Paris Is Selling Pieces of Its Cobblestone StreetsBy and
City sells historic building material dug up from streets
Entrepreneur, contracters buying stones for piece of Paris
Want to take home a piece of Paris? French entrepreneur Margaux Sainte-Lague has something for you.
Earlier this year, when Paris began selling thousands of tons of cobblestones that once paved the city’s streets and alleys, Sainte-Lague bought five tons. She is now reselling them to tourists and collectors keen to own a well-trodden piece of the French capital’s history.
Her company, Mon Pave Parisien, is an illustration of how used materials like stones, glass and concrete are being put on the market for construction projects or, in this case, as souvenirs for lovers of Paris and visitors to the city of light. The activity is rooted in a movement to create a so-called circular economy that’s being promoted by the French government, European Commission and some builders to reduce waste and save energy through recycling and reuse.
“The Parisian cobblestones have attracted the interest of many people, including tourists,” said Patrick Marchetti, who runs the Paris city maintenance center where the cobblestones are sorted and cleaned. “They are cheap and have some charm.”
While Sainte-Lague’s sales are relatively low so far -- she has sold 50 of the chiseled stones -- customers are steady and come from far-flung places. They have ranged from Chinese brides to a U.S.-based French expatriate nostalgic about her youth during the protests of May 1968, when cobblestones were hurled at the police by demonstrators during national strikes. Sainte-Lague now plans to sell her wares in luxury boutiques and souvenir shops near the city’s monuments.
“First in concept stores, and then, why not, in souvenir boutiques,” she said.
On a larger scale, French builder Eiffage SA has said it will recycle materials from public works into cement aggregate. Cie de Saint-Gobain, Europe’s biggest supplier of construction materials, is working with recycling company Paprec Group to collect discarded residential windows for use in new products.
The French capital may sell as many as 3 million tons of the cube-shaped granite, Marchetti estimates. The cobblestones, first laid in Paris in the 11th century, were retrieved from several layers below pavements ripped up during civil works projects, including a new tramway. The city put the blocks on the market in March.
Paris is by no means getting rid of all its its cobblestones. The ones around the famous Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde will remain, while those along the Champs-Elysees are being polished and refurbished into smoother, more regular shapes for cars, bikes, strollers and high heels, Marchetti said.
Most of the cobblestones sold directly by the city from a warehouse in a southern suburb of Paris have gone to small companies recycling them to pave terraces and driveways, he said. The city’s customers have included the foundation created by French photographer and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand for the renovation of the Longchamp castle, in front of the famous horse-racing course.
At a retail price of eight euros a square meter (11 square feet), or 40 euros a ton, the sales could add about 400,000 euros ($371,000) annually to municipal coffers if 10,000 tons are extracted from under asphalt every year. At that rate, the supply is estimated to last for about three centuries.
At between 60 euros and 150 euros a cobblestone, shipping within France included, Sainte-Lague is making a tidy profit from her central Parisian workshop where she cleans and custom decorates each stone -- some elaborately with gold leaves. With the possibility that some of the cobblestones were trod on by Vincent Van Gogh or Pablo Picasso in the neighborhood of Montmartre, buyers can own a piece of Paris’s history, she said.
— With assistance by Marie Mawad