Turning disused city train tracks into urban parks are all the rage these days. The grandaddy of them all, the Parisian Promenade Plantee was opened in 1993. Other city railway gardens around the world now include New York City’s The High Line, Sydney’s The Goods Line, and Chicago’s Bloomingdale Trail. Philadelphia has set in plans in motion to create City Trail Rail Park. On the other hand, Paris has yet another disused railway track, the Petite Ceinture, which lies abandoned and unloved. It is a Parisian tale of two city railway gardens creating the best of times and the worst of times (with apologies to Charles Dickens).
The Promenade Plantee
We have walked with the children on the Promenade Plantée (“Planted Promenade”), also known as “La Coulée Verte”, a disused above-ground railway line which has been converted into a beautiful urban garden. The promenade runs along the Rue Daumesnil in the 12th arrondissement.
The Promenade Plantee served as the model for the fabulous High Line elevated garden in downtown New York City which was opened in 2010. Having walked both the High Line and the Promenade Plantee with the children, each park has a totally different feel. The Parisians have made the Promenade Plantee gracious and elegant with lots of plantings, archways etc. The High Line by contrast has a more contemporary garden design and feels more casual.
This Parisian promenade runs for almost 3 miles from the Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes. My children loved it and wanted to keep walking all the way to the end. We turned back half way worried they’d be exhausted and need to be carried back. Next time, we should bring scooters so they can zip along even further.
The views of the tops of the Haussman houses and the boulevards below are lovely. The zinc roofs of the Parisian buildings shimmer in the sun. The Parisians who are lucky enough to overlook the Promenade must have a fabulous view.
There were lots of locals out and about on the Promenade Plantee. Blending effortlessly into the city landscape as if it had always been intend to be a viaduct garden, I could see what attracted the planners of the High Line into creating a New York version. By the way, if you are a fan of Julie Delphy, you may recognise this park from the romantic film, Before Sunset (2004).
The Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture
Contrast this urban oasis with the Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture (“Little Belt Railway”) nearby in the 20th arrondissement. The Petit Ceinture is a railway that loops around central Paris for 17 miles. The precursor to the Parisian Metro, it was abandoned in 1934 when the Metro came into existence and proved to be so much more efficient.
Recently plans have been proposed for things to do with the Petite Ceinture. Plans to sell off bits of the Petite Ceinture (which sits on valuable land) are contentious many consider the railway to be part of the nation’s heritage. I’ve read there are over 200 species of flora and fauna that live along the rail tracks. I would think the Petite Ceinture would be a perfect film location for a post-apocalyptic movie.
One entrance is on Rue Florian right across the Philippe Starck’s budget-friendly design hotel, Mama Shelter. In fact, parts of the railway tracks are visible from the terrace of the hotel restaurant.
I had read about in in a post by Messy Nessy Chic, one of my favourite blogs. Unlike when Nessy went, the day I was there, the gates were open but no welcoming flea market was about. I wandered in and up the makeshift ramp of compost to get to the tracks. I didn’t get very far before I found homeless people bunking down and a group of teens smoking stuff. It seemed sensible to leave since I was alone. Apparently in some parts the views are as good as on the Promenade Plantee.
You could tell some people were trying to grow vegetable patches. Someone had even planted a sedum garden on the bottom of an overtuned car. There is a desolate beauty about the place. Once the area turns trendy (usually not far behind a Starck hotel) the French authorities may finally decide to fix it up.
I wandered back to the former train station entrance, the Gare de Charonne, which is now a cafe and music venue. The grandiose architectural details and soaring ceilings of the station are perfect for a grungy gig venue.
One city, two city gardens both made from disused railroad tracks. They could not be more different from each other. Interestingly, the Promenade and the Petite Ceinture intersect in South-East Paris. Perhaps one day their paths will cross with both of them properly beautified.
Depending on where you want to sightsee, you will want to stay nearby if you are short on time. These two city gardens are in different arondissements – the Promenade Plantee is in the 12th arrondissement and the Petite Ceinture section I saw was in the 20th arrondissement. If you are looking for more traditional green spaces, you will have your pick of the many parks and gardens in Paris.
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