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Paris is turning its iconic street into pedestrian gardens

The Champs-Élysées is getting a major renovation—one that will remove most of the cars.

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In Paris, the Champs-Élysées was originally designed as a place to stroll. But in 2021, around 64,000 cars travel down the eight-lane avenue each day. It’s polluted and noisy, and while the sidewalks are filled with tourists, it isn’t a place where people living nearby want to walk.

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[Photo: ©Salem Mostefaoui/PCA-Stream]
As Paris transforms elsewhere—aiming for a vision of a “15-minute city” where it’s possible to easily get anywhere you need to go for day-to-day errands on foot or by bike—the Champs-Élysées will now also be redesigned, in a $304 million project that will turn the mile-long street into what Mayor Anne Hidalgo calls “an extraordinary garden.”

[Images: ©Salem Mostefaoui (left), PCA-Stream (right)]
The City of Light will host the Olympic Games in 2024, and as part of its bid, the city focused on sustainability and the idea of using itself as an innovation lab. The transformation of the Champs-Élysées can “make it a showcase of what a sustainable, desirable, and inclusive city will look like in 2030,” writes architect Philippe Chiambaretta, founder of PCA-Stream, a firm that spent two and half years working on a detailed proposal showing how the street could be redesigned. The specific design isn’t final, but recently Hidalgo announced that some sort of redesign is guaranteed to take place.

[Image: ©PCA-Stream]
The designers studied the traffic trends in the city—where fewer people are driving as the mayor pushes for other forms of transportation—and realized that it would be possible to cut the number of car lanes in half without making the road more congested. On one end of the avenue, where there are little-used gardens now, cars could be removed completely. New bike lanes can be added, along with permeable surfaces and rain gardens that absorb stormwater. New trees would add shade for pedestrians and help clean the air. (The city also plans to ban non-electric vehicles by 2030, so the cars that are left won’t be polluting.) The Place de la Concorde, a huge public square, can be pedestrianized before the 2024 Olympics; the rest of the redesign will happen by the end of the decade.

The redesign would cut the carbon footprint of the avenue in half while also helping restore small pockets of nature. Chiambaretta writes in a release: “We have upset the balance of the very nature that we intended to control and it is now within the urban fabric, which concentrates 80% of carbon emissions on 2% of the Earth’s surface, that the environmental revolution must take place.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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