The attention given to biodiversity is having an ever-larger resonance. Regions are seizing on the issue, proposing action plans, and setting themselves goals regarding this now sensitive issue. We asked Nathalie Machon, professor of ecology at France’s National Museum of Natural History, to consider what makes our urban biodiversity so distinct.
Biodiversity is fundamental for city residents because the ecosystems provide them with vital services. We’re talking about temperature regulation during heat waves, helping with soil, water, and air decontamination, but we shouldn’t underestimate the positive impact on health either. More and more studies show that people living in neighbourhoods with strong biodiversity are in better health. This is true for pollen allergies, which are less numerous, but also for stress and depression. In fact, living surrounded only by concrete hardly seems bearable!
Until recently, only a small amount of attention was paid to these subjects, perhaps we were looking to domesticate nature in the city because, to put it simply, no one likes insects. But we’re seeing that change; some studies show that today the public is enthusiastic about more abundant green spaces, with soft management, exceeding the number of people who prefer heavily managed spaces, where biodiversity is very poor.
Biodiversity and all that it entails thus seem to be more accepted and we’re seeing the demand for greenery increase considerably. Residents voice it when they are surveyed on urban projects, or through the popularity of licences to plant greenery. Some towns, moreover, are hugely ambitious. I have in mind Nantes and Angers, as well as Grenoble, Strasbourg, etc. In these cities, we’re seeing the growth of planting greenery alongside soft mobility. Because cars are clearly one of the main enemies: pollution, tarmacadam, etc.
When cities give more space to pedestrians, to cyclists, it’s also a good thing for biodiversity as pollution decreases and the vegetation that often accompanies these paths forms corridors for various species, linking green spaces together. And these environmental changes bear fruit: among all of the world’s ecosystems, the only ones tending to improve are those in cities.
And what if, from now on, wastelands were converted into gardens? Read the article on page 29.
Combining the renewal of its industrial facilities and the re-greening of the city, this is one of the areas retained by RATP. Working towards the urban integration of its sites, the company is seizing the opportunity presented by the reconstruction and upgrading of its bus depots and maintenance workshops to offer operations aimed at increasing diversity. In the 15th arrondissement in Paris, the Vaugirard Workshops, where works started in February 2019, are the perfect example of this.
In addition to the renovation of what has been a site for maintenance activities since 1910, RATP has launched a large-scale urban project led as per the environmental approach to urban planning, in partnership with the French environment and energy management agency.
The project includes 400 housing units, local shops, a day-care centre, and a new lane. More importantly, an ambitious 15,000-square-metre green roof will perch above it all. It will be the largest green roof in Paris. 700 square metres of surface area will be dedicated to the development of urban agriculture, whose produce will be sold directly on site, in a market located on the ground floor.