The Place de la Concorde, a New Political Challenge

The Concorde square seems to not live up to its name? The partial pedestrianization project of the famous Parisian square, announced in mid-January by the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is set to stir up debates and controversy.

In the wake of the Olympic Games, where the square will host urban sports events such as BMX freestyle, breakdancing, skateboarding, and the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games, this historically rich square could begin a new chapter by restricting traffic access.

What does the mayor of Paris plan to do? Her goal is to close the eastern part of the square to cars and restore the pedestrian axis between the Champs-Elysées and the Tuileries Garden. This will make it easier for pedestrians to access the obelisk in the center.

The official project has not been communicated by the Paris city hall so far, but an unofficial “development project” has already been leaked. According to this document, the area of the operation would cover the 7 hectares of the square. The city hall is drawing on the history of the site, which in the mid-18th century included moats and grassy areas around the perimeter. This is seen as a way to connect contemporary climate issues with heritage preservation.

The mayor has clarified that any changes to the square must “respect its geometry, historical layout, perspectives, and symmetry.” She also emphasizes that the classification of the square as a historical monument includes its ground, fountains, statues, small pavilions, balustrades, rostral columns, and lamp posts.

What are the project’s chances? The balance of power is likely to become clearer when the project is presented to the Paris Council. It is expected that both defenders of heritage and supporters of cars will join forces to defend the status quo, even if the former may not be opposed to reducing the dominance of cars on the Concorde square, which makes it difficult to appreciate its beauty.

As a sign of unease, the Prefect of Paris, who is already opposed to several city hall projects, has preemptively prohibited the complete pedestrianization of the square–which is not currently being proposed. Similarly, the city hall has communicated a study showing that traffic would be “smoother” on a partially closed Concorde square, as was observed during the last Rugby World Cup. This temporary arrangement led to a 5-10% increase in traffic, explained by “better visibility of traffic rules.”

Since the square is classified as a historical monument, the start of construction will require authorization from the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs (Drac), after consulting the National Commission for Heritage and Architecture (CNPA). Clearly, the new Minister of Culture Rachida Dati, who has confirmed her ambition to become mayor of Paris in 2026, could stand in the way of the city’s plans.

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