Green growth in the city

A massive project awaits decision makers in France, with the need to replant urban space to mitigate the effects of heatwaves and torrential rain alike. Here, expertise will be crucial.

Cities have no choice other than to mitigate the effects of the heatwaves that France is constantly experiencing. One solution is to introduce greenery into streets and buildings. Plants reduce the effects of heat by creating shade, but they also absorb and reflect the sun's rays. Town councils are installing urban forests, cool islands and green roofs. “Every year, we de-seal the ground and create hundreds of square metres of greenery," explains Jérémy Noble, deputy director for Ecology and Nature in Nancy. We install vertical gardens. We're planting some of the parking spaces that have become available as a result of the Mobility Act, which prohibits all parking spaces less than five metres away from pedestrian crossings. However, there are still a lot of constraints, particularly when it comes to planting trees, due to the utility networks... We are not neglecting private property. It accounts for almost 50% of Nancy's 300 hectares of green spaces, and private individuals own 60 to 75% of the trees. So this is a key area.”

A hand to play?
City authorities can require developers to "green" their building projects. Arnaud Travers, Innovation Director at the Travers Group, recalls: "I think we're still in the early days of urban greening. There has indeed been an awakening, but we're only at the trial stage. Climbing plants are simple, reliable solutions that can be adapted to any situation. All they require are light structures, wires, cables and netting that can be stretched above the streets. Mounted on walls, climbing plants can easily cover up to 10 sqm, both horizontally and vertically. I believe that garden professionals have a hand to play, provided that politicians trust us on the one hand, and that we are in a position to provide technical solutions on the other.”

This new awareness has reached not only urban planning professionals, but also the general public. Whereas just a few years ago, city dwellers were outraged by the sight of overgrown weeds or piles of dead leaves on pavements, they now want a green city.
Three questions to Patrick Abadie, regulatory affairs officer for greenery (Jardineries et Animaleries de France)

What is your take on urban greening?
Over the last ten years or so, the French have become increasingly keen to add greenery to their balconies, patios and gardens. To meet this demand, retailers have been working hard on their product ranges. Our customers like to grow small fruit trees, cherry tomatoes and baby vegetables. Snacks for aperitifs! The other notable use of plants in the city is to provide insulation from the neighbours. Think of bamboo or evergreen shrub planters between two balconies.

What can retail chains do in response to global warming?
This situation should encourage us to act as responsible corporate citizens. We need to carry out scientific research. We also need to spread good practice among gardeners. We can develop our ranges to include water-efficient species (perennials or shrubs). We also have species and varieties that have been on the market for 40 or 50 years, but which have never been promoted or even identified as water efficient.

How does one reconcile watering and heatwaves?
That's a fundamental issue. Our fear is that our clients will no longer be able to water their plants, and we risk losing everything. Despite the pressure from the media, we need to remind people that watering is not an anti-social act as long as they follow certain rules... The sector has already introduced certifications such as the blue plant label. Plant producers have also made great efforts with regard to water management. We are actively working on this multifaceted issue.

By David Fouillé