Here are four innovative urban projects underway in Paris

Les Grands Voisins. Image: Centre for London.

Anne Hildalgo worked for 13 years as Deputy Mayor before becoming Mayor of Paris in 2014. One might be forgiven for thinking that her ideas would have been blunted by the time she arrived in office. Instead, she is showing that the French capital can be a thriving centre for civic and social innovation.

There is an urgency to promote civic innovation in Paris. Income, wealth and opportunity divides run deep in the region. France’s richest and poorest communes are only a few kilometres apart, and in the latter, youth unemployment is close to 40 per cent.

The city has also been shaken by fears of homegrown terrorism, and by the refugee crisis: in the year to March 2018, 60,000 refugees arrived at the Paris 18e Registration Centre. Despite this increasing need, the city’s charitable sector is eroding. The number of new associations created in the city has been declining for several years in a row.

Innovation policies designed to tackle these social problems are often hit-and-miss – but Paris offers up some interesting examples. Under Hildalgo’s leadership, the city has encouraged liveliness and nurtured enterprise in the city’s overlooked spaces. New spaces for innovation have been enabled and funded, as at Station F. Existing projects have been supported, as at Les Grands Voisins; and there has been effort to stimulate new ideas (Réinventer Paris, Budget Participatif).

Les Grands Voisins – a Moveable Feast

A public developer has opened up a disused hospital as temporary homeless accommodation, with 600 beds. Rather than gating the site to prevent interactions with neighbours, the associations managing it have turned the hospital into a lively neighbourhood with offices, shops and bars with a social purpose: providing employment for people returning to work or for refugees who haven’t yet secured the right to work. A programme of events draws in neighbours as well as visitors from all over Paris.

The public subsidy is no more than the cost of renting out temporary accommodation in the private sector, and the office space let out to 250 companies covers the project’s running costs. According to organisers, Les Grands Voisins experiment has become one of the most diverse spaces in inner Paris, and is boosting the morale of the city’s charitable sector.


Le Budget Participatif

Between 2014 and 2020, Parisians can decide how €500 million euros – 5 per cent of the city’s investment budget – should be spent. Citizens put forward propositions, which are vetted by City Hall according to their feasibility, and then voted upon.

As projects only come out of the investment budget, most are improvements to public spaces, for instance through greening and street redesign. Paris has spent much energy encouraging participation, and the large funding pot is gradually raising interest: the number of voters has risen to 200,000 in 2018, a third of them high school students.

Réinventer Paris

The City of Paris has pioneered a competition to revive disused sites and unloved public spaces. For its second edition in 2017, the City auctioned leases on 34 sites owned by public bodies in the capital – from power and metro stations to a 17th century mansion – in exchange for architectural, economic, cultural and social value. In a city that is short of space, Paris hopes to unleash creative energy by giving access to vacant sites rather than keeping hold of them.

Station F

Paris opened the world’s largest startup hub in 2017: 3,000 workplaces, support services for entrepreneurs, and several restaurants and bars. The City of Paris facilitated the project by making compulsory purchase of the site to sell to a developer who financed it with support from a public financial institution.

Nicolas Bosetti is research manager at the Centre for London.

This piece also appears in the second issue of the London ideas magazine, a journal on urban innovation.

Images courtesy of the Centre for London.

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.