The Promenades of Paris. Alphand and the Urbanization of Garden Art, 1852-1871
Urban Studies and Planning
This study investigates a formative episode in the history of modern landscape architecture and public space design: the rapid creation of public parks, squares, and tree-lined thoroughfares in Paris between 1852 and 1870, the period of the French Second Empire, to form a series of interconnecting “promenades.” It seeks to identify continuities and innovations with respect to traditions of garden art, urban art, and engineering in France. It asks how a multi-disciplinary team of public servants, led by the engineer Alphand, responded to the simultaneous demands of cultural and utilitarian necessities, and how the public received the new gardens. The research method consists primarily in interpretive analysis of archival and historic texts, design drawings, popular media accounts, art and literature, and physical landscapes. Of particular interest is Alphand’s treatise, Les Promenades de Paris (1867-73), which points back to a lineage of earlier texts, but also forward to an age in which environment and infrastructure are fundamental to the urban landscape. The record shows that Parisians had mixed reactions to the growth of the city and to the new vegetated spaces that would supposedly improve public health via fresh air. The promenades of Paris also show an intriguing ambiguity in defining the public good as collective health and/or collective pleasure. Alphand and his collaborators in the Service des Promenades et Plantations, or parks department—including Barillet-Deschamps, Davioud, Belgrand, Darcel, and André—forged a systematic approach that accommodated practical necessities, difficult sites, and a wide range of scales. Their work was bound by an ethics of purposefulness and respect for the limits of a given situation. Nonetheless they pursued an artistic and decorative agenda, reflecting a desire to ennoble the public sphere. The landscapes that they designed are marked by a frequent divergence between visible and invisible elements, the latter encompassing both buried infrastructures and intangible metaphors. Categories of true and false natures gave way to questions of what urban landscapes do, in relation to their surroundings, and what people do in them.