This weekend the eight-lane avenue des Champs-Elysées in the middle of Paris has become a “jardin extraordinaire.” To celebrate International Biodiversity Day, over 150,000 trees and other plants from all over France are replacing the cars for a magical 36 hours. Called Nature Capitale, the event is the brain-child of one man, Gad Weil, who wants to give people the chance simply to enjoy nature in the heart of the city.
Millions of people have visited, in temperatures of 30C. Wandering through the crowds yesterday, I was struck by how little information was provided: yes there were a few signs, and some leaflets for those who asked, but there was no preaching on biodiversity, no attempt to make us feel guilty about the disappearance of species. It seemed a joyous, almost spontaneous, celebration of nature. Most visitors simply spent their time examining the plants; the most common question I heard was “C’est quoi, ça?” – what is that?
Fields of carefully-labelled wheat, vines, pumpkins, tomatoes, lavender, mini-forests of oak and fir, all sit incongruously yet splendidly alongside the traffic lights, the McDonalds sign, the Disney Store.
And by 6pm this evening it will all be gone, and the cars will return.