Paris legalises the public use of grass

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The City of Paris has decided to make grass legal from this spring - walking on it, that is.

In a revolution comparable to the forthcoming abolition of the franc and military service, Paris has decided to copy London and allow its citizens to stroll or sit on the lawns in its 413 public parks and gardens. Until now anyone having the temerity to step off the gravel paths - even to collect a stray football - would set off a chorus of whistle-blowing and a possible fine from the city's fearsome parks police.

Francoise de Panafieu, the deputy mayor in charge of open spaces, announced last week that - after studying the parks in London - she was declaring most of the city's grass open to the public. "The capital city is not a museum," she said. "We wish to return the lawns of Paris to the people." To prevent the grass from being worn out, however, there will be a complicated schedule of rotating openings and closures of stretches of lawn. This suggests that there will be plenty of work left for policemen and whistles.

The declaration applies only to open spaces owned or controlled by the city authorities. It will not cover two of the best-loved Parisian gardens, the Jardins de Luxembourg and the Tuileries, which belong to the government. Other gardens, better known perhaps to Parisians than tourists, such as the Parc Monceau, Buttes-Chaumont and Parc Montsouris, will have an open grass policy. So will the manicured lawns of the Bagatelle and Pre Catalan gardens within the Bois de Boulogne. As in London, deck-chairs will be available to grass loungers at a "modest charge".

Ms de Panafieu told Liberation that she had travelled to London to study park rules before making the change. She said it had to be admitted that British parks were more welcoming and "convivial" than French parks, which were infested with signs saying "Il est interdit de..."

On the other hand, she was astonished to find that the public gardeners of Britain were jealous of the pristine lawns of Paris. "In some of their parks, the grass is completely worn out," she said. Hence the decision to have staggered opening hours. "We don't want to turn the lawns into rough fields."