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Broadcast Journalist and Multimedia Producer based in Paris, France

France plans 13 ecocities

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Hammarby urban redevelopment, Stockholm, Sweden, February 2010, CC licence: La Citta Vita

France is set to have 13 ecocities attracting 50,000 extra inhabitants over the next 25 years in specially designed eco-quarters. The government has told local authorities to submit their plans by March next year. Eighty per cent of France’s population lives in urban areas which produce 70 per cent of French greenhouse gas emissions. The plan aims to “show that it’s possible to grow, to welcome new inhabitants and do it in a sustainable way,” government adviser Emmanuelle Gay told RFI.

The schemes will represent the “top level of sustainable urban development”, Gay says.

The “cities of tomorrow” scheme will receive 750 million euros out of the 35-billion-euro “big loan” that President Nicolas Sarkozy launched in an attempt to revive the economy.

The 13 towns and cities, selected from 19 candidates last November, have until the 15 March 2011 to present the outline of their projects, including timescales, repayments of the loan and economic impact.

The plans must include “the use of different sources of renewable energy” and “integrated collective multimode transport”, Benoist Apparu, the Secretary for Urban Planning and Housing, said last Tuesday.

The plans also fit into France’s obligations under the European Union’s 20-20-20 target which aims to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 per cent of 1990 levels, provide 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources and cut energy consumption by 20 per cent – all by 2020.

Environmental campaigners have mixed feelings about the government’s plans.

“The objective of developing a more sustainable vision of urban planning is of course positive,” says Marion Richards, from the Climate Action Network France. “France is looking to catch up with other European countries in terms of sustainable urban planning.”

The planning is “integrated” and takes account of existing or planned projects, Richards says. And it sidesteps the usually problematic system of French commune administrations.

Rather than dealing with smaller councils, parishes or municipalities, which number more than 36,000 in France, the 13 projects delegate the urban planning to a higher level.

But the different schemes are focused on centralised development, which critics say encourages urban sprawl. And, they say, contradict other schemes financed by Sarkozy’s stimulus package.

“It’s really focusing on the construction of new buildings,” says Richards. It does not include provision for “retrofitting buildings” which she says should be a necessary component.

“Only 15 per cent of this ‘big loan’ is aiming to support sustainable development – then you also have financing for new highways and airports,” she adds.

A second call for projects worth 250 million euros will be made before the end of the year, topping the fund up to one billion euros.

These are the selected towns and cities:

  • Bordeaux
  • Rennes
  • Strasbourg/Kehl
  • Plaine Commune
  • Montpellier
  • Nantes Saint-Nazaire
  • Metz
  • Clermont-Ferrand
  • Grenoble
  • Marseille
  • Nice
  • La Reunion
  • Pays Haut Val d’Alzette

Radio France Internationale

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