Construction sites in the City of Light are bustling with activity open day and night. Mechanical moles bore tunnels underneath its foundations as entire neighborhoods are transformed by urban planning projects. There are two goals driving the activity: the city is preparing to host the Olympic Games in 2024, and it is looking ahead to 2050, when it aims to reduce its toxic emissions to zero and become carbon neutral.
President Emmanuel Macron has mapped out the strategic guidelines, but the operative planning is in the hands of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who is a huge supporter of infrastructure projects to re-launch the city. The city’s transformation is an opportunity for France as a whole, given that the country has one million engineers (second in Europe only to Germany). The nation looks to Paris as a magnet for the creation of large infrastructure works that are in turn an engine for economic growth.
Paris is living through a new phase of grandeur, flaunting its capacity to finance construction of what will be the world’s largest subway network and at the same time investing in the urban renewal of its hinterland and of the satellite cities that together make up what the French refer to as “Grand Paris” or Greater Paris.
Betting on the Olympics
Paris was selected to host the 2024 Olympic Games because it was capable of presenting a plan that was both affordable and green, with an initial budget of 6.2 billion euros. The area of Saint-Denis will benefit in particular from the Olympic Games, which will host the main part of the competition.
The area will see 3 million square meters of real estate development by 2024, with new construction, green spaces, industrial parks and the completion of 4 lines of the Grand Paris Express that will serve Saint-Denis. The essential infrastructure alone for the Games calls for building 4,500 new dwellings for local people, 100,000 square meters for business activity, and 20,000 new hotel rooms for tourists.
Infrastructure and real estate will be the two sectors that benefit the most from the Paris Games. This is why the race is on to complete part of the Grand Paris Express by 2024, even though the entire project is scheduled to be finished by 2030.
Grand Paris Express
This is Europe’s most ambitious sustainable transport project: 200 kilometers of new track, 68 stations, and an investment of an estimated 38.5 billion euros. The result will be a massive improvement in transport times and will change the face of the city. The Grand Paris Express is more than “just” an urban subway system, because for the first time ever it will connect the city’s vast metropolitan area with its center. Greater Paris is Europe’s largest urban area, home to 12.1 million people.
The construction work goes hand in hand with the urbanistic development of the neighborhoods involved. Many areas, such as the departments Val de Marne and Les Ardoines, along with the area around the Orly airport, will undergo significant renewal. Orly, for example, will be transformed into an eco-area through the building of offices, conference centers, shopping malls and several parks. So the new subway lines are bringing changes to the city itself, sparking modernization and development in the areas they will serve.
Two of these lines will be partially built by Salini Impregilo: the first calls for the extension of line 14 to the Orly airport; the second (with a contract worth 719 million euros) sees the building of Lot 2 of line 16, that will serve the northern and eastern sides of the metropolitan area. Overall, this enormous transportation project will improve traffic congestion in many areas of the city, improving the mobility of Paris. It’s a much needed change. According to the Institut Montaigne, Parisians spend an average of 38 minutes per day in traffic, and 9 out of 10 cars are used by just one rider.
Reducing private modes of transport and replacing it with rail is the city administration’s solution to creating a sustainable metropolis.
An environmentally aware metropolis
Is it possible for a large metropolis involved in an ambitious programme of urban re-design to put sustainability in first place? The answer from Paris is “yes.” All of the large infrastructure works launched in recent months in the French capital pay close attention to protecting the environment and are sharply focused on the goal of creating a sustainable city in terms of quality of life and wellbeing for its inhabitants. This is true for the Grand Paris Express, but also for many of the other projects launched in recent years. The city government said that between 2014 and 2020 it will plant 20,000 trees and create 500 acres of new green areas. These are important projects, because they are part of the ambitious goal of making Paris into a carbon neutral city, completely powered by renewable energy, by 2050. To reach this goal, the city government started taking action in 2004 with its Project of the Climate Action Plan, and is already seeing important results today. By 2020, emissions are targeted to fall by 25% from their 2004 levels, and are expected to be 50% less by 2030.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is taking the lead, as she recounts in her book “Breathe” launched in September 2017 dedicated to clean air.
«The biggest challenge today is climate change», she told Le Monde in an interview.
Hidalgo and Paris have taken up this challenge, in the conviction that the city can transform itself into a aggregator of well-being and opportunity where environmental protection and health are always in first place.