Paris goes green

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The Independent Online

The trees that line the Champs-Elysees normally stand in glorious isolation against a landscape of cobblestones and cars. But this weekend, Parisians who frequent the city's most famous street will find them restored to their natural habitat - as an explosion of greenery takes over the promenade to turn it into a giant garden.

Instead of the cobblestones, there will be grass. Instead of the usual cars and mopeds, there will be wandering cows and sheep. And as well as the clipped horse-chestnut trees on both sides of the road, there will be olive trees, flowers, and vegetables. The two-day metamorphosis will start at 8pm tomorrow, the international day of Biodiversity, when the traffic running towards the Arc de Triomphe will be stopped and 800 young farmers will help to lay some 152,009 plants.

The installation is the idea of street artist Gad Weil, who has worked with landscaper Laurence Médioni to create the event. M Weil told The Independent: "I had the idea for this work of street art in 2007, and more than 1,500 volunteers have helped to bring it to life this weekend. I want to tell the landscapes of France in a poetic form. The street installation is to question and reflect on mankind's relationship with nature and ecology, upon the place of nature in cities and towns. Bringing people together for two days of celebration is a different way to address these questions."

Called Nature Capitale, it has been organised with the help of the Young Farmers Association and Forestry Association of France. There will be over 150 species of plants and animals over a 1km sweep from the rond-point to the Arc de Triomphe, representing 87% of the forestry and agriculture species grown in France, including rare Limousin pigs, goats, miscanthus, mustard and magnolia. Visitors will be able to buy plants, and food from a huge farmers market. On Sunday, Paris's butchers are holding a free barbeque to promote their work.

The installation has cost €4.2m in total, and more than two million people are expected to visit the Champs-Elysees on Sunday and Monday.

The Champs-Elysees has been closed to traffic for M Weil's art installations a total of six times. Twenty years ago, the avenue was transformed into a giant wheat field for the Grande Moisson, or Great Harvest. M Weil said: "This was to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution, where there was such a shortage of bread. On another occasion, in 2003, I rolled a train down the Champs-Elysees, while in 1998 the avenue was closed as 40 aeroplanes were installed along it."

His next project is to turn a road in Istanbul green. "I would be delighted if Boris Johnson approached me to work with British farmers to similarly transform Oxford Street into a green space," he said.

A spokesperson for the mayor's office said: "Paris is proud to offer the 'Nature Capitale' event its most prestigious avenue and, thus, contribute to make the whole world aware of the major challenge of preserving and developing biodiversity."

The Champs-Elysees, meaning Elysian Fields, was an area of vegetable gardens and fields until the 17th Century. Then, in 1628 Marie de Medici created the Cours de la Reine, a tree-lined, mile long promenade along the bank of the Seine river. This was extended over the next century, and by 1724 had become a fashionable promenade of 2.2km, the length it is today.