Square Saint Bernard – Saïd Bouziri was closed yesterday.  The gates were padlocked and a policeman was patrolling warily outside, among the children playing football on the church parvis, but the fence was bright with extraordinary, exotic blooms crafted from recycled plastic bottles.

A week earlier the scene must have been very different.   Last Tuesday a large police operation evicted 350 migrants and asylum seekers from a camp on nearby Boulevard La Chapelle, under the elevated metro line.   On Thursday around a hundred sans papiers and supporters gathered in Square Saint Bernard,  a symbolic location as the garden hosted a huge encampment in the summer of 1996.   The police chose not to risk a repeat of that stand off and moved in on Thursday afternoon to clear the square, escorting the migrants away in small groups….. to the metro station.

The decorations don’t have a direct connection with those events – they are ready for a neighbourhood festival at the weekend, the 30th year of Goutte d’Or en Fête – but they reflect another aspect of the community life of this multi-cultural area.  The flowers were made at an all-age workshop, held at the square last Wednesday, coordinated by the Institut des Cultures Islam and led by two plasticiennes et recycleuses, Catherine Corlo and Margot Dobrzynski.  It was clearly a lively and productive event.  The bright, plastic garden stretches the length of the park frontage and the church railings opposite, each flower distinct and individual.

In a densely populated city, local green space has to work hard and fulfill many different functions.  Local parks and gardens provide space for rest and relaxation, for play and for conversation.  Parks are often focal points for community action and celebration, sometimes also a place of refuge.

The full name of this small square honours Saïd Bouziri, a veteran human rights activist of Tunisian origin, who lived in the quartier for thirty years until his death in 2009.   Like every Paris square, this place has many different of stories to tell.

For more about Margot’s recycling art see: http://recupmargot.canalblog.com

And for the background to the evacuation of the square: http://www.streetpress.com/sujet/1433528150-evacuation-camp-la-chapelle-migrants-policie-cache-cache-18e