Reclaiming the Paris’s Little Beltway

Text by Aude Raux, Collectif Argos.

The Petite Ceinture rolls out its ribbon of greenery over 23 kilometers around Paris. Put into service in 1852, this railway line ceased to carry passengers in 1934, then goods in 1993. Today, the Petite Ceinture is a corridor rich in exceptional wild biodiversity on the edge of a dense, mineral-rich capital. Aware of this richness, Paris City Hall (which has signed a framework agreement with the SNCF, the site’s owner) launched the first of four participatory worksites on four sections in July. The aim: to ask Parisians their opinion on the future of this green line. The consultation will continue this winter, as well as on five other sections of the Petite Ceinture, with festive events organized by multi-disciplinary groups of urban planners, designers, landscape architects and architects. The site has a lot at stake. Not only is it a biodiversity reserve, a green lung and, in the heat of the summer, a carbon sink and a place to cool off, it’s also part of our railway heritage: some people dream of seeing locomotives running on its tracks once again. Others are speculating on the construction of housing, while still others would like to create playgrounds or sports fields. While we await the outcome of this consultation, many Parisians have already made this public space their own. Vegetable and communal gardens are flourishing. Associations offer guided tours of this heritage and even outings to pick wild edible plants. Some forty people on integration schemes, responsible for its upkeep, make bags of seeds “certified as coming from the Petite Ceinture”. Five sections have been converted into paths. Roma, refugees and marginal people have found shelter in the tunnels (which cover 40% of the track). And, of the 29 stations that once lined the line, 17 are still standing, including several that have been refurbished, such as the Flèche d’Or, the Recyclerie and the Hasard Ludique. With almost 80% of the French population now living in urban areas, and cities occupying 20% of the country (an increase of 19% in ten years), there is a growing need to reconnect with nature in the heart of the city.


Jérômine Derigny photojournalist