Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Down the shore…without the drive (or the shore)

Whether you say you’re going “to the beach” or “down the shore,” you probably mean some large expanse of sandy ground near an even larger expanse of water. 

This summer, the beach took on completely new meanings in places not terribly near the sea.

Take Paris, for example. Yes, Paris. That city far, far from sea or bay or channel. It’s basically landlocked, except for the Seine River.

In 2002, the mayor of Paris began a novel experiment that has lasted to this day. For four weeks each summer, from 8:00 am till midnight, people in the city are treated to a Seine-side holiday.

The Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) are for those who flock to or can’t leave the city during late summer. The banks of the Seine become a pedestrian walkway, with sand beaches, deckchairs, recreational areas, refreshment stands, and above-ground pools (because you can’t swim in the Seine – and, really, who would want to).

Since then, other European cities have followed suit.

Berlin opens beach bars on the Spree, where “[p]alm trees, swimming pools and canopied beach chairs stand in the middle of the city.”

In the U.K., there’s the Bristol urban beach, Birmingham’s urban beach in nearby Northfield, and the Nottingham Riviera, among others.

Now the trend has jumped the pond, and “urban beaches” are hitting home. Not just in the U.S., but right in my backyard of Philadelphia.

For the first time this year, Philadelphia opened a pop-up beach on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The site, about the size of a football field, was open from July 19 through August 18, allowing kids to dig in the sand at Eakins Oval, with the iconic Art Museum as a backdrop.

These pop-up, urban oases are a refreshing concept.

Even without the roar of the surf in the background, they bring a little bit of beach bliss to those in a hot town. Summer in the city.

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