Environmental activists are fighting subway planes that threaten Parisian forest

Proposals to extend Paris’ Metro line 1 face severe setbacks by a local environmental group, which says the project would destroy part of the capital’s Vincennes forest and permanently destroy biodiversity in the area.

The Touche pas à mon Bois de Vincennes collective (‘Do not touch the Vincennes forest’) says that the project to extend the Paris line 1 metro would result in a “massacre” and an “irreparable” mutilation of the wooded public park on the eastern edge of the Paris.

“When we talk about the trees being cut down, it’s not just the trees. All of these trees are home to protected species,” explains Marie Noelle Bernard, a member of Touch pas à mon bois. “The environmental impact is enormous. Unfortunately, ecocide is not yet recognized in French law. But this will be an ecocide.”

Metro line 1 cuts straight through central Paris and runs from the La Défense business district in the west to the Château de Vincennes in the east. The project would add three new stops to the eastern end of the line, extending the metro to two Paris suburbs: Montreuil and Fontenay-sous-Bois. Île-de-France Mobilités, the transport authority that monitors transport links and the various companies operating in the Île-de-France region, estimates that 95,000 new passengers would pass through the three new stops every day.

For people living in these areas, the extension would be an alternative way to get into central Paris, thereby alleviating congestion on motorways and congestion on lively public transport links. RER A, a commuter train line that also connects central Paris with La Défense and Fontenay-sous-Bois, is the busiest railway line in Europe.

“Irreversible damage”

But despite the benefits, locals are sounding the alarm about the catastrophic effect the plan could have on the environment. A petition launched by Touche pas à mon bois, which has collected over 60,000 signatures, says that “thousands of trees, some of them hundreds of years old, will be cut down” to make way for the € 1.3 billion project.

The plans for the development show that the use of a tunnel boring machine would require deforestation of 20,000 square meters. Touche pas à mon bois says the damage “will be irreversible”, adding: “None of us will ever see the forest as it is today again in our lifetime.”

Île-de-France Mobilités has tried to reassure residents, saying they will compensate for deforestation by replanting a zone three times the area affected by the workplace. It says the entire affected zone will be replanted, leaving only 200 square meters that will not be “greened”.

Bernard mocks these promises. “When their environment is destroyed, animals will never come back. They say they will ‘compensate’ for it. What does that mean? You can not compensate for the destruction of a centuries-old ecosystem.”

Hidalgo under fire

Many members of the collective and others who opposed the project blame Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, even though the initial plans for the project were given the green light in 2013, a year before she was elected. Proposals to extend the line actually came as early as 1934.

Comments on Facebook groups mobilizing against the project criticize Hidalgo, a member of the Socialist Party and who allies with the Green Party, and accuses her of hypocrisy.

“It’s pathetic. She advocates for the environment but does not hesitate to destroy part of the fantastic, historic and classified forest area,” said one, while another accuses her of “causing so much damage” to the city in her role as mayor.

It is a familiar chorus for Hidalgo, who has been the subject of an online campaign with the hashtag #SaccageParis (#ParisTrash), which accuses her of having mismanaged the city and turned the capital into a “rubbish heap”. The online mockery of the mayor does not go away: it intensifies even before the French presidential election in April and becomes a nail in the eye of her political campaign as she tries to portray herself as an environmentally conscious, progressive Green candidate.

Climate change

For Bernard, the destruction of part of the Vincennes forests is as much a matter of climate as a matter of biodiversity. She mentions rising temperatures in the capital and emphasizes that Paris needs its “lungs” – the green areas that help reduce the urban heat island effect in big cities.

“I know there is an election campaign going on. But it is the same people who are going on climate marches for COP26. It does not make sense!”

Touche pas à mon bois is careful to clarify that it is not against an extension of transport connections completely, but instead asks the authorities to consider alternatives, such as extending the tramways or even redirecting money for the project to a conversion of the RER A railway.

The project will be the subject of a public inquiry – starting on 31 January and ending on 2 March – which will allow residents in the affected areas to ask questions, respond to the proposed developments and express their concerns. If there is significant public opposition to the project, the traffic authorities may be forced to withdraw the plans or take them back to the drawing board.

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