What paradigm for Green Cities?

7 minutes of reading

In June 2020, eight major French cities saw their municipal councils taken or held by a Green majority: Lyon, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Tours, Annecy, Besançon and Poitiers. What do these green municipalities plan for the territories?

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More nature, less mineral in the city

Among the ambitions set out during the 2020 municipal elections, a consensus was emerging around “calmed” cities with a pleasant living environment and “walkable” cities to combat congestion, air pollution and increasingly frequent heat waves. To this end, green politicians have unanimously introduced measures to bring nature back into the city. This includes the planting of several thousand, or even tens of thousands of trees in 6 years: 10,000 in Poitiers, 30,000 in Tours, 15,000 by 2030 in Grenoble. Some elected officials also wish to give this act a symbolic value to reinforce the link between citizens and the environment: a tree for each birth in Poitiers, for example. On 17 February, 200 residents of Tours kicked off the “Nature en Ville” plan by planting nearly 1,000 trees and shrubs. In the same vein, permits for the greening of façades and streets will be granted to citizens.

Greater emphasis is also placed on green and blue lines and the (re)creation of oases of freshness in streets, squares, parks and school yards. In Strasbourg, a state of climate emergency has been declared and temporary vegetated islands were installed in eight city squares during the summer of 2020. In Tours, vegetation will be planted in school playgrounds from 2022 onwards, with the aim of opening them in 2024 at the latest. The green wave is also reflected in the desire for more room in the city for urban agriculture through the development of educational farms and orchards in the city. Tours also plans to create a metropolitan agricultural board to feed schools in short and organic loops. In Bordeaux, about fifty fruit trees were planted on the quayside near the water mirror at the end of March.

Increased funding for ecological transition

Green mayors devote a significant amount of money to greening and renovating existing public and private buildings. In Lyon, the multi-annual programme will be doubled with 1.25 billion euros invested, a third of which will be devoted to ecological transition. In Strasbourg, a loan of 87 million euros is planned for 2021, notably to invest in the greening of the city (5 million euros) and the thermal renovation of public buildings (900,000 euros). Strasbourg has also set itself a target of 8,000 renovated homes by 2026, while Lyon is planning the renovation of 270,000 homes by 2050. In Bordeaux, one million euros will be devoted to the fight against fuel poverty. In Besançon, 10 million euros will be invested each year for the climate solidarity plan, earmarked in particular for the renovation of schools and nurseries, 1 million euros each year for the elimination of heat islands and 800,000 to 2 million euros for the construction of the cycleway network.

Regarding mobility, to reduce the space taken by the car in the city, mayors are investing in more cycleways and public transport routes. Annecy wants to halve car traffic within 10 to 15 years. The “prefecture” car park project, 700 to 750 underground parking spaces with a budget of 30 million euros, has been cancelled. In Strasbourg, free transport is provided for young people, and for all inhabitants during pollution peaks. The Syndicat mixte des transports pour le Rhône et l’agglomération lyonnaise, in line with the objectives of the City of Lyon, has adopted a 2.5 billion euro investment plan for public transport, notably for tramway lines and a cable car.

Towards more enhancement of the existing and a finer scale of urban planning

These cities affirm their desire to limit the development of land, i.e. the consumption of natural, agricultural or forest areas for urban projects. This echoes the target of halving the rate of land development by 2030 compared to the last ten years, which has been included in the Climate and Resilience Bill. The latter is crucial to enable soils to perform their role of infiltration, biodiversity maintenance, carbon absorption and agricultural production. In Bordeaux, the ambition is to allow building only on already urbanised land. Thus, rather than promoting large projects, the municipalities intend to develop existing spaces such as vacant dwellings, vacant plots and wastelands, in a logic of real estate sobriety. To do this, these cities intend to rely on public land establishments and on tools such as the joint real estate lease, which makes it possible to dissociate the cost of the real estate from that of the buildings for greater affordability. In Bordeaux, a municipal housing department will be created to control tourist rentals and mobilise vacant housing, while a metropolitan land office will be set up in Grenoble.

“Moderate” density, greening and bio-sourced materials for new buildings

For new buildings, the ecologists recommend a “moderate density”, with a little more height, more vegetation and more bio-sourced materials. Some building permits have been suspended in order to modify projects that were considered too large and to incorporate more public spaces and open spaces. This was the case for the Part-Dieu business centre in Lyon, where multi-usage was reinforced (more housing and fewer offices), vegetation was introduced in greater proportions and the planned towers were cancelled, with the exception of those for which construction had already begun: To-Lyon and Silex2. In Bordeaux, the municipality wanted to multiply by 5 the open spaces in the Bastide Niel eco-neighbourhood and favour the use of local materials (wood, brick, Biganos clay). It wishes to develop its Bordeaux frugal building label and to make the presentation of the project by the promoters in the town hall and to the inhabitants of the district systematic. In Poitiers, one of the flagship projects of the term of office is the construction of a positive energy kindergarten and school restaurant using organic and geo-sourced materials (wood, raw earth and straw), with a green roof and educational garden. In Annecy, the planting of new buildings, whether in the open ground, on the facade or on the roof, is also becoming an imperative and has even been the subject of consultations with residents to define the type of nature they would like (wild, urban, cultivated) in the Haras project in the city centre.

Participatory governance

Green mayors also want to give more power to citizens, and have done so since the beginning of their campaign. In Besançon and Poitiers, the programmes were co-constructed with citizens, called “everyday experts”. In Lyon, a budget of 50 million euros will be dedicated to projects initiated or developed in co-construction with citizens, which represents 5% of the city’s annual budget. Another innovative initiative is the Resilience Institute, which aims to bring together researchers and civic society actors to contribute to the ecological transition by sharing knowledge, training and experimentation.

Synergies that converge to support the creation of green jobs in construction, the circular economy and agroecology. This was the subject of an article published in the Journal du dimanche on 11 April, supported by nine ecologist mayors (Jeanne Barseghain in Strasbourg, Emmanuel Denis in Tours, Léonore Moncond’huy in Poitiers and Anne Vignot in Besançon) and socialist mayors (Martine Aubry in Lille, Anne Hidalgo in Paris, Benoît Payan in Marseille, Johanna Rolland in Nantes and Cédric Van Styvendael in Villeurbanne).

To sum up, the first measures of green cities converge towards more vegetation, the enhancement of existing buildings rather than urban planning of large projects, an increased budget for ecological transition (renovation, greening, green mobility) and more participative governance in order to involve citizens in the implementation of this paradigm.