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Stewards Of The Public: How A Green Thumb Revolution Is Allowing Parisians To Reclaim Their City

by Gelaine Santiago

 

Opening the front page of a newspaper or loading your tweets in the morning can sometimes feel like stepping into a battlefield. If at times you feel hopeless, like the world is just so big and vast you couldn’t possibly make a difference, trust us - you’re not alone.

At Artisella, we get to do AMAZING work. We have the privilege of collaborating with extremely innovative designers working at the forefront of sustainable design and social impact, yet there are days it feels like our impact is so small. So miniscule.

How can one person really make a difference?

The thought crosses our mind every once in a while. And then, like a gift, we hear stories like this one.

paris

Paris’ ‘Green Thumb’ Revolution

Everyone knows of Paris as the symbol of refinement, beauty, and culture. Yet this hasn’t spared the city from its share of challenges.

It’s not uncommon to see piles of detritus gathering at the base of trees in the city, discarded remnants strewn across its old worldly cobblestone streets. And while tourists may wax nostalgic of Paris’ romantic boulevards and corner shops, most will have one or two stories to tell of the city’s homeless who wander the streets.

So what can possibly be done?

The solution may just surprise you.

The Revegetation Law

In 2015, Paris’ mayor Anne Hidalgo passed “Le permis de végétaliser”, new legislation which did something bold - it let Parisians take over public spaces in the city.

In an attempt to ‘re-green’ Paris, this new law allowed members of the public to apply for licenses to take over small plots of public land. With the license, an everyday citizen could become a steward for a specific tree or space, responsible for planting public gardens in the streets, revegetation, and essentially ‘greening’ their part of Paris.

By simply adding more trees and vegetation, the revegetation project could significantly help cool the city down during its blistering hot summers. The detritus piling up at the base of public trees would instead be replaced with public gardens. And the use of indigenous plants and flowers would promote biodiversity, bringing back populations of butterflies, birds, and honeybees in the city.

public planting

The goals of the program are as ambitious as they sound. By 2020, Mayor Anne Hidalgo aims to have 100 hectares of living walls and green roofs, with one third of that greenery dedicated to agriculture. They also aim to create 30 hectares of public gardens and plant 20,000 trees.

The city will provide all the materials such as the soil and seeds, but it’s up to the citizens to provide their time and labour.

And labour it is. In order to successfully obtain a license, residents are required to sign a ‘revegetation charter’ committing them to the following:

  • Use indigenous and bee-friendly plants, including local honey plants
  • No pesticides
  • Water and maintain their plants
  • Contribute to the aesthetic beauty of the city

Anyone who has maintained a garden (or even one or two plants at home!), knows how much work and time are involved.

So, why would anyone agree to do this?

planting greens

The Growing Green Phenomenon

There’s so much to be said about the power of simply reclaiming a space and transforming it into something for all residents.

The summer 2018 Park Life Issue of Monocle Magazine tells the tale of Cyril De Koning, a Parisian who operates a collective of 150 gardeners. They were granted permission to create a public garden in a small space across from Eglise Saint-Ambroise, an area historically known to be dangerous.

Two years later from when the project began, the square has not only been taken over by greenery and gardens. It’s also filled with families and Parisians enjoying leisurely walks and soaking in life in their city. De Koning’s gardeners have even begun working with some of the homeless in the area, teaching them basic gardening skills so they, too, can be part of the change taking place in their community.

And perhaps that’s what is most beautiful about this entire initiative. More important than green space, aesthetic beauty, or even increased safety, this law gives Parisians something more valuable: a sense of purpose. It’s provided an avenue for residents to give back, reclaim their city, and be the change they want to see.

green revolution

Staking Our Plot Of Land

In a world that feels big and vast and sometimes empty in its crowdedness, the green thumb revolution of Paris show us that sometimes there’s beauty in the small and the slow. That although we wish our actions could be big and dramatic and global, there is also something to be said of the small, everyday actions and the little impacts that emanate around us.

Like a gardener tending daily to her tree, watching as her city’s flowers and people blossom around her.

We all can take one small step at a time, one small seed at a time.

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