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Mobility, Waste, and Greenery in Paris

Part Two of What I Learned During a Summer Trip to France


Enhanced mobility, with the main emphasis on public transit, is a central aspect of the Batignolles eco-district in Paris. Two metro lines — including an extension to one of the city’s main existing lines — two commuter train lines, a tramway line, and 13 bus linkages serve the neighborhood.

The new Martin Luther King Park, rather than just being a destination, opens to all the surrounding areas with its crisscrossing of foot and bike paths, thus shortening the distances between neighborhoods and public transit. The park was given top priority and was thus completed first to get locals used to making it a part of their daily routines. Throughout Paris, policies and programs are making it easier and more desirable to get around by means other than car.

The district has an innovative waste-collection system, an underground network of pneumatic pipes that automatically removes household, business, and public-area waste (except glass), thereby reducing the number of refuse containers and trash trucks and the amount of greenhouse-gas emissions, the latter by 42 percent. In lieu of hundreds of refuse trucks collecting throughout the area, the system needs just four.

The entire project is to be carbon neutral with a constant and rigorous monitoring of results. In spite of the density, greenery is given a high priority: Buildings are allowed to be 35 percent taller than the maximum limit in Paris, creating smaller footprints which, in turn, allow better views and more green space.

Abundant greenery — located in the central park in green spaces shared around and between buildings, on rooftops, and covering green walls — is purposefully laid out for human pleasure and well-being, as well as biodiversity, and to reduce the heat-island effect. Only 12 percent of the district’s total surface area is covered by impervious pavement, and rainwater is collected and filtered on-site with the help of green roofs and wetlands.

The composite of plants acts as a veritable urban “air conditioner” due to the shade of the trees and the natural phenomenon of evapotranspiration generated by the plants, which is further enhanced by sprinkler water, ponds, fountains, and kiddie-play-area water jets creating even more water vapor to cool the ambient air. This is the first I have heard of engaging nature’s processes on an urban neighborhood scale to offset anticipated, increasingly frequent heat waves due to climate change.

The district even has several “heavy industries,” but they are carefully located with rigorous operating conditions. The goal is to take advantage of the rail lines to curb heavy truck traffic in the city. A freight center will receive mostly foodstuffs coming in by rail and distribute these products to neighborhood stores and restaurants around Paris by electric vehicles. Another industry, a concrete plant, will use rail links to transport aggregates from distant quarries, thus avoiding the use of 10,000 trucks a year.

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