Famous avenue wants locals back

Millions thrown at Parisian revamp.

The Champs-Elysees, the iconic avenue sweeping through central Paris dotted with cafes and shops, connects the Place de la Concorde in the east with the Arc de Triomphe in the west in a single, breathtakingly straight line.

But one thing seems to be missing amid the throngs of tourists – Parisians themselves. A true Parisian is rare on the Champs-Elysees and, as one local said, that is not really surprising.

“There’s no place for us – no garden, nowhere to sit,” Xavier LeBrun, 35, said as he watched tourists stream past on the almost 2km avenue during his cigarette break.

The Champs-Elysees is “where Parisians cross to get from one place to another, and that’s it”, he said.

A top tourist attraction, locals have gradually abandoned the Champs-Elysees over concerns that it is too noisy, dirty and expensive, with luxury brands replacing smaller, independent shops.

But that could change if a committee, eager to make the ChampsElysees attractive to Parisians again, can make its voice heard.

After five years of work the “Champs-Elysees Committee”, endowed with a budget of €5 million (about R100 million), this week listed 150 proposals including adding green spaces, reducing pollution, and organising cultural events to “revive” the avenue.

The starting point for the committee, an association of business 4 and culture representatives, was the “alarming” realisation that the world-famous street was “no longer loved, no longer likeable, deserted by Parisians, and feared by foreigners”, reads their report. “Everyone was fleeing,” they wrote.

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Engaging Parisians

A giant open-air picnic held on the avenue at the weekend was an example of how the committee plans to address the issue.

“It’s a way of telling Parisians: Come back to the Champs-Elysees,” committee chair Marc-Antoine Jamet said. With stores and historic cinemas closing along the avenue due to rising rents and falling sales, “innovation is an absolute necessity”, he said.

The 1 800-page plan seeks to reverse the decline, while balancing the needs of locals and tourists.

The committee estimates the cost will be €250 million, but Jamet said the additional tax revenue generated by the changes would be enough to finance all or some of the project.

“These are not costs but investments.” A self-proclaimed Paris “superfan” who has visited from Pakistan 22 times, 33-year-old Jawwad Channa said he always visits the Champs-Elysees, this time bringing along four friends looking forward to hitting the stores.

“It’s very crowded, but the shopping is amazing,” said his friend Ali Syed, 32.

TAKE A WALK. People on the Avenue des Champs-elysees. The Avenue is one of the most famous streets in the world for upscale shopping. Pictures: AFP and iStock

Environmental and cultural initiatives

Shopping will remain a mainstay, but central to the committee’s plan is adapting the avenue to global warming and reducing its carbon footprint by a third over 50 years, with plans to reduce traffic by increasing pedestrian space and doubling bike lanes.

The committee also aims to lower the avenue’s average temperature by 10C to 70C, creating a “climate sanctuary” during the city’s increasingly common heatwaves.

Proposals include planting 160 trees, installing seating and fountains, and transforming 20 hectares of unkempt gardens into a “true Parisian park”.

Symphony concerts, a “quality” Christmas market and flower stalls are also part of a push for “year-round” cultural offerings to “revamp the neighbourhood”.

Sunday’s picnic, at which thousands turned out on the “world’s largest tablecloth”, came after an event last year when France’s brainiest bookworms battled it out in a mass spelling test at 1 779 desks set out along the avenue.

With France’s presidential palace and National Assembly nearby, security remains a concern, though the proposal includes plans to increase the police presence and establish a 24-hour “health and safety” watch.

“We are going to discuss this with all partners,” said Paris’ deputy mayor, Emmanuel Gregoire, adding that discussions would first take place with the police.

“The idea is Paris’ mayor could announce a broad outline in the second half of 2024,” he said. Gabin Contentin, 21, said big changes were needed for him and other locals to be lured back. But if all goes well, he predicted, the Champs-Elysees can “once again be the most beautiful avenue in the world”

NOT REAL. A computer-generated image of the Champs-Elysees district transformed by the urban project in Paris.

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