|The 'Beaches' of Paris and the Sustainable ‘Staycation’|
|Sunday, 27 May 2012 01:00 | Written by Sion Dayson | Blog Entry|
For the eleventh year in a row, the quais and canals of Paris will play something of a magic trick—a selected few will be transformed for four weeks into beaches starting July 20.
Sure, ‘beach’ (plage in French) may seem a generous term for what they actually are: concrete covered in sand. It’s true that the sounds of the city can never quite be quieted, and you’ll have no luck if you’re looking to swim.
Still, for those of us left in the capital while the rest of the country goes on vacation (or the rest of the world comes here for theirs), the Paris Plages operation represents a welcome respite—a ‘staycation’ with a French twist.
Imagine this: city dwellers get to stretch out on sun recliners along the Seine River or play volleyball in bare feet on the sand. There are makeshift stands selling food by the ‘seaside,’ together with water sports and games for kids of all ages. Add parasols and picnic tables—even a few scattered palm trees—and a fun outdoor getaway is just a short walk or metro ride away.
Bertrand Delanoë—the mayor of Paris—was behind Paris Plages, as well as several of the city’s other inventive programs, many of them environmentally friendly. He brought the extensive Velib’ bike-rental project and a system of non-polluting tramways into being. He banned the use of pesticides in public landscaping and widened bus lanes to encourage public-transport use.
Paris’s plages have some distinct environmental benefits, too. Consider the massive annual exodus from Paris known as ‘summer.’ (Presumably, you’ve heard of the five weeks paid vacation in France. Jealous?) Cars and campers clog the national highways, spewing untold tons of global-warming causing carbon into the atmosphere.
One of Parisians’ favorite pastimes is escaping to the pure air of ‘the country’—and polluting their way there. Any incentive for people to stay put (and stay out of their cars) is a positive. Within Paris, too, many streets surrounding the plages are closed to motorists, cutting down on cars in the city center.
It goes further. According to the city’s website, creating fully sustainable Paris plages was part of the plan. For example, to reach its destinations, the 2000 tons of sand needed for the ambitious project sail down the Seine River (rather than being loaded onto polluting trucks)—and is 100% recycled after its use.
Tarpaulins serving as rain cover will also be recovered and turned into sacs afterward. Sprinklers and other water use are strictly managed and controlled. Greenpeace sets up workshops each weekend for some educational activism under the sun. The Science Museum (La Cité des Sciences) will hold workshops on correctly separating waste—and there’s even an Eco-Library featuring specialized readings and presentations on preserving the planet.
I’m sure it’s not ecologically perfect (just where do those palm trees come from again?), but these efforts are worthy of applause. We should encourage all such ventures in our cities, then push them to go further and consider every last detail.
The raison d’être of Paris Plages is to show support for those who do not have the means or the luxury to leave the city. A ‘summer in solidarity’ is the project’s slogan, and in these lean times, an especially apt one.
Thankfully it is a solidarity that goes beyond the social and extends to the planet as well. For four weeks this summer, a maximum of city inhabitants get their staycation with a minimum of environmental impact—now that’s something to celebrate.
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