Paris is hosting the COP21, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change aimed at reaching a global climate agreement. Its primary objective is to limit global warming to two degrees, the threshold beyond which human activities would be so severely impacted as to provoke an existential crisis.
The world’s major cities – their concentration of human activities and related byproducts – have been singled out as significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. The “Green City” however, aims to reverse this prevailing paradigm and help turn cities into active players in the struggle for a more sustainable planet.
Greening cities differently
A ‘Green City’ is a very specific type of sustainable city, focused on the multifaceted greening of urban areas, in public spaces and on buildings. In the ‘Green City’, classic green spaces become merely a lever among many others: today, we’re talking about green roofs and facades, sidewalks, and workspaces themselves. In short, cities are quite literally turned green.
The ‘green’ building concept is thereby also reinvented: beyond environmental labels, today’s green buildings feature vegetation aimed at the wellbeing of occupants, energy efficiency and biodiversity conservation.
But what are the environmental benefits of vegetation? There are, in fact, multiple benefits including absorption of urban heat islands, improved soil drainage, reduced air pollution, and revitalized biodiversity, covering many of the ecological bases.
As we see, greening the city offers real opportunities to bring urban areas and natural environments closer together, improve exchanges and complementarity.
Citizen demands and the awareness of public actors
Given the increasing asphyxiation of cities, citizens are demanding that their cities become greener. But that's not all: greening initiatives have a significant impact on a city’s attractiveness, especially among young people. This is one of the main lessons from our survey Greening up the city: 54% of students surveyed would be willing to refuse a job offer in a city, if the air quality is poor.
That said, in France, many local authorities have already developed ambitious greening strategies. Paris is a great example with its goal of 100 hectares of vegetated roofs and facades by 2020. It also introduced in 2011 a Biodiversity Plan. Other cities have followed suit, like Orleans and Le Havre.
Globally, many cities have developed "vegetation strategies" taking into account their specific problems: Singapore, New York, or Montreal and Toronto that leverage their flat roofs to massively develop urban agriculture.
This is also a very specific form of vegetation. Promoting short circuits, it invites us to rethink the relationship between cities and their surrounding countryside while creating jobs and innovation.
Urban agriculture is the epitome of how environmental, social and economic issues can join forces in a single activity and fit perfectly within the urban environment.
In Conclusion, the green city is a facet of the increasingly important sustainable city, created in harmony with nature.
Sustainability is everyone’s responsibility, but the green city is especially the responsibility of local businesses: they must take the initiative on subjects on which they are increasingly solicited, and on which they could have an important impact. For businesses, sustainability is an important issue in terms of management, wellness, brand image and productivity. Ultimately, their thoughtful contributions to greening the city could help the COP21 meet their ambitious objectives.