As with the rivers in most major cities, starting in the late 1800s thorugh mid-1900s, Paris slowly turned its back on the storied Seine River, which for centuries had been the economic lifeline and central focus of life in Paris since the earliest Celtic and Roman days of Lutèce.
Once the river became encased in high embankments to control flooding and commecial transport moved largely to the railways and, later, the roads, the river became something of an afterthought.
Sure, tourists have continued to cruise the Seine on pleasure boats, but the raised embankments became inner-city highways, the crazy traffic along the top (and often also along the bottom) cutting most pedestrians off from the river. The lower levels of the embankments became largely ignored except for a few strollable bits (plus the restaurant boats that have gone in and out of fashion).
Slowly, over the past 15 years or so, Paris has been rediscovering its river. The hugely successful plage en Paris summer program that trucked in tons of sand to turn key stretches of the lower embankment into urban beaches has turned into a full-blown redevelopment effort for the banks of the Seine.
Kicked off offically in 2010, the first phase is set to be completed by the second half of 2012, when parts will begin opening to the public.
The goal is to open every meter of the banks to pedestrians. There will be easier access to the water's edge, special cycling and pedestrian paths, swimming pools, floating gardens, more pedestrain bridges spanning the two banks.
If all goes well, the project will be completed by spring 2013.
A public swimming pool on the Seine River in Paris.