Published: October 2006

Paris Parks

Basilique Du Sacre Coeur

Urban Downtime

The City of Light is also a city of green, with a panoply of parks and gardens where Parisians rest and rejuvenate.

By Jennifer Ackerman
Photograph by Amy Toensing

That we should find nature rejuvenating is hardly surprising. After all, our tribe arose not in cinderbelt but in wild forests and grasslands. Our ears are made not for the stinging scream of sirens but for the sly scratch of a predator's paws and the whistle of wind that warns of impending weather. Our eyes evolved to tease apart not the monotonous grays of cityscapes but the subtle gold, olive, and burgundy hues that signaled ripe fruit and tender leaves, and our brains to reward our sensory efforts with feelings of deep pleasure.

Could this be why the citizens of Paris work so hard to reinvent dead urban space and neglected squares of hardscape as places of vibrancy and green? Consider Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the city's crowded 19th arrondissement. Once this patch of land held an old gallows, then a gypsum quarry, then the city dump. Now the big bucolic park of grassy slopes and grottoes is alive with bloom and birdsong and a healthy jumble of people who spill onto its hilly lawns: kickboxers, musicians, university students perusing their notes or memorizing lines for a play, lovers rolling over one another like tumblers, and old men who have settled themselves on the grass to rest.

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