Just for tourists? Paris aims to draw locals back to Champs-Élysées
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Often called “the world's most beautiful avenue”, the French capital's iconic Champs-Élysées thoroughfare draws millions of visitors each year. But with most Parisians shunning the area, residents have been invited to pitch in on an ambitious “re-enchantment” plan aimed at luring them back.
It’s been the subject of countless songs, films and paintings, and many still think of the 1.9-kilometre-long promenade leading up to the Arc de Triomphe as the ultimate destination for a romantic stroll. Yet, a recent study ordered by the Champs-Élysées committee showed that a mere 5% of the avenue's 100,000 daily visitors are actually Parisians.
“It’s a fact: Parisians no longer frequent the most famous avenue in the world, even though it’s part of the capital’s identity. The promenade has become a polluted and noisy traffic jam,” the committee said in a statement. Acting on behalf of some of the avenue’s biggest businesses and stakeholders – from Louis Vuitton to the Fouquet’s restaurant – it is now calling on Parisians to have a say on how they wish to revitalise, and thereby reclaim, “les Champs” by the year 2030.
The online consultation opened to the public last week, just as Parisian architectural firm PCA-STREAM inaugurated a three-month-long exhibition to showcase its own €1 million plan, commissioned by the committee, on how to make the avenue Parisian again.
In an effort to drastically reduce noise and pollution, the agency plans to halve the number of car lanes, add 1,132 new trees, and pedestrianise adjacent areas, including large parts of the sprawling Place de la Concorde, at the base of the avenue.
The plan was first unveiled last year, but was yet to be given such publicity.
Committee President Jean-Noël Reinhardt said he was “delighted” by the project, and that both the study and PCA-STREAM’s proposal underscored “the inevitable need to re-enchant les Champs”.
‘Like an airport duty-free shop, without the duty-free’
While traffic and pollution is certainly an issue, many Parisians whom FRANCE 24 spoke to said the main reason they shunned the famed avenue were the steep prices encountered in the up-scale neighbourhood. One recounted having to pay €45 for a single cocktail, four times the amount charged in most parts of the city.
Though born and raised near the promenade, thirty-seven-year-old Raphaëlle Lassoued said she hadn’t set foot there in years. “I think it was for a Christmas market,” she said of the last time she ventured to the Champs-Élysées, which she likened to a “tourist trap”.
“With its fancy stores and expensive restaurants it’s not very accessible for ordinary Parisians," she explained. "And at night, it’s a place that can get fairly dangerous because of the risk of getting mugged – because of the rich tourists who go there. It’s a little bit like Hollywood Boulevard in that way.”
Hervé, another native Parisian, agreed, saying he could count the number of times he’d been to the Champs-Élysées for a leisurely stroll "on the fingers of one hand".
“Even though I grew up not far away, I can’t remember my parents ever taking me for a walk there, and I can’t remember the last time I went,” said the 50 year-old, before adding: “It’s like an airport duty-free shop, but without the duty-free.”
‘Not the Paris I know’
Hervé said the few times he feels that the avenue really belongs to Parisians is when locals go there to celebrate national achievements, like the recent FIFA World Cup win, or when it becomes the scene for large protests, such as the ones recently staged by the so-called Yellow Vests.
“They really tried to reclaim it,” he said of the anti-government protesters named after their fluorescent yellow jackets, who stormed the Champs-Élysées in late 2018 amid fierce clashes with riot police. In comparison, Hervé quipped that the proposed "re-enchantment" plan would simply make the avenue “the same thing it is now, but with more flowers”.
Célia Pecchia, 35, said she felt proud that her home city was host to such a famous avenue, but that she much prefered the atmosphere found in the capital’s many narrow streets and alleys. “It’s in those places where I go with my friends, and that’s much more the Paris I know,” she said.
PCA-STREAM’s proposed plan to revamp les Champs would cost an estimated €150 million and would require a cash injection from both private and public investors. It would also need the approval of local authorities, which is why the committee invited all candidates in next month's mayoral elections for a pre-showing of the exhibition in January. The committee’s online consultation will end on May 10, and the results are expected to be made public later that month.
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