Wide-reaching in scale, Réinventer la Seine concerns Paris, Rouen, Le Havre, and their surroundings. Missika has teamed up with Frédéric Sanchez, president of the Rouen-Normandy metropolis created in 2010, and Edouard Philippe, mayor of Le Havre, to ensure that the river can be improved with a consistent vision. “It’s about innovating our relationship to the Seine”, says Missika, who mentions that the previous mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, had organised the first meeting with his counterparts in Rouen and Le Havre to discuss this idea some years ago. Missika set about finding a common axis relating to the importance of the Seine and to Paris as a seaport. Areas are to be made more enjoyable for pedestrians and cyclists. Tourists will get to experience the Seine on river cruises. Industrial wastelands will become touristic sites for admiring ‘biodiversity’. A total of 41 such sites were identified and, following a call for projects, 174 proposals were sent in by architects, urbanists, event organisers, and landscape architects. A shortlist of 72 projects has been drawn up and juries will vote for the winners in June.
Indeed, the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, wants to make reconquering the banks of the Seine a legacy of her admin- istration. Parts of the right bank were pedestrianised last summer in order to reduce pollution, much to the irritation of motorists. In spirit, this was a continuation of Paris Plage, launched by Delanoë, which sees the areas near City Hall turned into a sandy beach during the summer months. Hidalgo has announced that bathing should be made possible again, reigniting an activity that was popular in the 19th century before being banned in 1923. “Our relationship with the Seine will change radically when you can go bathing in the river”, says Missika. The transformation is about prestige, entertainment, leisure, and urban renewal. A hotel and bar on the water, called OFF Paris Seine, positioned between Charles de Gaulle Bridge and the Austerlitz viaduct, was inaugurated last June. This kind of venue, together with the new co-working spaces and student restaurants that have popped up, have inspired Missika to explore ideas that bring the population to the river.
In Le Havre, Réinventer la Seine is more about reinventing the water by transforming several port and maritime areas. “What we’re wishing for is that everything at the interface between the city and the water becomes more urban and pleasant”, says Philippe.
“We have carried out a lot of urban regeneration and we’ve solicited interesting, innovative, and realistic projects.” There are also plans for a ‘sailing stadium’, aligned with the desire for more sporting facilities. Shipping and industrial areas, the docks, canals, and new development zones, have been identified as sites that could be used for business activities and for waterfront housing. One proposal that has been submitted is for floating habitations. “It remains to be established whether this is economically viable and meaningful in the urban space”, Philippe cautions.
Certainly, the ambition of Réinventer la Seine is for the river to flow more confidently through more scenic routes, and to no longer feel embarrassed about its beauty being tarnished by the ugliness of industry. The question, though, is whether all this will help Paris win its Olympic bid or if tears of disappointment will flood the Seine.