A few years ago, Voies sur Berges along the Seine river in Paris was one of the busiest two-lane thoroughfares in the city. But on a warm afternoon earlier this summer, a different scene unfolded on what was once the roadway on the city’s Left Bank.
Along the water’s edge, a group of children could be heard singing “Joyeux Anniversaire” out of a large white tepee, while a glimpse into the canvas structure revealed a woman holding a candlelit birthday cake.
The tepees, free to reserve for children’s birthday parties, are just one of the abundant and often playful features of Berges de Seine (Banks of the Seine), a 1.4-mile pedestrian promenade packed with recreational activities, restaurants and bars, and creative patches of blooming flowers, plants and trees. It’s a year-round attraction along the roadway adjacent to the river.
“The idea behind Les Berges was to reappropriate the riverbank and to create a little island of peace, pleasure and leisure in the heart of Paris,” said Annette Poehlmann, general coordinator of the city-funded project which opened last year.
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There is also a grander agenda at work. Reducing car traffic in the city has long been a pet project of Bertrand Delanoë, who was the mayor of Paris until April.
There are echoes of Paris Plages, the popular sand-along-the-Seine event that began in 2002 and occurs for four weeks in late summer. Along Les Berges, couples lounged on beach chairs at the waterside bar and restaurant Flow, with their shoes kicked off and glasses of wine in hand. The Grand Palais, the ornate and huge museum complex and exhibition hall, could be seen just across the water, and to the left, the top half of the Eiffel Tower.
Near the tepees, soccer lessons were afoot, games of backgammon were under way, and an impromptu dance party to a Michael Jackson song had erupted.
Farther along, a 40-member orchestra played compositions from jazz legends Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, part of Les Berges’ jampacked calendar of cultural and sporting events.