DESIGNING PATHS AS A PROMENADE

The promenade within the urban landscape. From the Promenade Plantee in Paris to the High Line in New York.

“Promenade” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as a leisurely place to walk or ride, especially in a public space for pleasure or display.” It’s french in derivation, mid 16th century, (from "se promener"...'to walk')  recalling the actions of people of the court leisurely strolling as if on display, to be seen by all –  commoners as well as other gentry/society. 

"La Promenade (Mother & Daughters)",  August Renoir, 1875-6   Frick Collection

"La Promenade (Mother & Daughters)",  August Renoir, 1875-6   Frick Collection

"La Promenade", Franz Gaillard, 1861, © Christies London

"La Promenade", Franz Gaillard, 1861, © Christies London

In Paris these leisurely strollers are referred to as flaneurs.  Yet, in the Bronx of the 1930's, they are self-proclaimed "boulevardiers".  Watch this humorous clip below from the film "Boulevardiers of the Bronx."

Promenades are essentially vegetated paths within a landscape design.  The presence of vegetation is reason enough to stroll, to saunter,… breathing in the perfumed air of plants and flowers, touching the leaves and rustling the grasses, the transitional experience of moving from dappled shade to sunlight. These are highly sensorial experiences, a significant aspect of landscape design and garden design.  Not to be forgotten is the sauntering among other people, many of which are equally engaged in people watching. “A place to be seen.”

Promenades tend to mediate between large and human scales, play environmental roles in narrow urban spaces, in essence they are avenues.  When elevated they provide the pedestrian with a new perspective and experience, above the typical groundplane that one views its surroundings.

An esplanade is sometimes used interchangeably with promenade. Esplanades became popular in Victorian times in England when it was fashionable to visit seaside resorts.

Promenade in Brighton, England

Promenade in Brighton, England

 Promenade in Budapest

 Promenade in Budapest

The au currant, trendy promenade to visit in the United States is The High Line in New York City.  Equal to its acclaim and popularity; activities and programming abound throughout this elevated garden landscape, from taking a pilates class to stargazing to simply strolling. 

The landscape design precedent for the High Line is the Promenade Plantee. It is a nineteenth century railway viaduct transformed into an elevated greenway through the 12th Arrondissement. The arcades beneath became arts and crafts workshops. The design was by Jacques Vergely (landscape architect) and Philippe Mathieux (architect). Pedestrians have a garden environment for their high-level walk and cyclists have a route at ground level. Then, 3 miles from the start, the routes come together at ground level and proceed to the Bois de Vincennes. The high-level route has some enclosed sections, as when it passes between modern buildings, and some open sections with exhilaratingly expansive views.

The elevated Promenade Plantee

The elevated Promenade Plantee

*Last four photos on this posting are from: Paris Flâneuse: Promenade Plantée in rose season