Once a swamp, the stretch of land was first redeveloped in the 17th Century by André Le Nôtre, gardener to the Sun King, Louis XIV, giving shape to the boulevard we know and love today. Since then the avenue has undergone several more redevelopments, and has been a site associated with celebration of the French spirit. In 1944 for example, Parisians celebrated their liberation from Nazi occupation out on these historic streets. World Cup victories also encourage public displays of nationalistic fervour, as does the annual Bastille Day parade.
However, in recent years, Champs-Élysées has fallen out of favour with Parisians, citing reasons such as pollution, ridiculously expensive cafes and boutiques, and traffic congestion. Among residents of the French capital, it has been criticised as being touristy and even “ringarde”. According to PCA-Stream, tourists make up 72% of daily pedestrians and employees at the various establishments comprise 22%. That leaves ordinary Parisians who make up just 6% of the daily foot traffic. Needless to say, the title of “World’s Most Beautiful Avenue” seems a little hollow when few of the city’s residents actually agree with it.
In order to come up with sustainable solutions to address the issues of pollution and congestion, as well as revitalise Champs-Élysées, architectural firm Philippe Chiambaretta Architecte (PCA) was commissioned to conduct an in-depth analysis and propose plans for its transformation.
PCA-Stream’s proposals to revitalise the boulevard involves tackling problems on several fronts. Renderings from the architecture firm show possible plans to reduce the number of car lanes from four to two, while sidewalks will increase in width. This should reduce the amount of vehicular traffic, thereby helping to bring down the level of carbon emissions. This reduction of road space also extends to the Place de L’Étoile, an intersection linking all streets in north-western Paris. Additionally, bicycle paths will be included to encourage cleaner modes of transportation. Some paving will be cleared to make way for trees, providing shade on sunny days and to absorb rain on gloomier ones.
While most of the works are slated to be completed by 2030, transformations at the Place de la Concorde are expected to be done in time for the 2024 Olympic Games. Here, the plaza will be reshaped by the addition of greenery. The area around the square’s fountain will be surrounded by spacious lawns, under shade of lush trees. On the Place de la Concorde’s southern edge, a major road will be buried under grass and bushes, significantly altering the square’s appearance. The plan here is to link existing gardens, creating a large, clean and green area in the heart of Paris.
Apart from changing the appearance of the Champs-Élysées, the commerce association Comité Champs-Élysées is also looking into the changing up the businesses along the avenue. Current businesses offerings are considered too expensive for average citizens, and are often targeted towards tourists, sapping the heritage from such a historic boulevard and leaving a soulless street in its place. Surveys and consultations with the public showed that Parisians craved “more authentic and more French retail offerings, emphasizing the French art of living, savoir-faire and gastronomy”. While plans to tackle criticisms of Champs-Élysées as a tourist trap are a step in the right direction, it is acknowledged that it could run the risk of creating a caricature of French culture, worsening claims of inauthenticity.
While scenes of traffic twisting along the Champs-Élysées have long been considered a classic sight of Parisian life, the traffic and pollution has taken a toll on the city’s soul. PCA-Stream is aiming to revitalise the “World’s Most Beautiful Avenue”, regaining the favour of Parisians and maintaining its title as a tourist hotspot, by reinfusing it with French Culture and lush green expanses.
All images courtesy of PCA-Stream