Protesters in Paris celebrate saving more than 40 trees – including one over 200 years old – from being cut down or threatened with damage around the Eiffel Tower as part of a 72 million euro program to create a huge garden.
Paris City Hall has been forced to reverse plans to clear the area around the Champ-de-Mars structure to improve access to the tower and make the traffic-congested area greener in time for the Olympics of Paris in 2024.
After weeks of protests, including a hunger strike, Paris officials initially said they would review the fate of the trees on a “case-by-case” basis. Now they have conceded that the “extreme sensitivity” of tree-cutting persuaded them to abandon the idea altogether.
The redevelopment plan for the area around the Eiffel Tower, the focus of Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s re-election campaign in 2020, was drawn up by American architect Kathryn Gustafson, of the London firm Gustafson Porter and Bowman, who won the appeal. of offers.
This involved banning vehicles except public transport from the nearby Pont d’Iéna, as well as creating footpaths, cycle paths and a series of parks to give the area back to visitors.
However, critics were outraged to discover it also meant cutting down 42 well-established trees and threatening the root system of a magnificent plane tree near the foot of the Eiffel Tower, one of hundreds planted across France in 1814 on the instructions from Napoleon Bonaparte.
For the past week, protester Thomas Brail, founder of the National Tree Watch Group (GNSA), has been attached to the 208-year-old plane on a hunger strike over threats against trees.
Planners and architects have now told officials it would be impossible to install a proposed new ticket office for the Eiffel Tower’s estimated 21 million annual visitors, as well as two buildings containing toilets, souvenir shops and takeaway meals, while respecting the regulatory minimum 6-meter distance from trees.
Emmanuel Grégoire, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of town planning and architecture, said the whole plan should now be completely revised to avoid impacting trees.
Opponents and campaigners said they would go ahead and file a formal opposition to any planning permission this week “as a precaution”.
Pierre Lamalattie, a member of the Amis du Champ-de-Mars, said Bonaparte ordered trees to be planted across France to shelter marching soldiers from the sun, and the oldest threatened would be the last of two rows of trees. planes. trees have survived over the centuries.
“Unfortunately, the only way to know his precise age would be to shoot him,” Lamalattie said.