Paris is usually the world’s most romantic city—except during this, the hottest stretch of summer, when the sweltering heat forces even the meekest Parisians to behave rudely. To provide some measure of relief, the city temporarily closes sections of the Georges Pompidou Expressway, which runs along the Seine River, as well as other riverfront areas and transforms them into beaches. Known as Paris Plages, the annual event opened on July 20 and runs until August 19. It gets bigger with each year, drawing 4 million visitors in 2006, according to the city’s Department of Culture.

Paris' Pompidou expressway
Photo: © Project for Public Spaces
Each summer, the city of Paris transforms sections of the Seine’s riverbank, including this closed stretch of the Pompidou expressway, and fills them with sand to create temporary beaches.

Roughly 3,000 tons of sand comprise the Paris Plages, which are lined with umbrellas, palm trees, beach chairs, and music venues. Sponsors include the materials supply firm Lafarge, the EDF power company, and the FNAC electronics store. When the event began in 2002, these temporary beaches abutted the Right Bank and stretched nearly two miles from the Louvre to the Pont de Sully, incorporating parts of the existing Seine quays. Last year, additional beaches were added on the Left Bank, along a half-mile-long stretch of land in front of the Port de la Gare and Dominique Perrault’s Bibliotheque Francois Mitterand. That spot includes a floating pool, an arts center, and an outdoor library.

This year’s event sees the Plages expand to the Bassin de La Villette, a large canal in the northeast of the city. The new site, along the cobblestone Promenade Montand-Signoret, will offer canoeing, kayaking, boating, and other sporting activities.

The growth of venues and attendance show how popular Paris Plages has become, begging the question: is it possible elsewhere? The answer: yes. Similar events are offered in more than 20 cities throughout France, and European cities with smaller versions include Brussels, Milan, Berlin, and Budapest.

And what about the United States? Of our biggest cities, Chicago and Los Angeles already have natural beaches. Brooklyn has Coney Island. A spokesperson for New York City’s Department of City Planning, Rachaele Raynoff, says that she is unaware of plans to create a temporary beach in Manhattan—but she doesn’t rule out creating something like it. Citing a new floating pool at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Water Taxi Beach in Queens, and beach volleyball courts in Riverside Park, Raynoff observes “(Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s) administration has been focused on reclaiming the waterfront for public use and enjoyment, and there have been a variety of similar responses.”