The new Batignolles neighborhood is going up in the north-west of Paris. Well before the rest of the area is ready, the City of Paris has opened up a public park, the Parc Martin Luther King. Although it is in the middle of a construction site and vacant lots, with the buildings that would presumably provide its patrons not even built yet, this park is already vibrant and lively, completely appropriated by the residents of the area.
The Parc Martin Luther King is at the center of the 124 acres (50 hectare) Clichy-Batignolles redevelopment project that began in 2009. Although the first three buildings were completed in 2011, the zone is a giant construction site, with the bulk of the new buildings to be delivered between 2013 and 2017. Given the size of the project, and despite the fact that there is a very nice Second Empire park, the Square des Batignolles, just down the road, a significant urban park was included in the program of this operation.
Francois Grether won the competition to select the coordinating architect for the entire urban development. His partner for the design of the park was Jacqueline Osty, a landscape architect who has been practicing for little more than twenty years and who won the 2005 Landscape Prize for the Parc Saint-Pierre in Amiens.
The first section of the Parc Martin Luther King was opened in 2007, and named the following year to mark the commemoration of 40 years since the assassination of the American civil rights activist. Currently the park covers 11 acres (4.3 hectares). It will gradually be increased to its full size of 25 acres (10 hectares) by 2016.
What makes this park so attractive is the variety of the spaces that make it up and of the activities it can accommodate. Of course many people come simply to walk or to run through the park, to sit on its benches and to lie on its lawns. But there is also a skate park, a basketball court, an area for community gardens, water fountains to play in, places to explore nature…
Several subtle, but important features encourage use of the park. A visitable community garden prompts gardeners to post little signs with information about themselves and what they grow, making it not just about what grows there but about the people who grow it. The position of the skate park beguiles watching, making it a spot for more than just skateboarders. And the successive inclines of one of the lawns invite people to sit and play.
The park is very attentive to ecology, and particularly to water management. A “biotope basin” allows for the decanting and filtering of non-potable water from the Seine that can then be used to water the park. It contains fish and is the home to water striders and other species. Another area provides a wetlands-type environment, rare in Paris, where flora such as Narrowleaf Cattail (Typha Angustifolia) and the yellow Swamp Iris (Iris Pseudoacorus) can thrive, and where a number of ducks soon arrived to make their home. Additional underground storage captures excess rainwater that can be reused in the park. Energy for pumping is provided by a wind turbine.
The Parc Clichy-Batignolles – Martin Luther King is a fine example of a contemporary public park, with high attention placed on usability and appropriation by those who visit it, together with an awareness of ecological issues and a good standard of design. For too long there had been scant worthy additions to the parks and gardens developed under Adolphe Alphand in the Second Empire, but the Delanoë administration seems to be resuming this Parisian tradition.