Having just returned from my annual reimmersion trip to France, I find myself obsessed with the ambitious urban renewal project called the Clichy-Batignolles, located in a dense area in northwest Paris. It bridges the historic, contentious divide between central Paris and the suburbs. Many of the equity, racial, and immigrant problems plaguing France are segregated by this divide.
Originally conceived as the site for France’s failed bid to host the 2012 Olympics, it has instead become an example of how a major urban area can sustainably reconstitute itself and address the issue of climate change straightforwardly. Its 124-acre footprint surrounds a new 24-acre park, one of the larger ones in Paris. The park, called Martin Luther King Park, was inaugurated on the 40th anniversary of his death. (More on the park in a future article). This eco-district project embodies maximum mixed use of buildings, social diversity, energy efficiency, reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, and biodiversity.
Economically it will create 12,700 new jobs, foster new businesses, contribute one and a half million square feet of office space, and add 3,500 new living spaces. Half of the new housing will be public, and 20 percent will have capped rents for dependent seniors, students, and disabled persons; the remaining 30 percent at market rate will be tailored to families and young working people. These various types of housing are spread throughout the district, not concentrated in new ghettos. Shops, meeting places, recreational facilities, a community center, schools, cafés and restaurants, and a cinema are being dotted throughout and around the large, central, easily accessible park.
A sharp focus on energy is incorporated into every aspect of building and activity in the neighborhood. All buildings have an energy budget, which is roughly 30 percent less than what is permitted for new construction elsewhere in Paris. Every structure is linked to a new district geothermal system that taps into temperatures 2,000 feet underground. Because of compact building shapes, substantial levels of exterior building insulation, and green roofs, energy loads are small. Rooftop solar panels and photovoltaics integrated into window glazing generate a part of the remaining needed energy. The façades feature a diverse array of windows, larger on the lower floors and smaller on the higher ones, thus creating an optimal balance between heat input, natural light, and solar protection. All of these systems and features lead to an outstanding energy outcome district-wide. Approximately 55 percent of all the energy consumed in the eco-district comes from renewables.
The completed buildings are varied and architecturally interesting and fit harmoniously with the older ones nearby. The French have mastered mixing the new and old. In my next article, I will address enhanced mobility, urban biodiversity, district cooling, and carbon neutrality in this Batignolles project.