After Protests, Paris Says It Won’t Fell Trees Near Eiffel Tower

Activist Thomas Brail sits in a 208-year-old plane tree as a protest against a development planned around the Eiffel Tower.
Activist Thomas Brail, right, sits in a 208-year-old plane tree as a protest against a development planned around the Eiffel Tower, on May 31, 2022. THOMAS COEX / AFP via Getty Images

The city of Paris will not move forward with a plan to clear more than 40 trees near the Eiffel Tower. 

The plan to redevelop the tower area in time for the 2024 Olympics would have created tourist facilities near the famous landmark but also reduced traffic and increased green space. However, Parisians were concerned about the fate of trees near the tower, some of them a century or more old. 

“We reject the felling and endangerment of dozens of healthy trees, in particular the 200-year-old and 100-year-old trees, which really are the city’s green lungs,” a petition circulated by four environmental groups read, as France 24 reported. 

The plan to redevelop the area around the tower was known as the OnE Paris project, according to RFI. It would have been designed by U.S. architect Kathryn Gustafson and was championed by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo during her 2020 reelection campaign, according to The Guardian. The plan had several environmentally friendly components, including the creation of more bike paths and pedestrian routes, the planting of more greenery and the banning of private vehicles on the Pont d’Iéna. However, the original version of the plan also would have meant cutting down 42 trees and threatening the root system of a plane tree planted by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814. 

Protecting the plane tree prompted Thomas Brail, who founded the National Group for the Surveillance of Trees (GNSA), to secure himself in its branches and launch a hunger strike. 

“It’s too bad we prefer to pay attention to a building – an iron monument that doesn’t provide oxygen and doesn’t decarbonise the planet – rather than this poor plane tree that does such a great job,” Brail told RFI. “These trees provide shelter for birds, bats, insects… The older the trees are, the more biodiversity they offer. That’s why we have to conserve these old guys.”

The petition against the tree clearing had garnered around 140,000 signatures as of June 3. 

Paris city officials made several concessions to the protestors, first lowering the amount of impacted trees from 42 to 22, according to France 24. They then said that they would look at each tree on a “case by case” basis, according to The Guardian. However, designers said it would be impossible to build three new buildings near the Eiffel Tower, including a ticket office, while keeping construction the necessary six meters (approximately 20 feet) from the trees. Finally, Paris’s deputy mayor in charge of urban planning and architecture Emmanuel Grégoire said the plan would need to be significantly altered to save the trees. 

While the plan did call for more green space, opponents questioned the idea of clearing trees to make room for it.

“They are creating some vegetation, but they are destroying a lot of it at the same time,” Philippe Khayat of the SOS Paris association, one of the groups behind the petition, told France 24. 

Others argued that the age of the trees made them more important. 

“This tree is worth 700 newly planted trees,” scientific advisor to France Nature Environment Tangui Le Dantec told RFI of the 208-year-old plane tree. “And it’s the equivalent of between 130 and 150 adult trees in Paris. By ecosystem services I mean de-polluting the atmosphere, the ground, water and the cooling effect it has. That will become very important over the coming years with global warming.”

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