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American Society of Landscape Architects


February 2004 Issue

Into the Woods
A bold scheme to reclaim the car-choked Bois de Boulogne as a Parisian promenade.
By Marilyn Clemens, ASLA

Imagine six lanes of traffic severing San Francisco's Golden Gate Park from the Haight-Ashbury, or Manhattan's Sixth Avenue bisecting Central Park. Many nineteenth-century urban parks, designed for horse-drawn carriages, bear such marks of struggle with the automobile. Perhaps none is more cut off from its city than the Bois de Boulogne on the west edge of Paris. Crisscrossed by major traffic arteries linking the city to its southern and western suburbs, scarred by uncovered sections of the Paris beltway, and segmented by fenced concessions that block its historic sightlines, the Bois de Boulogne is far removed from its late-nineteenth-century image as a genteel public promenade and farther still from its medieval history as woods where French royalty hunted.

Degradation of the 2,090-acre park—planned under Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann and his collaborator Jean Charles Adolphe Alphand—is nothing new. Nearly a hundred years ago, Marcel Proust lamented the noise of cars drowning out birdsong. Paris planners, too, have long decried the automobile's invasion of the bois. In 1978, for instance, the Atelier Parisien d'Urbanisme, the city's urban planning agency, urged that the Bois de Boulogne be restored as green space—its original purpose—for the metropolitan area's 10 million people. But funding problems and politics intervened, the study gathered dust, the bois remained unrestored—and prostitutes still solicit customers along its roadways night and day.

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