ALTHOUGH Summer is officially almost over, there’s no end in sight to hot, sunny days. In fact, Geneva’s been sweltering in a heat wave.
With a little luck the ‘sit-outside’ season will continue well into September. So there’s still lots of time to enjoy Geneva’s public spaces that over the past five years have been revamped and revitalized to inject more green into the urban landscape.
These green oases now provide a welcome alternative to busy restaurants and their sometimes cramped terraces for eating and drinking and for just whiling away precious minutes out-of-doors.
Meanwhile, a large-scale commercial development launched in 2009 has resulted in a neglected passageway in central Geneva being given a new lease on life. The Passage des Lions now offers, even in the chilly winter months, the opportunity to sit outdoors, albeit under the shelter of a beautifully refurbished glass and metal canopy.
Urban redevelopment project revives prestigious quarter
As part of the project, five buildings in the venerable Rues-Basses quarter of Geneva have either been demolished or refurbished and the glass-roofed arcade that leads from Rue du Rhône to Rue de la Confédération has been transformed from a dark and dingy passageway to a light-filled, inviting space populated by cafés, restaurants, chocolatiers and boutiques. (Tip: In wintertime wrap yourself in a blanket outside the chocolatier Philippe Pascoët’s shop in the Passage and enjoy one of the city’s best hot chocolates.)
Visible through the glass roof’s metal skeleton, a jungle of hanging plants descend from the windows of upper-story offices. It’s obvious that whether funding comes from corporate or public sources, there’s a shared vision to embrace nature in the city landscape.
From concrete to a conucopia of green
In 2013, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the City of Geneva’s Service des espaces verts, public squares and pedestrian bridges were transformed from concrete jungles into beckoning green spaces and the tradition has continued every summer since then.
A travelling garden including synthetic green “benches”, banana trees, papyrus and verbena plants moves between the city’s squares every few weeks.
Meanwhile, the Pont des Bergues receives a metal-frame to support a hanging garden that creates a verdant tunnel where passersby seak shelter from the heat and find an ideal vantage point from which to take photos of the city skyline.
And an expansive wood terrace attached to the Pont de la Machine offers a cool spot at water level to enjoy a sandwich or a drink and find refuge from the pull of the crowd.
Sit and leisurely watch the world go by
Elsewhere, the city has revitalized public squares to inject, where none already existed, a welcome element of green in the shape of potted plants and young tree saplings. Spaces that were once uninspired thoroughfares or parking lots now serve as community meeting places where passersby can sit, picnic, or simply watch the world go by.
Square de Chantepoulet
Tired-looking Square de Chantepoulet, surrounded by 19th-century buildings and previously used as a local parking space, reemerged with a fresh look and purpose in Summer 2015. The central space now features a permeable gravel surface and is defined by an elevated concrete border that follows the natural one created by the enclosed trees. The freshly painted cabane that once served as a depot for firefighters now houses a branch of Boréal coffee and ElSalad.
This serene meeting place often convinces me, before I head to the nearby train station, to stop for an iced coffee beneath the shady trees and to stroll through the outdoor photography display when there’s one on hand.
Another favorite spot of mine for some quick refreshment is Place Longemalle, where round stone benches and travelling plants were installed in 2015, making it a welcome refuge amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Geneva.
Meanwhile, at Place Simon-Goulart, imposing dark-wood picnic tables and benches have reclaimed this former parking spot dating from 1956 for the leisurely lunch- and dinner-time crowd. The open layout highlights the relationship between the religious, cultural and commercial elements that encircle the square.
Place du Rhône
The latest addition to the refurbished club is Place du Rhône at the foot of Pont des Bergues. Another former parking lot and temporary rollerskating venue this summer the city unveiled a revitalized square fitted with semi-circular, honey-colored wood benches enclosing young tree saplings. The shape ensures the flow of movement outside and calm and conversation inside.
Here’s a peek at Geneva’s revitalized public squares and outdoor spaces:
Though every project has its inevitable detractors, I can’t imagine there are many who would quibble with the funds being spent by the city to enhance its open spaces and ensure they remain at the service of its residents in the greenest possible way.
Have I missed a spot? Can you recommend a favorite outdoor space that you love to spend time in whenever you have the chance? If so, please drop a line and let me know.
Tip: As part of the Journées européennes du patrimoine 2016 (European Heritage Days) on 10-11 September guided tours will take place across Switzerland including many in Geneva. One tour entitled “Une promenade urbaine” will take in the newly refurbished Place Simon-Goulart, Square de Chantepoulet and Place du Rhône. The tour will start at Place Simon-Goulart at 2pm and last for approximately 1.5 hours and will be given by the architects involved in these three renovation projects.
Main photo caption: he light-filled, glass-roofed Passage des Lions reveals a vertical green garden in the heart of Geneva.
All photos by Creative Living Geneva.