Today I took part in a lovely walk through Paris organized by the association Les Promenades Urbaines.
The theme of the walk was “The Urban Nature of Alphand”, a reference to Adolphe Alphand, the head of the Parks and Promenades Division of the Prefect of the Seine, Georges-Eugène Haussmann, during the Second Empire.
We went down the Avenue Foch (known as the Avenue de l’Impératrice during the Second Empire) and through the Bois de Boulogne. It was a wonderful chance to explore the genesis of a new form of urban nature in the mid-nineteenth century and what remains of it today.
The walk started with Michel Audouy, a landscape architect and professor, discussing how the design of the urban spaces of Second Empire Paris incorporated nature, for example through the systematic inclusion of alignments of trees. We walked down the Avenue Foch and explored this splendid space designed by architect Jacques-Ignace Hittorff and the city park department of Alphand.
Michel Pena, a landscape architect currently in charge of the requalification of a portion of the Bois de Boulogne, took us through the Bois. He passionately spoke about the park and its history, showing the great quality of the Second Empire achievements. He discussed Napoleon III’s personal passion for the design of parks and the tremendous achievements of Aphand’s parks department. He also showed us ways in which the original design has been severely compromised over the years and shared his travails in trying to restore the spatial qualities of the park as initially envisioned.
Les Promenades Urbaines offers urban walks in Paris throughout the year, led by experts and practitioners. They are a great way to learn about the city and its projects in greater depth. Perhaps if there is enough demand, they will do some in English some day. In any case you can visit their web site at www.promenades-urbaines.com and “like” them on Facebook.