Environmental campaigners in Paris are celebrating after curtailing a £61 million urbanisation scheme to create a huge garden next to the world-famous Eiffel Tower.
The OnE Paris plan would have seen 42 trees cleared to make way for tourist facilities in time for the 2024 Olympics as well as creating cycling routes and extra green spaces.
Parisians however were concerned about how the redevelopment plans would affect the trees near the iconic landmark, some of which are over 100 years old.
‘We reject the felling and endangerment of dozens of healthy trees, in particular the 200-year-old and 100-year-old trees, which really are the city’s green lungs,’ said a petition circulated by four environmental groups.
The original plans, designed by U.S. architect Kathryn Gustafson, had taken into account environmental concerns with traffic reduction initiatives such as pedestrian zones and green spaces incorporated into the project on the Champs de Mars.
This was not enough to appease protestors.
‘They are creating some vegetation, but they are destroying a lot of it at the same time,’ Philippe Khayat of the SOS Paris association, one of the groups behind the petition, told France 24.
Eiffel Tower Hunger Strike
At the heart of the issue was a plane tree planted by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814, whose roots would have been threatened by the proposed plans.
Thomas Brail, founder of the National Group for the Surveillance of Trees (GNSA), climbed the 208 year old tree and launched a hunger strike on June 4th to ensure its protection.
‘It’s too bad we prefer to pay attention to a building – an iron monument that doesn’t provide oxygen and doesn’t decarbonise the planet – rather than this poor plane tree that does such a great job,’ Brail told RFI.
According to Pierre Lamalattie, a member of the Friends of the Champ-de-Mars, Bonaparte had the trees planted across France to shade marching soldiers from the sun, and the threatened tree – one of three ancient trees once spared by Gustave Eiffel in the construction of his most famous work, the Eiffel Tower – is thought to be the last to have survived.
While many trees would have been planted in the area to make up for the loss of older trees, environmentalists had argued that that the age of the trees already in place made them more important.
‘This tree is worth 700 newly planted trees,’ scientific advisor to France Nature Environment Tangui Le Dantec told RFI of the 208-year-old plane tree. ‘And it’s the equivalent of between 130 and 150 adult trees in Paris. By ecosystem services I mean de-polluting the atmosphere, the ground, water and the cooling effect it has. That will become very important over the coming years with global warming.
The petition against the tree clearing had garnered around 140,000 signatures as of June 3.