Parisians had reason to stay in town last August: the inaugural Paris Plage, a two-mile-long "beach" that ran along the Seine from the Tuileries to the Pont de Sully. Despite initial grumbling from motorists (the highway parallel to the Seine was closed to traffic), the scheme attracted 2 million sunbathers, cyclists, and rollerbladers—more than justifying the $1.8 million cost to taxpayers. Now city hall has plans to make it an annual event.

Paris Plage 2003, which continues through August 17, is even more ambitious. Designer Jean-Christophe Chobletreturned to oversee the project, promising that the amenities would top last year's 300 deck chairs, 150 parasols, 80 palm trees, 20 changing rooms, and numerous showers. This year's palm-speckled plage is divided into sections—beach, picnic, and siesta—meant to correspond to the stages of a typical vacation day. And there are longer stretches of sand.

The beach is part of left-wing mayor Bertrand Delanoë's vision to create more public spaces and reduce traffic pollution. He has also banned cars from bus lanes and opened up the city's traditionally formal parks to Frisbee players and picnickers. But Paris Plage has made the biggest splash so far.