The city of Paris is torn between two options: restore the heritage of Notre Dame identically or adapt it to the reality of a modern city in the midst of climate change. After the devastating fire in 2019, restoration work on the Gothic cathedral continues, and plans are underway to renovate the square and surrounding gardens.
The winning project, designed by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets, proposes to turn the square into a forest glade with surrounding green areas. Although this €50 million project was approved by the Paris mayor’s office, the state, and the diocese at the end of 2022, an online petition with nearly 50,000 signatures in a month demands an “identical” restoration.
Critics fear Notre Dame will lose its soul if its surroundings are altered. A petition titled “Save the Gardens of Notre Dame!” has drawn attention to Smets’ plan to create a large landscaped square by joining smaller squares east of the cathedral, including one of the oldest in the city. It criticizes the removal of railings and the replacement of flower beds with accessible lawns for picnics and games.
The debate has spread nationally, with associations and prominent personalities calling for a restoration more faithful to the site. The number two in the Paris mayor’s office has defended the need to adapt the city to climate change and cited examples such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Pyramid to justify the adaptation of Notre Dame’s surroundings.
The project has also been criticized for its impact on gardens. Transport Minister Clément Beaune has even called it an “incomprehensible attack.” Media pressure already forced the mayor of Paris to give up another renovation project at the Eiffel Tower last year. As for Notre Dame, it has been assured that no trees will be felled and 150 more will be planted.
The controversy continues as solutions are sought to balance heritage restoration with adaptation to the challenges of climate change and the needs of a modern city.
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