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How Paris used lockdowns to shift towards sustainability

As Parisians languished in lockdown in 2020, mayor Anne Hidalgo did something extraordinary.

With the city emptied of cars, Hidalgo transformed 1400 km of Parian roads into cycle paths.

When Paris re-opened, drivers found cars were no longer allowed on the famous Rue de Rivoli which extends all the way from the Louvre to the Bastille.

Hidalgo was elected for her green policies. And she’s not just talking about sustainability, she’s acting on it.

Cities occupy 2 per cent of the world’s surface, but consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60 per cent of the entire carbon emissions.

Paris environment plan Hidalgo
Paris' environmental plan is turning into action. Credit: Paris

Paris is leading the way

The Paris Agreement was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015. While it is a legally binding international treaty on climate change, many nations have failed to truly follow through on their commitments.

Paris too was struggling to change. A 2018 Greenpeace report ranked Paris as the second-worst European city for air pollution.

Hidalgo told Time the coronavirus had allowed people to see what the city could become.

“All of a sudden there’s this silent space,” she said. “You could hear birds.”

While some drivers have protested the changes in Paris, most do support them.

Now, without cars clogging the road, the journey from the Bastille to the Louvre takes just minutes on a scooter.

Paris environment plan Hidalgo
Paris' environmental plan is turning into action. Credit: Paris

Going car free

Cars are one of the biggest sources of pollution and Paris, like many European cities, sees their removal as one of the best ways to achieve their climate change targets.

During lockdown, Hidalgo removed thousands of car parking spaces from the city. Pari’s first four arrondissements, which equates to about 7 per cent of the city will be designated car-free by 2022. The footpaths on the famous Champs Elyse will be widened and traffic cut from four lanes to two.

The city will ban diesel cars from even entering the city from 2024 and petrol cars follow shortly after in 2030.

Under this sustainable vision, Parisians will use electrified public transport, bikes or scooters to get around the city.


Paris goes green

When people think of Paris, they tend to picture rooftops, grey apartment buildings and large concrete squares. But Paris is changing.

Paris plans to plant 170,000 trees across the city by 2026 and to cover 50 per cent of the city by 2030.

Under Hidalgo’s leadership, the city has planned four new “urban forests”. Parisians will soon walk under a canopy of linden and cherry blossom trees at the Opera House, and through a pine grove at the Hôtel de Ville. Gare de Lyon and Seine quayside will feature towering trees and fields. And the newly widened footpaths alongside the Champs Elysee will be covered in “tree tunnels”.

Anne Hidalgo Paris
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has placed green policies at the forefront of her campaign.

Swimming in the Seinne?

Paris’ environmental makeover will also extend to its famous river. The city plans to add riverside pools into an eco-friendly Olympic village (Paris will hold the Summer Olympics in 2024).

The pools use water filtering and cleaning technology to make them safe for swimmers.

It’s the same concept that has already taken hold in New York. There +pool has completed extensive testing to show that swimming in the Hudson safely can actually be achieved.

Anne Hidalgo Paris plans
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo says swimming in the Seine may be possible. Credit: Canva

Changing ideas

If anything Hidalgo’s transformation of Paris reflects the changing attitudes to the environment in Europe.

Hidalgo was reelected in June 2020 and France’s Green Party also won Mayorships in Lyon, Bordeaux and Strasbourg. Greens now hold 10 per cent of the seats in the European parliament.

In May this year, the C40, a group of 40 cities looking to take decisive client action met to discuss how to reshape cities in the wake of COVID. Two Australian cities hold membership: Sydney and Melbourne.

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