Sustainable travel

How Paris is angling to become Europe’s greenest city by 2030

Think the French capital is all smog and traffic jams? Think again, says Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey

Thursday 25 March 2021 15:23 GMT
Traffic is being limited on the Place de la Concorde
Traffic is being limited on the Place de la Concorde (PCA/Stream)

Paris is always a good idea, as the overused quote goes. But can a city break ever be a green idea? In this case, the simple answer is yes. Not only is Paris Europe’s most visited city, but it is also well on the way to achieving its goal of becoming Europe’s greenest city by 2030.

Paris has in recent years continuously featured in the news for its green approach, from closing the Champs Elysees to cars on the first Sunday of every month to permanently making busy streets such as the riverbanks of the Seine available for pedestrians only. Mayor Anne Hidalgo took the pandemic as an opportunity to turn the normally choked thoroughfare Rue de Rivoli, which runs from Bastille to the Place de la Concorde, into a pop-up cycleway, adding to the city’s existing 900 miles of cycle lanes.

Much to the chagrin of Parisian drivers, many new routes are being created through the removal of some 72 per cent of the city’s on-street parking spaces. These have already taken a hit from more and more parking spaces being reserved for electric cars only, and from cafes and restaurants gaining permission to expand their terraces into on-street parking areas to allow pandemic-friendly al fresco dining.

Exploring Paris by bike is easy
Exploring Paris by bike is easy (Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey)

Exploring the city with a low carbon footprint is eminently possible: strolling is best to take in the sights, while cycling is not quite the hair-raising experience it once was. If you do need to get from A to B in a hurry, there is always the RATP, the Paris public transport app, which not only tells you where to hop onto what bus, but also gives users the CO2 footprint for reaching their destination, comparing metro to bus to bicycle to getting there on foot – thus enabling travellers to make the most sensible choice. Soon there will be an even better way to get around Paris: SeaBubbles. These “flying” electrical water taxis are due to be launched this spring, offering a fast, silent and environmentally friendly way of zipping down the Seine from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower in no time.

Once at the Eiffel Tower, look a little closer between the metal struts – not only is the city’s most famous landmark equipped with LED lights that twinkle at night, but it’s also fitted with solar panels, rainwater harvesting modules, and two silent wind turbines hidden within the structure, producing some 10,000kWh of renewable energy annually. Who knew?

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But being green isn’t all about energy; it’s also about the small things. As you stroll along the Seine from the Eiffel Tower towards the Ile de la Cite, you pass the golden dome of Les Invalides, sheltering Napoleon’s tomb and the must-visit Musee d’Orsay. Both have beehives on their roofs; due to the diversity of plants in its parks and the strict no-pesticide rule, Paris has proved to be a haven where bees can thrive, unlike the rest of France where numbers are on the decline. Many hotels in Paris have hives on their roofs too, which not only adds to the happy bee population but also allows the hotels to use the harvest in their restaurants and even spas.

All hotels are encouraged to follow the Charter for Sustainable Accommodation in Paris, launched in 2012. Guidance ranges from recycling to improving the wellbeing and treatment of staff. Together with France’s traditional approach to seasonal and organic eating, and the increasing number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants popping up throughout the city, you will find it easy to eat, sleep, and travel in Paris with a good conscience.

Even the Eiffel Tower is fitted with solar panels, rainwater harvesting modules, and two silent wind turbines hidden within the structure

Talking of eating, Paris’s lively cafe culture is getting a makeover as well. Not only are plastic straws and cutlery banned as of January 2021, outdoor heaters will also be outlawed once the pandemic is over. Sitting outside in winter will be a little colder, but much more ecologically friendly.

But what about the still-heavy traffic and pollution? After all, Paris has a well-known smog problem. With Hidalgo having been voted in for a second term as mayor, that’s a work in progress. More and more large spaces, such as the Champs Elysees and the Place de la Concorde, are being either closed or limited to traffic and instead given over to pedestrians and cyclists. The stretch between Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower across the Pont d’Iena is slated to be turned into a park, and the upcoming Olympic Games in 2024 are set to be the greenest ever, with even the swimming facilities filled with water from the Seine.

The Pont d’Iena is set to become a park
The Pont d’Iena is set to become a park (Gustafson Porter + Bowman)

If you think you can’t swim in the Seine, think again. The floating Josephine Baker Piscine, moored in the 13th arrondissement, is not only great for sunbathing and al fresco drinks on the quayside, but is also eco-friendly. It takes water from the Seine, treats it, and after it’s played host to swimmers, the water is treated once more and returned to the river cleaner than it was before.

But you can even swim in the Seine proper, as the son of the mayor is proving right now. He is swimming the entire course of the river at the time of writing, proving that his mother’s green approach to city life is indeed succeeding.

Looking for a sustainable city break once travel restrictions lift? Hop on the train to Paris, the hottest green capital in Europe.

International travel remains banned until 17 May at the earliest

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