Green walls, rooftop gardens and urban farms are aiming to bring nature back into central Paris as the city looks to improve its air quality and create a more sustainable future.
In the last few decades, manmade surfaces have taken over green space, leading to urban heat islands and more pollution in the air. It’s left Paris, like many other big cities, with higher urban temperatures and a greater risk of flooding as rain can no longer be absorbed into the ground.
To counter these issues, local authorities are increasingly looking to incorporate more greenery into both old and new buildings as well as developing public parks and gardens.
“Within the framework of the “Objectif 100 hectares” plan signed in 2016, Paris decided to launch the new Parisculteurs initiative to encourage innovative initiatives to cover 100 hectares of buildings in vegetation by 2020, of which a third would be dedicated to urban agriculture,” says Virginie Houzé, research director at JLL.
“Schools, office blocks and residential buildings all got involved. By incorporating vegetation in buildings, particularly on roofs and facades, it has helped to bring natural spaces back to the city without the need for additional land. These allow for temperature regulation while purifying air and water and encouraging biodiversity.”
The new normal?
Growing numbers of buildings are joining the movement. Start-up Sous les Fraises has been creating urban farms across the city growing fruits and herbs while plans are afoot to transform four terraces on the Bastille Opera into a farm for fruit, vegetables and edible flowers.
Other projects, such as La Ferme de la Bourse, aim to create a hydroponic farm to grow produce that can be distributed to nearby residents, tying into the growing consumer appetite for locally sourced food. Elsewhere, Stream Building has a vertical hop garden to provide protection over the summer before the crop is harvested to brew beer on site.
“Today, consumers in developed countries are increasingly conscious of the quality of the food they eat, the use of pesticides and genetic modification as well as thinking of the distance that food must travel to reach their plates,” says Houzé.
“Urban agriculture therefore has a double impact. It both increases the amount of green space in a city, helping people retain a connection with nature while encouraging them to consumer local products and assuage some of the social and ecological concerns that people have.”
The idea is spreading beyond Paris: cities like Toulouse and Lyon are welcoming their own urban farms. And within the wider Paris metropolitan area, it’s helping to bring previously neglected spaces back into productive use. The Urban Agriculture in Morangis project in Essonne has converted 7,780 square metres of wasteland into an urban agriculture site alongside 3,670 square metres for residential development.
A step in the right direction
Even as urban farming becomes more popular, it remains a way to bring nature back into the city and improve the wellbeing of residents rather than revamp local food chains.
“We don’t have sufficient surfaces available in the Ile-de-France areas to grow enough food to feasibly feed people living in and around Paris so it still needs to be brought in from other areas,” says Houzé. “But it’s a nice touch for restaurants and hotels to offer home-grown produce on their menus.”
Not all projects are visible. “Hydroponics or aquaponics projects, for example, grow crops in enclosed spaces and sometimes deprived of natural light such as basements or car parks,” explains Houzé. “These help to meet local production expectations but do not address the issues of air pollution or urban heat that require a much broader approach.”
And while the steadily growing number of rooftop farms and living walls around the city won’t solve the urban heat island effect on their own, they are a step in the right direction at a time when many countries are upping their efforts to tackle global warming and reduce high levels of air pollution.
“More vegetation can only be a positive thing for Paris and the people who live here,” Houzé concludes. “However, it will take time and many more buildings to become visibly greener that environmental progress will be perceived and appreciated.”