Serres d’Auteuil : Bertrand Delanoë’s omissions, inaccuracies and untruths

Serres d’Auteuil
Photo : Didier Rykner

Françoise Hardy is one of over 22,000 persons who have thus far signed the petition against the Roland-Garros extension into the Serres d’Auteil. She has furthermore written a letter to the mayor of Paris protesting the project.

Bertrand Delanoë, well aware that the support of celebrities from the entertainment world for this cause could be potentially damaging to his plans, decided to publish his answer to the singer. As always when expressing itself on the subject, Paris City hall spoke out using untruths, omissions and inaccuracies, and never answered the arguments presented by opponents. We think therefore that it would be very useful to present a short exercise elucidating the mayor’s text.

After a few polite and traditional opening remarks where he “sincerely thanks” Françoise Hardy since this “provides him with a chance to re-establish certain truths”, Bertrand Delanoë explains that he fears that “the authors of this petition […] did not thoroughly inform [her] of the reality of the project”. This is an age-old and worn-out technique, which consists in discrediting those who oppose a poor decision by declaring that they have not been accurate in providing information and that those who believe them have not understood the real project.

Since he then states that he is interested in the Jardin des Serres d’Auteil (“a major element in Paris’ botanical heritage”), that he is “proud that Paris owns such a jewel, with Greenhouses which are listed in the inventory of Monuments Historiques [1] ” and affirms his “interest in preserving and enhancing rare plants”, the reader is led to think that he is about to renounce the project. Not in the least.

He asserts “without any doubt […] that the project […] in no way intends to damage this exceptional heritage”. Françoise Hardy should therefore “be totally reassured : the Serres Historiques will absolutely not be affected nor will the prestigious collections inside” ! At this point, we are one third of the way through the letter and the mayor of Paris has still not presented any proof of what he is saying. We cannot really say why, but knowing how sharp the singer is, we can only guess that she has not yet been convinced by what she has read so far.

Sure enough, we finally see the first argument : “the work houses and the greenhouses which are to be replaced with a tennis court surrounded by greenhouses are not listed as Monuments Historiques.” In fact, “built in the years between 1980-2000 [they] are of no architectural value”. We would like to know at this point, just when and where the authors of the petition ever claimed that the Serres monuments historiques would be demolished, when and where they claimed that the greenhouses to be destroyed were historical monuments. Quite obviously, this has never been the case.

The following paragraph is exceptional : after emphasizing that the designated architect, Marc Mimram, is “internationally famous”, a fact which he seems to think should suffice to silence the most skeptical critics [2], M. Delanoë explains that the new greenhouses which he will build around the tennis court, a minor concession to plant lovers and which was not in the original project but added only after opponents started to protest, “will allow […] a more dignified presentation of the orchid and fern collections currently stored in ordinary greenhouses. The collections will not only be better displayed but the Jardin des Serres will also be even more beautiful after having eliminated these ugly elements.” He would almost have us think that he is doing all of this for the sole purpose of making the Serres d’Auteil more beautiful.
Let us make this very clear and visitors can go to the gardens and see for themselves : the hothouses, which are not protected as Monuments Historiques, are not at all ugly and the plants are not “stored” there but displayed in an entirely satisfactory manner. We would add further, a fact confirmed in the following paragraph, that the new greenhouses which are to go up around the tennis court will not be big enough to house all of the plants currently there. Some of them will be “welcomed at the Parc Floral in the Bois de Vincennes, allowing the public in the East of Paris to enjoy new collections [3]”. The Mayor of Paris is much too kind to the population living in Eastern Paris, implying besides that they cannot afford to visit the Serres d’Auteil. He in fact is confirming that he intends to dismantle the collections of the Botanical Museum. Which brings us to another point, should we not worry about how these fragile plants are going to survive the move ?

We will skip the enumeration of his services to the city’s parks as a “leftist” mayor, totally irrelevant here (one does not justify an act of vandalism by enhancing, in a real or supposed manner in fact, another heritage possession), and go directly to the following paragraph where Bertrand Delanoë informs Françoise Hardy (and no doubt the authors of the petition as well) that her “fears of seeing dozens of thousands of persons trampling the Jardin des Serres d’Auteil during the Tournament” are foundless. In fact : “the Garden is already open to the public during the Tournament, and does not present any particular problems.” This argument is so misleading that it is revolting ! As if, during the Roland-Garros International Tennis Tournament, spectators, when they have had their fill of tennis, naturally walked up the Avenue de la Porte d’Auteil and rushed over in crowds to the Serres d’Auteil ! To have us believe that there is already a period during the year when thousands of persons visit the gardens is plainly and simply not true. We would also like to point out that, while some Roland-Garros spectators may, during the Tournament, visit the Serres d’Auteil (and we would like to see the statistics…), they obviously come for the garden, not for the tennis. The condition of these rare plants will be the least of their concerns for those sports enthusiasts who enter the site to attend the tennis matches.
But fortunately, just in case…, Bertrand Delanoë [will] personally “make sure that the possible [4] increase in the number of visitors to the Jardin related to the new installations will preserve the remarkable quality of the trees and flowers there.” How ? He does not say. Will he perhaps show up in person to act as a policeman in the gardens ?

The last argument set forth by Bertrand Delanoë is not much more convincing, indeed just the opposite. He recalls the favorable opinion expressed by “the Commission départementale de la nature, des paysages et des sites, [the Department Commission for Nature, Landscapes and Sites], whose members include, notably, the Directeur régional de l’environnement [Regional Director for Environment], la Directrice régionale des Affaires culturelles [Regional Director for Cultural Affairs], and the Chef du Service territorial de l’architecture et du patrimoine de Paris [Chief of Territorial Services for Architecture and Heritage in Paris], who cannot in any reasonable way be suspected of supporting a project which would endanger the Serres d’Auteuil !” Although we regret the decision by the Commission des sites, this does not mean, contrary to what the mayor of Paris would have us believe, that the commission has given him carte blanche. The favorable opinion simply approves a study of the project. The Commission will speak out again when a concrete proposal has been submitted, and according to the information we have at our disposal the Prefect who presides this commission has made himself very clear, notably concerning the numbers of visitors entering the gardens, and not only during Roland-Garros, since Paris City Hall announced that there would be multifunctional installations for shows all year round [5] !
We would like to add that Anne Hidalgo, during the Commission meeting, dared to say that the hothouses were currently closed to the public, which is not true, and that the construction of the tennis court would therefore provide an additional 1.5 hectare [about 3.70 acres] of walks for visitors [sic].

The letter ends with a solemn declaration that we can count on Bertrand Delanoë to watch over the protection and enhancement of Parisian heritage. We can definitely rest assured !
However, we are still awaiting proof that Françoise Hardy was poorly informed by the authors of the petition. The Mayor of Paris not only presents increasingly fallacious arguments, which we easily countered, but he overlooks many of the most problematic points related to the project. We thus expect him to provide serious answers to certain questions which he has forgotten to address in his letter. How will the gardeners be able to work if their technical locale is destroyed to make room for the tennis court ? How will they carry out their duties just before, during and just after Roland-Garros, that is, a good long month during which time the greenhouses will be set up to welcome the Tournament and that even the other buildings will be requisitioned ? How will the greenhouses be heated during the duration of the construction work and what will become of the heating facilities, a Sveso classified installation ?

Françoise Hardy is therefore right in opposing a project which we find is the product of a warped imagination. We firmly hope that other prominent figures will join her in the fight. In the meanwhile, the more people sign the petition the better !

Didier Rykner, dimanche 28 novembre 2010


[1] He proves, at the same time, that he is not familiar with the French system of Heritage protection, since the greenhouses are not listed [“classées”], but registered [“inscrites”] which alas diminishes their protection. “Listed in the inventory “ [“classement à l’inventaire”] does not exist.

[2] We insist on the fact that Marc Mimram’s talent, he is indeed a great architect, having produced notably the superb bridge which goes from the Tuileries gardens to the Musée d’Orsay, is not the issue here, except that he is indeed supporting a project which will destroy a part of the city’s heritage.

[3] We point out that, according to our sources, Anne Hidalgo stated before the Commission des sites that all of the plants kept in the hothouses, not only some of them, would be moved to the Parc Floral.

[4] We would like our readers to judge for themselves the exactness of the term “probable” [“éventuelle”].

[5] AFP news release of 17 November 2010.

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