Taking the lead from the cities of Paris and Toulouse, Bordeaux has joined what is a pan-European trend in converting a small plot of inner-...

This used to be a parking lot: Bordeaux’s first Miyawaki mini-forest is taking root

Taking the lead from the cities of Paris and Toulouse, Bordeaux has joined what is a pan-European trend in converting a small plot of inner-city land into a mini-forest. It is time to go for a walk in – or at least alongside – the tiniest of woods! 

These are early days for now, but the nascent mini-forest was inaugurated by city mayor Pierre Hurmic in March 2021. It is located between Saint-Jean railway station and Sacré-Coeur church, on the triangular space where rues Billaudel, Fieffé and Francin intersect. 

So, what’s it all about? According to a piece published by The Guardian, tiny, dense forests like this are “springing up around Europe as part of a movement aimed at restoring biodiversity and fighting the climate crisis”. Their format and concept “are based on the work of the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who planted more than 1,000 such forests in Japan, Malaysia and elsewhere”. In France, the landscape artist Gilles Clément is also quoted as a key influence, notably with regard to his "jardin en mouvement" concept, but internationally the term “Miyawaki forest” has become the byword for this type of urban mini-forest. 

The way it will be: artist's impression of how the mini-forest will look in the future (source: bordeaux.fr).
The way it is: picture taken in August 2021.

Cross-referencing with the Wikipedia page about Akira Miyawaki (who died in July 2021) provides a means of understanding the basics: the Miyawaki method is based on the reconstitution of "indigenous forests by indigenous trees", with saplings being planted very closely together, and a diverse range of species being used to recreate the multiple layers of a natural forest. Furthermore, the practice “produces a rich, dense and efficient protective pioneer forest in 20 to 30 years, where natural succession would need 200 years in temperate Japan and 300 to 500 years in the tropics”.

Closer to the 45th parallel here in Bordeaux, where the recently-elected Hurmic is famously a member of the Europe Écologie-Les Verts political party, this first mini-forest is one of several such projets and forms part of a wider programme to bring more greenery into the inner-city, a programme which has been codenamed “Bordeaux Grandeur Nature”. When inaugurating the forest-to-be, Hurmic declared to the media that “it has added value for a whole district, there is an obligation to create islands of freshness,” pointing out that “a 100 m² area of forest reduces the temperature in adjacent streets by 1°C”.

The way it was: a GoogleEarth view of the parking spaces that have made way for the Miyawaki forest.

This inaugural Bordeaux project, which covers an area of 180m² and has cost around €50,000 to create, comprises more than 500 forest plants and shrubs, including varieties of tree such as pubescent oaks, sorb trees, field maples, wild cherry trees, and common dogwood. It has been given the name of Wangari Muta Maathai in honour of the Kenyan activist and 2004 Nobel Peace prize-winner who was instrumental in the reforestation of her home country. 

When visiting the mini-forest on a quiet Sunday morning, the first impression is that of viewing a slightly disorganised plot of land, but it does not take long to understand that that is the whole point: the plantation process is supposed to be random, and the natural woodland will form as natural selection among the seedlings enables the best-suited to flourish and develop quickly. Nothing for now is anything taller than about 60 or 70 centimetres, so it is difficult to imagine that a few years from now a number of trees will be towering over the square (or rather, the triangle). 


But the Miyawaki forest does already bring a splash of colour to the area. Other than the inevitable green, there are spots of white, yellow, orange and violet dotted here and there. And of course, after taking in the initial view one is tempted to look closer and hone in on specific plants, and that is when you discover that the place has already come to life, with wasps and bees collecting pollen, and flies and butterflies fleeting in between the leaves and branches. I suddenly found myself drawn to the pleasures of inner-city macrophotography, a true first! 


Just a couple of typical central Bordeaux street scenes.

Temporary information panels are on hand to complete the view and, for now at least, the low wooden perimeter fence is topped off by a host of toilet rolls that have been expertly and creatively decorated, presumably by children from a local school. The place is quiet but for the buzzing of winged insects, which makes the mini-forest feel very active. It’s unusual and, all in all, quite cool.  


Media coverage would suggest that most locals have warmly welcomed the initiative, although some instinctively grumbled about the dozen-or-so parking spots which were sacrificed, and others were cynical about the time it would take for the Miyawaki forest to reach maturity. However, in these times when barely a day goes by without there being news about another natural disaster or extreme weather event, surely everything that can be done to fight against the steamroller of climate change is to be applauded.


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Micro-forêt Wangari Muta Maathai, rue Fieffé, Bordeaux

> Cet article est également disponible en français !

> Further information about the mini-forest on the city of Bordeaux website. 

> Below is Sud Ouest footage of the first plantations taking place in March 2021... a great deal has changed in just five months!

Click here if video does not display properly on your device.

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[CLIQUEZ ICI POUR D ÉCOUVRIR CE DOSSIER EN FRAN ÇAIS] Some time ago I picked up a book called ' Chaban de Bordeaux ' for a token eur...

Bringing 'Chaban de Bordeaux' back to the modern-day city

Some time ago I picked up a book called 'Chaban de Bordeaux' for a token euro in the Quai des Livres bookstore on cours Victor-Hugo in the city centre. In the book, published in 1996 by Éditions Sud Ouest, the author, the late political journalist Pierre Cherruau, focused on the Bordeaux arm of the life and career of Jacques Chaban-Delmas, who was mayor of the city for no less than 48 years, from 1947 until 1995, five years ahead of his death in 2000, aged 85. 

Those post-war and "Trente Glorieuses" years were a pivotal period for the city, with so much changing under his leadership, whether in terms of housing (the overhaul of the Mériadeck quarter, the creation of the Grand Parc, Aubiers and Benauge estates), infrastructure (the unveiling of Saint-Jean and Pont d'Aquitaine bridges, the Rocade ring-road), culture, and much, much more. 

During those years, as a member of parliament he also held a number of national ministerial functions, presided over the Assemblée Nationale during two stints, was prime minister from 1969 to 1972, and a presidential candidate in 1974. In short, quite some career! 

The book featured a number of great archive photos. I thought it might be fun to go hunting for the locations where those photos were taken and, with a bit of cellphone and Photoshop trickery, try to merge past and present into single shots. And here are the end results!    



Above, the young mayor is seen wandering nonchalantly through the city. The location, allées de Tourny, is where a street photographer would often snap passers-by, so many Bordelais have similar pictures showing them walking down this same street around this late 1940s-early 1950s period! Author of the original photograph unknown. Thanks to Patrick Forsans, Caroline March, Bruno Montamat and others for helping identify the exact location of the shot.

In 1949, the square previously known as Place des Salinères (and Place de Bourgogne prior to that) was officially inaugurated as Place Bir-Hakeim in reference to the Second World War's Battle of Bir Hakeim. Chaban-Delmas had invited Général Charles de Gaulle to the event. At the time De Gaulle had taken a bit of a back seat, although he was in the process of building up his Rassemblement du Peuple Français political party which would later splinter into several groups including the
Union pour la Nouvelle République that was behind De Gaulle when he was elected president of the French republic in 1958. Author of the original photograph unknown. (In the 'Chaban de Bordeaux' book, another picture of this event is actually featured but was difficult to replicate. This similar shot was lifted from somewhere on the internet... but I can't remember where!).



The newly-elected president De Gaulle was back in Bordeaux in 1958, seen here walking up cours du Chapeau-Rouge with Chaban-Delmas and miscellaneous dignitaries including De Gaulle's "chef de cabinet" Olivier Guichard (to the left of Chaban), "Garde des Sceaux" Michel Debré (to the right of De Gaulle) and Gironde and Aquitaine prefect Gabriel Delaunay (the gentleman wearing the hat over to the left). Author of the original photograph unknown.


OK, you're going to have to take my word for it, but Jacques Chaban-Delmas is one of the figures standing behind the driver on board this, the last of the first-generation trams to travel through Bordeaux in 1958, including this section of Place de la Victoire which was packed with somewhat nostalgic well-wishers. Chaban was glad to see the back of the city's tram network, paving the way to the automobile-heavy 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, by which time the city needed to find a new, large-scale public transport solution. The "VAL" light underground railway system was Chaban's preferred choice but never came to fruition. Eventually, one of the first key decisions of Chaban's successor Alain Juppé was to set about conceiving the new-generation tram network which has now become such an integral part of the city. Original photograph credited to Vincent Olivar.

This picture of the then prime minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas campaigning on Rue Sainte-Catherine dates from 1970, around the time that a emerging political rival, the journalist and press tycoon Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, had posed a serious challenge in a legislative partial election, no doubt with a view to then taking Chaban on in the municipal elections. Chaban emerged victorious but reportedly felt highly threatened by "JJSS" despite downplaying the episode later in life. Author of the original photograph unknown.


Here's Jacques Chaban-Delmas racing up the steps to the city hall, Palais Rohan, to what could be regarded as the rear entrance, within the Jardin de l'Hôtel de Ville. In Cherruau's book, the caption claims Chaban would run up the steps four at a time. Whether this is fully accurate is unsure. The steps are low but very wide, it would take giant bounds to span four steps! Trying to keep up in the background is Robert Boulin, mayor of Libourne and France's health minister at the time. Boulin held many governmental positions over the years, but his death in 1979 is shrouded in mystery and controversy. Original photograph credited to Michel André.  



This picture was in all likelihood taken on the day in September 1976 when the newly-pedestrianised Rue Sainte-Catherine was officially inaugurated. The Citroën 2CV driver clearly hadn't received the brief and is possibly getting a good-natured telling-off from the mayor of Bordeaux! Original photograph credited to Michel Lacroix. 


Here is Jacques Chaban-Delmas saluting locals in the Aubiers district in June 1984 subsequent to substantial renovation work being done at a time when there was a great deal of unrest. As mentioned in the lead paragraph, les Aubiers is one of a number of high-rise estates that are very much symbols of Chaban's legacy, this being located to the north of the city, not far from the Lac district which was also very much a product of Chaban's tenure. Original photograph credited to Michel Lacroix.  


This picture dates from around 1986, and the clearly-delighted Jacques Chaban-Delmas is seen alongside a local beauty queen officially opening the twice-yearly funfair - which still today is such a familiar sight on the Esplanade des Quinconces. Judging by how clearly visible the buildings in the background are, it is safe to say this was the autumn session. In my 2021 picture, they're hidden behind dense springtime greenery! Original photograph credited to Théry.


Here is Jacques Chaban-Delmas in his later years, with his third wife Micheline (they married in 1971), walking along rue Naujac in the Saint-Seurin-Fondaudège district, on their way to vote at their local polling station (the couple lived nearby, on rue Émile Fourcand). The way the couple are holding hands makes me feel strangely happy. Thanks to Michel Laporte and Patrick Forsans for helping identify the exact location of the shot.



Where better to finish off this stroll through Chaban's Bordeaux than in the gardens of the Hôtel de Ville (try to spot the steps pictured further up the page!). This colour shot, credited to Michel André, graced the cover of the original book, as pictured below. Note the 1 euro price tag. What a bargain, eh?



> Thanks again to Patrick Forsans and other contributors who helped identify a couple of locations via Twitter and Facebook.

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français.

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