HAD PARIS WON its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games today’s Parc Martin Luther King would have been the site of the athlete’s Olympic village.
Built on the site of old warehouses and a former railway yard in the 17th arrondissement, the park was designed by the landscape architect Jacqueline Osty. Four hectares of the park were opened in 2007 and by 2018 it will have been extended to cover ten hectares. The park is part of a wider urban development programme for the area, which includes 3,400 homes, 148,000 m2 of office space, 38,000 m2 of public facilities and 31,000 m2 of commerce, culture and leisure.
Originally named Parc Clichy – Batignolles, the two communes the park bisects, in 2008 it became Parc Clichy – Batignolles – Martin Luther King to mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the American pastor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King (1929-1968).
Parc Martin Luther King before … Image courtesy Atelier Jacqueline Osty
Parc Martin Luther King on completion … Image courtesy Atelier Jacqueline Osty
The park has a connection with railways because not only is it built on a former railway yard but its western edge runs adjacent to the Paris – Le Havre railway line and a section of the former railway line le Petite Ceinture runs across it.
And the rail connection doesn’t stop there. At the southern corner of the park work is under way to build a new Métro station, Pont Cardinet. As part of the Greater Paris Project, the plan to extend the city by absorbing some of the suburbs and redeveloping the city centre, this station is part of the extension to Métro Line 14 and it’s due to open in 2019.
Unlike the Square des Batignolles, a classical 19th century English garden across the street, Parc Martin Luther King has a contemporary design based on the themes of the seasons of the year, water and sport.
With the selection of vegetation providing an ever-changing landscape reflecting the seasons of the year, Jacqueline Osty has created a space suitable for contemplative relaxation, walking or, for the more active, sport and games.
The theme of water is represented by a variety of streams and a biotope basin, a lake with a rich and varied ecosystem supplied by non-potable water and rainwater. Water from the lake can be used to water the park during particularly dry spells. The lake is home to a variety of aquatic plants and of course to ducks.
As well as the long, straight aisles dedicated to walking and jogging, the theme of sport is represented by two playgrounds for children, a basketball court, space to play football and pétanque and an impressive skate park.
Sounds in Parc Martin Luther King:
This sound piece captures two of the themes of the park: water and sport.
I sat at the side of the lake listening to the water, the ducks and children running across the metal grill at the edge of the water simply because it made an entertaining noise. I then moved to the skate park where I found the sounds captivating – even though some of the language was a little ‘off-piste‘ from time to time!
This young man particularly impressed me though because his actions spoke much more than his words. He was doing back somersaults as he sped over the ramp!
One fascinating area of the park is the espace biologique protégé, a protected space left to flourish completely untouched.
With low-maintenance plants and shrubs and rainwater recycling and with the park buildings powered by solar panels and wind turbines, the park has been created with environmental protection very much in mind.
The urban development scheme, including the Parc Martin Luther King, is currently the largest construction project in Paris.
Alongside the western edge of the park the work continues with the skyline littered with cranes and the sounds of building work filling the air. On the eastern side though much of the development work has been completed with apartment blocks of contemporary design.
When all the work is completed and the new Métro station opened, Parc Martin Luther King will undoubtedly become the centrepiece of the neighbourhood.