'Urgent' call to open parks in France’s red zones

Empty chairs in the Tuilerie gardens in Paris
Empty chairs in the Tuilerie gardens in Paris, as an environmental association calls for parks to reopen

French environmental association Respire has protested the government’s decision to keep parks and gardens closed in France’s "red zones", concentrated in Paris and the North East, calling the measure “completely counterproductive” to combatting coronavirus.

Yesterday (Monday, May 25) environmental association Respire announced they had filed an appeal with France’s high administrative court, le Conseil d'État, demanding that parks and gardens be reopened in red zones in France on physical and mental health grounds.

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In a statement published on its website, Olivier Blond, director of Respire, says closing parks and gardens to combat the spread of Covid-19 is counter-productive. He said: “As they don’t have access to public spaces, people mass together on pavements and roadsides. They don’t respect social distancing and expose themselves to increased risk of Covid-19 transmission. The situation is absurd.”

Respire argues that access to parks could be safely given in red zones with regulations in place, such as bans on picnics or staying in one spot for too long.   

 

A question of health and inequality

As well as easing the risk of viral transmissions, parks and gardens should be reopened on numerous health grounds, Respire said. It points to the mental health implications of confinement and air pollution risks to those living in small, unsanitary, housing. 

Without green spaces, their only other option is to spend time outside on polluted roadsides. This means near-constant exposure to poor quality air for those on low-incomes.  

Mr Blond said: “Those who live in cramped housing without access to greenery, those who don’t have the means to spend three months in their second home. There is a scandalous inequality that must be resolved rapidly.” 

Paris is worst affected

The situation is a “medical urgency” in Paris and Ile-de-France, according to Mr Blond.

In the capital, open spaces such as the Champ de Mars, in front of the Eiffel Tower, have been accessible to the public since May 11. The Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes, two large parks on either side of Paris, known as the city’s "green lungs", are also open. 

But the vast majority of parks, gardens and squares remain closed, despite multiple requests to reopen them from the capital’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo.

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