What the Foch? Plan to redevelop Paris’s richest road into park, shopping mall and council estate

Spectacular proposal brings race to become city's next mayor to life


A dull mayoral race in Paris has been brought to life by a spectacular proposal to transform the richest avenue in the French capital into a park, shopping mall and council estate.

The front-running Socialist candidate for mayor of Paris and present deputy mayor, Anne Hidalgo, has supported plans to redevelop the enormous but inert Avenue Foch into a green arm stretching from the Bois de Boulogne into the heart of the capital.

If she wins the election in March, the billionaire residents of the avenue – including Russian oligarchs, Middle Eastern royalty and the families of African dictators – may find themselves living alongside much poorer neighbours.

Avenue Foch, 140 metres wide, equivalent to the length of one-and-a-half football pitches, is one of the broadest thoroughfares in the world. If the plans go ahead, the western end, near the Bois de Boulogne, would become a park. The other end, near to the Arc de Triomphe, would become a pedestrian mall surrounded by 550,000 square metres of shops, offices, hotels and council flats.

Residents’ groups have attacked the idea as desecration of a beautiful avenue, which was declared a “historic monument” 60 years ago. The centre-right mayor of the 16th arrondissement has dismissed the project as “outrageous” and – with a word invented by former President Jacques Chirac – “abracadabrantesque”.

The centre-right candidate to become mayor of Paris, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, hopes to make opposition to the plans a vote-winner in the March election.

Avenue Foch is one of the 12 spokes which radiate from the Etoile, the immense roundabout which encircles the Arc de Triomphe. When it was built, in the late 19th century, it was one of the most sought-after addresses for Parisian old money (la haute bourgoisie) and new money (les nouveaux riches).

Over the years its name has changed, with the prevailing political winds, from the Avenue de L’Impératrice, to the Avenue Général-Ulrich, to the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne to the Avenue Foch, after a First World War field marshal. During the Nazi occupation of Paris from 1940-44 it became the address of choice for the Gestapo and other high-ranking Germans, earning the nickname the “Avenue Boche”.

In recent years most of the apartments and mansions on the 1.3km-long avenue have been sold to super-wealthy foreigners. A typical resident – or currently non-resident – is Teodorin Obiang, 43, the son and probable successor of President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea.

It was at his seven-storey, €80m (£66m) mansion at 42 Avenue Foch that French police conducted a two-week raid in 2012. This was part of an investigation into his allegedly ill-gotten wealth, ranging from nine luxury cars to antique furniture and vintage wines.

The man who dreamed up the plan to transform the avenue, a developer called Marc Rozenblat, argues that it has become an intolerable waste of space in one of the densest cities in the world. He describes the Avenue Foch as a “lifeless urban motorway”.

Cars should, he says, be banished to a couple of lanes. The rest would be redeveloped, tastefully, as the “biggest urban promenade in France”, linking the Bois de Boulogne to the Champs Elysées.

This would bring new life to an area which has become notoriously dead, he says. At night many of the mansions and apartments are dark. The gardens on either side of the eight-lane road are seldom used.  Existing buildings would remain, he says. The western end would become a much-needed green space. The eastern end would be redeveloped, at a profit to the city which owns the land, of up to €4bn.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back