facade was a study in contrasts.

My journey began on the ground-level portion of the park, a few blocks off the Place Felix Eboué where the Avenue Daumesnil intersects the Boulevard de Reuilly. I tend to be geographically challenged and my GPS did not show an entrance, nor were there any 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. After wandering about the neighborhood a bit, I happened upon an inconspicuous stairway where I spotted a small sign marking one of the park’s entrances.

Descending the flight of stairs, I 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. I hadn’t yet reached the elevated protion of the park.

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 pail for a moment, but one that was well worth it. There I scoped out the perfect spot for a future picnic.

The Promenade includes some incredibly narrow passages. Just after crossing the footbridge to the elevated portion, above, the walkway slices through two buildings where walkers literally squeeze in between the structures. Like a living being with many personalities, each part of the offered a different view of the city with all its 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 aroma of rosemary in the air.

The elevated park is punctuated with arched grapevine trellises, allées of bamboo, and columns of fragrant roses, landscape elements marking various design periods. And, ah–there were so many roses!

At some points, I had a voyeuristic bird’s-eye view of some Parisian apartments and terraces. Although their privacy may be at times compromised, how fortunate those residents are to have this hidden garden in the sky right in their backyards.

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 types of hardscaping.

Check out those French derrières!

Every turn revealed another jewel: small reflecting pools, architectural details, and even a bit of al fresco classic sculpture. At one point along the way, I spotted a building facade adorned with 12 reproductions of Michaelangelo’s “The Dying Slave.”  The original statues reside in the permanent collection at the Louvre Museum.

The final stretch delivered me to the edge of The Bastille. I felt just as I do after enjoying of a fabulous French meal– sated, but wanting more. Anyone for a walk?

Photos by Robin Plaskoff Horton.

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