Back and forth, hither and yon – whether on my habitual trajectory between Touraine and Paris or further afield… destinations, encounters, events and observations I can’t resist sharing.

A new Paris Rive Gauche

September 5, 2010
Josephine Baker

Rentrée scolaire took place Thursday – one of the loveliest days of the season.  Luckily it’s a short school week, because Paris clearly isn’t ready to bid adieu to sunning and swimming.

The city has 38 public pools, none more inviting than floating Piscine Joséphine Baker, moored at port de la Gare, in the shadow of the BNF (Biliothèque nationale de France) towers.  During my morning run, I check out the sun deck from a footbridge linking the BNF plaza to de Bercy across the Seine.  Friday it was packed by midday, so vacation must still be on for some.  They offer an aqua gym and fitness program, and when cool weather hits, a retractable roof encloses the open air piscine.

The undulating, two story Simone de Beauvoir footbridge is a handsome bit of engineering itself.  The lower level connects opposing quays and is used primarily by cyclists, while strollers favor the upper level.  The parc de Bercy, where I continue my run, was formerly home to a thriving wine wholesale market, established by Louis XIV.  The market’s hey day was the 19th century but it remained vibrant till the 1950s.  Today, it’s really three parks in one but you can run throughout (including the maze) and it’s considerably less crowded than the Luxembourg or Jardin des Plants.

I recommend exploring the BNF/Bercy axis; gateway to a massive urban development project, christened Paris Rive Gauche.  Stretching along the Seine from Gare d’Austerliz to the périphérique ring road, Paris Rive Gauche is the most extensive reconstruction project the city has undertaken since Baron Hausseman’s radical 19th century realignment.  Parisians, like many urban dwellers tend not to venture far beyond their neighborhood other than commuting for work, so friends at the other end of town are astonished when I describe what’s going on.  Living close by, we follow the transformation with sustained awe.

The goal is to create an integrated neighborhood with major corporate tenants, government offices, a university campus to rival the Sorbonne, residential housing, cultural and sporting venues and diversified retail – interspersed with generous pockets of green space.  Several idiosyncratic old industrial buildings were gutted and refitted, including a compressed air factory, now home to the architecture school.  University of Chicago is a tenant of the Diderot University complex.  Paris Rive Gauche is a counterpoint to La Defence, another massive urban development project on the western perimeter of the city.  While touted as a model corporate metropolis, it’s a ghost town after working hours, much like the areas around City Hall and Wall Street used to be in lower Manhattan.

In many ways, the changes taking place in the 13th remind me of the transformation of the downtown waterfront neighborhood on the Westside of Manhattan.  An area where few people wanted to live twenty years ago has become one of the city’s most appealing and correspondingly exclusive neighborhoods.   Could happen here.

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