Lockdown, quarantine, and sheltering in place are a challenge for many of us. But it can be especially difficult for people who live in densely populated cities and have to share a small apartment with family members.
On May 11, France officially and cautiously ended its quarantine, in place since March 17. But really, as Churchill would put it, it’s only the end of the beginning. Many culture- and leisure -related sites and organizations remain closed. This includes public parks.
In some places, having no parks may not be a major issue. But in a city like Paris, parks aren’t just pretty places to gaze at flowers and fountains; they’re a typical part of Parisian life. Many Parisians, for instance, spend summer days lolling on the lawns of parks in bathing suits the way suburbanites do in their backyards. Parks are places for running, reading, watching children play.
When a few public spaces, like the banks of the River Seine and the Canal St. Martin, were reopened on May 11, Parisians flocked to them, generating major criticism for their disregard for social distancing. But Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has argued that it’s only natural that so many Parisians were packed into those relatively small spaces – where else would they go?
This set off Hidalgo’s ongoing battle with Minister of Health Olivier Véran, to allow Paris’s parks to reopen, despite the city still having a high rate of coronavirus cases.
For Hidalgo, reopening some or all of Paris’s 400+ parks and gardens would diffuse the green space-starved population, effectively avoiding crowding and making it easier to practice social distancing. Additionally, although masks aren’t required anywhere in Paris besides on public transportation, Hidalgo would make wearing one a rule for spending time in a park.
Véran, on the other hand, insists that regardless of how many parks are open, Parisians won’t know how to behave, and the lack of social distancing will create another boom in coronavirus cases in the region.
Whatever side you’re on, no one can deny it’s a tough battle, and maybe even one symbolic of this era where countries are increasingly starting to lift quarantines and reopen businesses and other sites and services. How can we try to go back to a normal life, while still respecting COVID-19-related safety measures? Should rules be made based on local populations and customs, rather than nationwide?
Read on to learn more about the battle to reopen Paris’s parks.
A map showing Paris's parks and gardens
Contact Our Writer – Alysa Salzberg