A City's Sacred Heart Loses Its Stones

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Ric Ergenbright / Corbis

Montmartre, Paris, France.

Auguste Renoir painted them, Edith Piaf saAuguste Renoir painted them, Edith Piaf sang about them and, most recently, Amélie did her shopping on them. But icon of Paris though the centuries-old cobblestones of Montmartre may be, they are being removed as part of a council project aimed at turn this historic quarter of Paris into the city's largest "Green Village." To make way for wider sidewalks, cycle lanes and new scooter parks, diggers have torn up chunks of some of Montmartre's most famous thoroughfares, unsentimentally replacing them with uniform layers of tarmac.

"The Green Village is an essential project that will reduce pollution and make Montmartre more family-friendly," says Sylvain Garel, a local deputy of the Green Party and president of the Montmartre Council, which is overseeing the roadworks. "There's no question that this will benefit everyone in the area." Residents of the bustling Rue Lepic, with its recently de-cobbled square, aren't so convinced.

"This project will rip the soul out of Montmartre," says Michel Langlois, a butcher and third-generation Montmartrois who has organized a petition against the Green Village project. "This is another attempt by City Hall to make Paris into one, uniform city. We won't have it."

As well as undergoing a green facelift, Montmartre's streets have been fully pedestrianized on Sundays as part of the "Paris Breathes" scheme; a City Hall initiative that has banned cars from some 13 parts of the city at weekends.

But many residents of these neighborhoods question the motives behind such ventures. "These projects are entirely for the bobos," says Michel Langlois, the Montmartre butcher, referring to bourgeois-bohemians — a distinctive breed of middle-class Parisians who, in recent years, have moved to traditionally poorer areas of the city to take advantage of cheaper property. Besides Montmartre, favorite "bobo" haunts include the 10th Arrondissement where designer strollers navigate deftly around the tents that shelter the homeless along the St. Denis Canal. "Yes, people can roller-blade more easily now but there's little regard for the impact of these projects on local lives and businesses," adds Langlois. "It's areas like Montmartre that make Paris so diverse. We can't destroy our heritage just to make Paris into one giant leisure park."

Residents of la butte (the hill) are fiercely proud of their village perched atop the city's highest peak. Even to the streams of tourists that climb its winding streets towards the Sacré Coeur basilica, Montmartre's unique atmosphere is immediately apparent. Locals greet each other with the casual familiarity of a provincial town rather than a heaving metropolis. "I never write that I live in Paris when I'm signing a cheque, always Montmartre," says gallery owner Joseph Siracusa. "It's two different places entirely."

Annexed by Paris in 1860 and located in today's 18th Arrondissement, Montmartre became a base for economic migrants from the French countryside during the mid-19th century as well as a refuge for poor Parisians forced to the periphery. Its cheap lodgings also attracted plenty of writers and artists such as Renoir, Van Gogh and Picasso, and the easels scattered around Place des Tertre serve as a reminder that art still plays an important part in the life of "the hill."

The greening project has altered 40 streets, squares and boulevards, and 709 parking spaces have been removed. Despite the increased space, residents accuse the council, and the Green Party that heads it, of poor planning. Extended sidewalks eaten up by cafe tables and empty cycle lanes that meander up one of Paris's most arduous climbs are a waste of public funds, they argue.

"We were never consulted about this", says Dorothee Dabrou, President of the Montmartre Artists's Collective and a local resident of 30 years. "Montmartre used to have the best air in Paris but now, since no one can park their car, the streets are clogged with traffic and pollution has increased. Who would have thought that the Greens could destroy the environment?"

The organizers of the Green Village deny they are sacrificing local color for the sake of municipal homogeneity. "It's impossible to please everyone", says Sylvain Garel, who claims residents' opposition has more to do with political rivalry than concerns about local heritage. "Besides, there'll always be people who refuse to move with the times."

For some enterprising locals, however, the change is a business opportunity: The Roussard Gallery sells authentic Montmartre cobbles decorated with Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec prints for up to 130 euros ($178) a piece, and gallery owner Denis Roussard says they're selling like hot cakes. "The area is changing fast," says Roussard, "so people want to buy a memento of the old Montmartre before it disappears entirely." ng about them and, most recently, Amélie did her shopping on them. But icon of Paris though the centuries-old cobblestones of Montmartre may be, they are being removed as part of a council project aimed at turn this historic quarter of Paris into the city's largest "Green Village." To make way for wider sidewalks, cycle lanes and new scooter parks, diggers have torn up chunks of some of Montmartre's most famous thoroughfares, unsentimentally replacing them with uniform layers of tarmac.

"The Green Village is an essential project that will reduce pollution and make Montmartre more family-friendly," says Sylvain Garel, a local deputy of the Green Party and president of the Montmartre Council, which is overseeing the project. "There's no question that this project will benefit everyone in the area." Residents of the bustling Rue Lepic, with its recently de-cobbled square, aren't so convinced.

"This project will rip the soul out of Montmartre," says Michel Langlois, a butcher and third-generation Montmartrois who has organized a petition against the Green Village project. "This is another attempt by City Hall to make Paris into one, uniform city. We won't have it."

As well as undergoing a green facelift, Montmartre's streets have been fully pedestrianized on Sundays as part of the "Paris Breathes" project; a City Hall initiative that has banned cars from some 13 parts of the city at weekends.

But many residents of these neighborhoods question the motives behind such ventures. "These projects are entirely for the bobos," says Michel Langlois, the Montmartre butcher, referring to bourgeois-bohemians — a distinctive breed of middle-class Parisians who, in recent years, have moved to traditionally poorer areas of the city to take advantage of cheaper property. Besides Montmartre, favorite "bobo" haunts include the 10th Arrondissement where designer strollers navigate deftly around the tents that shelter the homeless along the St. Denis Canal. "Yes, people can roller-blade more easily now but there's little regard for the impact of these projects on local lives and businesses," adds Langlois. "It's areas like Montmartre that make Paris so diverse. We can't destroy our heritage just to make Paris into one giant leisure park."

Residents of la butte (the hill) are fiercely proud of their village perched atop the city's highest peak. Even to the streams of tourists that climb its winding streets towards the Sacré Coeur basilica, Montmartre's unique atmosphere is immediately apparent. Locals greet each other with the casual familiarity of a provincial town rather than a heaving metropolis. "I never write that I live in Paris when I'm signing a cheque, always Montmartre," says gallery owner Joseph Siracusa. "It's two different places entirely."

Annexed by Paris in 1860 and located in today's 18th Arrondissement, Montmartre became a base for economic migrants from the French countryside during the mid-19th century as well as a refuge for poor Parisians forced to the periphery. Its cheap lodgings also attracted plenty of writers and artists such as Renoir, Van Gogh and Picasso, and the easels scattered around Place des Tertres serve as a reminder that art still plays an important part in the life of "the hill."

The greening project has altered 40 streets, squares and boulevards, and 709 parking spaces have been removed. Despite the increased space, residents accuse the council, and the Green Party that heads it, of poor planning. Extended sidewalks eaten up by cafe tables and empty cycle lanes that meander up one of Paris's most arduous climbs are a waste of public funds, they argue.

"We were never consulted about this", says Dorothee Dabrou, President of the Montmartre Artists's Collective and a local resident of 30 years. "Montmartre used to have the best air in Paris but now, since no one can park their car, the streets are clogged with traffic and pollution has increased. Who would have thought that the Greens could destroy the environment?"

The organizers of the Green Village deny they are sacrificing local color for the sake of municipal homogeneity. "It's impossible to please everyone", says Sylvain Garel, who claims residents' opposition has more to do with political rivalry than concerns about local heritage. "Besides, there'll always be people who refuse to move with the times."

For some enterprising locals, however, the change is a business opportunity: The Roussard Gallery sells authentic Montmartre cobbles decorated with Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec prints for up to 130 euros ($178) a piece, and gallery owner Denis Roussard says they're selling like hot cakes. "The area is changing fast," says Roussard, "so people want to buy a memento of the old Montmartre before it disappears entirely."