#82 Paris: Redesigning Public Spaces, Green Initiatives & Olympics Preparations

Episode 88 July 03, 2024 00:39:09
#82 Paris: Redesigning Public Spaces, Green Initiatives & Olympics Preparations
Smart in the City – The BABLE Podcast
#82 Paris: Redesigning Public Spaces, Green Initiatives & Olympics Preparations

Jul 03 2024 | 00:39:09


Hosted By

Tamlyn Shimizu

Show Notes

This episode was recorded live at the Urban Future 2024 conference, where we sat down with Christophe Najdovski, the Deputy Mayor of Revegetation, Green Spaces, Biodiversity & Animal Welfare at the City of Paris.

He shared his insights and experiences in redistributing and redesigning public spaces in Paris, highlighting key initiatives such as the pedestrianisation of the Seine Banks and the development of cycling infrastructure. We discussed the environmental and social impacts of these transformations, the challenges of maintaining green spaces amidst urban development, and how Paris prepared for the upcoming Olympic Games as an accelerator of ecological transition.


Overview of the episode:

[00:02:35] Teaser Question: "If the parks and green spaces of Paris could talk, what stories do you think they would tell us?"

[00:03:24] Our guest's background

[00:06:03] Discussion on the transformation of Paris into a garden city and the political will behind these changes

[00:09:56] Challenges in redistributing public space and ensuring community support

[00:12:39] The success and public reception of the pedestrianisation of the Seine Banks

[00:15:05] Coping with climate change and the importance of greening the city

[00:19:57] Financial investment in urban greening and its benefits for the community

[00:21:25] Integrating green spaces in the context of the upcoming Olympic Games

[00:25:31] Engaging with the public and handling conflicts around urban development

[00:29:22] Learning from other cities and sharing best practices in urban sustainability

[00:33:36] Hot Take of the Day: Increasing parking prices for SUVs in Paris

[00:37:21] Ending Question: "To you, what is a Smart City?"


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Episode Transcript

[00:00:06] Tamlyn Shimizu: Welcome to Smart in the city, the BABLE podcast where we bring together top actors in the smart city arena, sparking dialogues and interactions around the stakeholders and themes most prevalent for today's citizens and tomorrow's generations. I am your host, Tamlyn Shimizu, and I hope you will enjoy this episode and gain knowledge and connections to accelerate the change for a better urban life. Smart in the City is brought to you by BABLE Smart Cities we enable processes from research and strategy development to co creation and implementation. To learn more about us, please visit the BABLEplatform at BABLESmartcities EU. Welcome back to another episode of Smart in the city, everyone. This is a special episode hosted by one of my colleagues, this time hosted by our CEO and founder, Alexander Schmidt. I hope you enjoy the change in voice and pace and I will catch you next time. [00:01:02] Alexander Schmidt: So lovely to hear you all again. We are sitting here in Rotterdam for this edition of the Urban Future Conference for the one in 2024. We are glad to be back, like every year. Thanks to our partners from Urban Future for allowing us to use the rooms here again and for this great partnership. I'm thrilled to dig into what's happening in Paris today with maybe the best person to talk about public space revegetation, greening the city so many things happening in Paris. I'm really, really happy to have Christophe Najdovski here with me, the deputy mayor of revegetation, green spaces, biodiversity and animal welfare at the city of Paris. Welcome and I'm really glad to have you. [00:01:43] Christophe Najdovski: Thank you. [00:01:44] Alexander Schmidt: So you're the first parisian mayor in charge of animal welfare and you aim to bring back nature in public spaces of the city. Your roadmap includes actions such as planting more than 17,000 trees, transforming Paris into a garden city, and revitalizing the vegetation in public space. So this experience, you also were, before I just read this, you were the president of the European Cyclists Federation, and you do actually a lot of things by bike. [00:02:10] Christophe Najdovski: During three years, based on Brussels, we tried to push forward to have more cyclists on the roads in Europe. [00:02:19] Alexander Schmidt: I saw you giving interviews on cycles. And so you are a passionate cyclist yourself? [00:02:24] Christophe Najdovski: Yes, I am. And I continue also to be interested in that topic, and we try to do our best also in Paris, to have more and more people on bikes. [00:02:35] Alexander Schmidt: Okay, very good. We'll certainly dig into these topics more over the next half an hour. Very much looking forward to it. We always start with a small question, a small teaser question, particularly in your field, those beautiful public spaces in Paris. If those public spaces, the parks, the green spaces, could talk. What stories do you think they would tell us? [00:02:58] Christophe Najdovski: You know the movie when Terminator says, I'll be back? [00:03:03] Alexander Schmidt: Oh, yes. [00:03:05] Christophe Najdovski: So maybe the green space is in the parks would tell us we are back because we are at the core of the city, of the core of the quality of life and the well being of the citizens. So trust us and give us more space in our cities. [00:03:24] Alexander Schmidt: That is a lovely note. That's a lovely one. I still will hear it always with this austrian accent, though not with a parisian one. Okay. Very lovely. Maybe you could start by telling us a little bit about your role. What's your day to day look like? What are you currently working on beyond these big numbers? 17,000 trees. These activities, they all sound amazing. But what does your day look like? [00:03:51] Christophe Najdovski: Well, my job is to green the city. It's also my function, and my job is to give well being. And especially after what we lived with the pandemic, when we were confined, we needed to have space. And the first questions that asked people after the pandemic was, we need more access to nature. We need more spaces, green spaces, open spaces, especially for the people who, in urban cities, don't have access to the nature, can't go to a vacation because they don't have enough money or they don't have a second home. So the need for the majority of the people of having access to nature is a key challenge for the cities today. And then in 2022, we had several heat waves in Europe and floods also. So we are facing also the consequences of the climate change, and we are living the consequences already right now. So we need to act, we need to take decisions and to implement policies as fast as we can. And that is also part of my job. [00:05:28] Alexander Schmidt: Brilliant. For those of our listeners to hear this for the first time, the reference to a flood. My train was delayed by 7 hours because of a flood in southern Germany. So that reference is very, very recent. It's very much on top of the head in Paris. You're undertaking significant efforts to kind of do these redistribution, creating more green spaces. Now, you are born in Paris. How has that kind of changed over your lifetime as well? How are you planning to change this over the next years as well? [00:06:03] Christophe Najdovski: Well, we have the chance also to have a mayor. Her name is Anni Dalgo, and she's an incredible woman with a strong political will. And she gives us also the opportunity to reshape the city because she understands a simple thing is that our cities won't be like they were in the past century. We are facing new challenges. And we must adapt also to the climate change. And reshaping and distributing the public space to the people and to the citizens is also a matter of health, of well being, and also a conviction that we have that it is necessary to do it today. So that is the reason why we are giving more space to people. And as we are today in the Netherlands. It reminds me a sentence that I heard a few years ago here in the Netherlands, in a conference called Velocity in Groningen. And the sentence was pronounced by a guy whose name is cycling professor. He's also an activist, but also a scientist, a professor. And he was asking the audience what makes the children more happy and why the dutch children are the happiest children in the world. And he said, this is because they can cycle, they have cycle pass and they can go to meet their friends, not asking their parents. So they have the autonomy. And that sentence was very strong. And I still have it in mind, because when you give also space to people, and especially to children, it's also giving them the autonomy. And it's a kind of also emancipation. You can provide them. And that's what we are seeing today. When we are implementing school streets, when we are pedestrianizing these streets who are near the schools, we provide good conditions to the children to go to their schools from their home safely, by walking or by cycling. When we are implementing new cycle paths in Paris, we are now leaking more and more people, parents with children, biking. So it is also part of the autonomy that we give to the people. And this is why it reminds me this sentence of the children who were happy. So that is the reason why in Paris we are taking space, giving formally to the cause, and we are redistributing it to all the people, not just to the children and the parents, but also, for example, for the elderly persons. Because when you are pedestrianizing the street, when you are putting benches, they can sit, they can have a rest. Also for the elderly persons. So it's a global view and it's redistributing. It's difficult to say to me, I'm sorry, redistributing space to all the people. So that is the vision that we have and we're trying to develop it day by day. [00:09:56] Alexander Schmidt: I love that. And you're really giving to people instead of taking things away. So you're giving them new opportunities and safer spaces. But still, in these transitions, there are transitions, so there's change, right? So there are people that might not be happy with these changes. You read about closing down roads, everyone that drives a. A car will be unhappy, or lots of them will be unhappy. So how do you handle these tensions? How do you work with these people to still move forward in a good way? [00:10:34] Christophe Najdovski: Well, when you have changes, you always have resistances. If you don't change nothing, nothing will happen. But that doesn't mean that people are happy and that they agree the status quo. And when we are changing things, it's not coming from nowhere. Because I am a politician, I was elected, so I was elected on a program, I was candidate. And during the campaign we say what we are going to do, and then when we are elected, we do what we said. Normally, a promise must be normally implemented. And when you take a promise, you must also put it in the reality after that. And that's what we did with several decisions that we took. For example, if I take the example of the pedestrianization of the right bank of the River Seine in 2016, it was in our program, and then we were elected. We prepared a vote in the city council, and the decision was voted by the city council. And then there was a public survey and it agreed the decision. But after that, we were hearing the opponents and just the opponents, but not the silent majority who voted for that. And during two years, because our opponents went to the court, we were just hearing them saying it was bringing more pollution, more congestion, despite the fact that the space was already pedestrianized and that they were thousands and thousands of people enjoying it. You can see now how it is. [00:12:39] Alexander Schmidt: Me, one of them, right? I was at that time, since I was twice there since 2016. I enjoy this space so much. And I have my daughter. Last time we were there, I think my daughter must have been less than two years old. And having her run there in the sand and think freely in between the people was an amazing feeling. [00:12:58] Christophe Najdovski: Yes. So you can see every day, people are walking, cycling, people are commuting from their home to go to work, people are jogging and running. It's a hotspot today for runners to run along the river. We really have reconnected the city to the river. But after that, there were still the opponents contesting. After two years, the court gave us reason and we won at the court, finally. And during that time, the support for the measure has increased. And today, if you ask people, no one wants to come back. So you need to be strong on your position when you take this kind of decision to believe in what you are doing as well. Of course, you can sometimes do some mistakes. We are not perfect people, but when you have convictions, you have to be strong. And then to go through your idea. [00:14:08] Alexander Schmidt: Was it nevertheless frustrating maybe for you to kind of go through these two years basically having to wait or delay your measures? [00:14:16] Christophe Najdovski: Yes, it's always frustrating because you have passed all the legal measures and you still wait the decision of the court until the end. You don't know what will really happen. Yes, it can be a little bit frustrating, but at last it was a kind of liberation with the decision of the court. [00:14:38] Alexander Schmidt: That's great to hear. Now, these changes into green spaces, just very, very practically, what do they change in the way? So we know how we maintain roads, right? So the roads must be refreshed every once in a while with new concrete. But how is it with green spaces or all these kinds? What challenges are there to keep them clean, healthy, green, whatever they are? This is a task, I would assume. [00:15:05] Christophe Najdovski: Yes. Today our cities and I think all over Europe, we are facing the same situation, is that we need to cope with the consequences of climate change. And we know wherever we are that we will have more heat waves, more floods, more extreme climate consequences of the climate change. And to cope with that we have several measures that we can take and one of them is greening massively our cities and we are in a race against time. We need to go fast because the consequences are also already there. And for that we try to invest massively in depaving, remove concrete, put wide streets of open ground, planting trees also all over the streets, to face also this situation and to adapt our cities. And there is also a need from the people to have near their home the possibility to have an access to nature. It brings a lot of benefits. And we know that there is a benefit of reducing the heat highlands, the benefits for our well being and for our mental health of accessing to nature. So for all this reason, economical, social, environmental, the benefits are higher than the costs. Of course that costs. But first we look at the benefits for the people. And each street which is pedestrianized, in which we are planting trees, in which we are putting benches, we see the neighborhood happy and we don't have any person saying we want to go back to the situation we had before. So it is a very popular measure. And that is the reason why of course we continue in that way. [00:17:29] Alexander Schmidt: That is great to hear also the learning that once it's implemented, people tend to be happy with it. [00:17:35] Christophe Najdovski: Yes, you always heard the people who do not agree during the consultation, but often we have the silent majority who supports. And then after that, I really think that there is a strong majority who is satisfied by the decision. [00:18:00] Alexander Schmidt: But you did mention an interesting point, which is often a barrier when it comes to this transitions, which is the money part, the budget part for it. If you had to explain a bit, bit, the costs behind this transition, greening an area, redistributing road space back to the people, what kind of budgets are we talking about for this? And does it pay off? So I totally agree with you. The social value there is, it helps with climate mitigation, 100%. But is it as a monetary investment? Is it something. [00:18:33] Christophe Najdovski: It is a monetary investment, but it is also the. The task and the role of local public authority to do that. When a municipality decides to open a new garden or to invest in reshaping streets, it's also the decision taken by the citizens. It can cost for us, for example, greening the city is approximately 20% our investment budget of the city. Yes. [00:19:10] Alexander Schmidt: Wow. [00:19:10] Christophe Najdovski: That's an important budget. It's about €300 million for the whole mandate of six years that we have. [00:19:21] Alexander Schmidt: So €50 million a year. [00:19:23] Christophe Najdovski: Yes. And the global budget for the investment, for the whole mandate, and for all the policies is about €1.5 billion. So you have that 20%. So that's. Yes, that's a priority of this mandate. And it is also a need, I think, for the city. [00:19:47] Alexander Schmidt: Okay. And this is for the setup period. Right. So for the first six years. And that finances the whole vision, the 17,000 trees doing that for the whole city? [00:19:57] Christophe Najdovski: Yes. It's an investment also for the future, because, as I said, the consequences of the climate change, we see that they are coming very fast, and we need to keep our cities livable and desirable. And especially for those people who don't have great income and a lot of money, when there are heat waves during the summer, they can go outside the city. So we must give a response near their home, near where they are living, and having new gardens, new fresh areas. That means that we must debave, plant trees and try to offer a service. It's also a public equipment that we are also providing by this investment. It's not just putting trees, because it's beautiful. Okay. We like to see trees. We like to hear also the birds. But it's also a question and a matter of health for the people. [00:21:25] Alexander Schmidt: And that's a very impressive commitment to that with 20% of the overall investment budget. Now, there is one more great thing happening in Paris, in not such a long time to wait anymore, the Olympic Games being played there. So what is it that I would assume impacts your plans rather significantly? So how is your job and the activities you are doing? The green spaces that are being developed, how is that integrated in all the work and all the activities and buildings? Infrastructure developments around the Olympics? [00:22:03] Christophe Najdovski: First of all, we see the Olympic Games as an accelerator of the ecological transition, and we try not to make the mistakes that were made by the past. That is the reason why, for example, 95% of the infrastructure is already present. And when we are making some infrastructures for the Olympic Games, for example, we build a new swimming pool, Olympic swimming pool, one arena for some games, like basketball, for example, or the Olympic village. After the Olympic Games, this infrastructure will be a legacy for the people because there will be local equipment, sport equipment, or the Olympic village will be also a new sector, a new quarter, a new district with housing for students and also with green spaces. So we are also reshaping the city and providing new equipment and new services to the people. And we look the Olympic Games also as a legacy for the future, not just for the two or three weeks of the games, but after that for many years, for the people who will also enjoy, I hope so, the new infrastructure that will be built for that time. [00:23:47] Alexander Schmidt: Okay, that's very interesting to see. So that basically it's part of the overall city planning and it will be used for the games for a few weeks. [00:23:56] Christophe Najdovski: Exactly, exactly. We do not want, for example, to make the same mistake that it was made, for example, 20 years ago in Athens in 2004, when there were some equipment that were built just for the games and then left abandoned. It was a huge money spent for nothing. So now we learned from the past that we need now to be more sober. That is the reason why we have already all the infrastructure, 95%. And then just the three new infrastructure that we need, they will be after the games for the people. [00:24:42] Alexander Schmidt: Okay, wow, that is good to hear, because that's something that you often hear. That why the public also revolts against these kinds of projects because they are seen as elitary just helping a few and then not being helping the general society in a way. So that's one way how you've done it. And it sounds like like that does a lot of the job already. How in general is it that you engage with the public so with around the Olympics when it comes to deciding these things that you just mentioned, but also maybe in your normal work, right? Because, you know, square meters are heavily fought over. Every square meter is heavily fought over in a city. So how do you engage with cities? How do you work with conflicts, maybe particularly around the Olympics, but also your daily work. [00:25:31] Christophe Najdovski: Yes. I think that the organizers of the Olympic Games are aware today that the acceptability of the Olympic Games could drastically decrease if they are not respecting some principles. And the principles of sobriety, of legacy of equity, are very strong today. But we see that some activists also are saying that the Olympic Games are just for a few persons, and that the price, for example, of the tickets to go to some events are very high, which is really true. They should be aware that the acceptability of the Olympic Games are questioned today, and that we need to make them as sober as we can, respecting also, and reducing as much as possible the carbon footprint of the whole organization of the games, meaning how people are moving, how they are eating, how they can also access to the different events. We are aware that today we need also to organize the Olympic Games with the respect of some basic principles and respecting the nature, respecting also the people. And I think that for Paris, this principle were globally respected. [00:27:31] Alexander Schmidt: Okay. And those principles are omniscient, so people see them. Everyone knows about those three principles. Or is there something that you can communicate to us? And our listeners know very well, but if we ask anyone else in Paris, so those three, if you can repeat them again, you. [00:27:48] Christophe Najdovski: What I said already. So, being sober. Yeah. Respecting the people and with sobriety. [00:27:57] Alexander Schmidt: With soberness. You mean like being. [00:27:59] Christophe Najdovski: Yes. So today we must respect some principle if we want that the Olympic Games are accepted by the majority of the people. We need to have sober games. We need to have games that respect people's rights, and especially the price of the tickets, or, for example, the rights of the workers who work to build the infrastructure. And then the third is the legacy. So we need to have infrastructures that are built not just for the Olympic Games, but for the people. And that is the reason why the Olympic swimming pool, the new arena that is built, and the Olympic village will be profitable to people after the Olympic Games for the students and for the local residents. [00:28:55] Alexander Schmidt: And that's something great. And I think that's something that other cities can and should learn from you, from your daily work. So now, also, outside of the Olympics, what kind of guidance, what kind of, you know, what would you throw to other cities? People may be in similar positions than you, but in other, maybe smaller cities, not maybe as far as you, what would you give them as a bit of a guidance to say, hey, this is how you get this started? Or what would you throw them? [00:29:22] Christophe Najdovski: We always have to learn about the others. So, of course, we believe in some things in Paris, and maybe we can inspire other cities but we are also inspired by other cities. For example today at urban theatre here in Rotterdam, I heard about what Barcelona did this last year, about the superblocks. I dont know if you heard about this project formally, but its very inspiring. And what Barcelona did with this reshaping of some streets, giving more space to people, also putting more vegetation and planting trees, putting also playgrounds in the middle of the street for children was very inspiring also for us. And what we are doing today in Paris was inspired by Barcelona. So this is an example of what we can learn from other cities, and we have a lot to learn about each other's. [00:30:30] Alexander Schmidt: That's a great, great note. I'm lucky enough to. Our office in Stuttgart is actually just 20 meters away from the first superblock in Stuttgart. I love the concept too. Great. Moving on. Is there anything more that you would like to share as part of the podcast? Something that we didn't touch so far. [00:30:50] Christophe Najdovski: But I would say that we are facing maybe some strange moments sometimes and we live maybe, maybe also we are living uncertain times and sometimes we can not be sure about what we are doing. But I would say that when you are convicted of trying to do things for the well being of people and for citizens, then you have to just go through your idea and to go to the end of what you promised to people. So what I see is that the changes we have made in Paris since ten years are quite important. I see that some people are not very happy of that. Maybe in Paris, because we have a lot of works, so a lot of constraints in the daily life of the people. But after that, when it's finished, we see a huge and a large majority of people who are happy of that. So I think that if I can have a message also for the other decision makers is to believe in what you are thinking and doing. Of course, nobody is perfect, and sometimes you do some mistakes and you have to change some things of what you are doing. But I think that globally, and what I hear from the people who are not living in Paris, but coming to Paris, sometimes they are telling us that the changes that we made are going in the good direction, in the right direction, that these are significant changes of reshaping the public space, redefining the space between people, giving more space to to people and to nature. And this is quite also satisfying for us to have also this vision of people who are outside of the city. And it gives us also the force and the strength to continue. [00:33:36] Alexander Schmidt: That's a very good note. That brings us almost to the end of the time we have together. But there is one segment which I just find fits perfectly into the work that you are doing, and it's called the hot take of the day. [00:33:54] Tamlyn Shimizu: Hot take of the day. We want to hear an opinion of yours that may be slightly controversial or debated. [00:34:08] Christophe Najdovski: Yes. And I chose the question of the price of the parking of the suv's are not just only the suv's, but of the heavy vehicles. We brought a few weeks ago a decision at the local assembly of increasing significantly the price of the parking for those heavy vehicles. And we asked the people for that. So we made a referendum and we had 78,000 Parisians who came to vote. It's also, I would say, a significant number of voters, and 55% of them approved the fact that will increase by three the price of the parking for those vehicles times three. [00:35:11] Alexander Schmidt: So you. [00:35:11] Christophe Najdovski: Times three. [00:35:12] Alexander Schmidt: Wow. [00:35:12] Christophe Najdovski: Yes. So it's a heavy decision, I would say, like the vehicle and the Parisians said okay. And why did they say okay in majority? Because there is a problem. And it's also a signal that we want to address to the car companies is because our cars are getting bigger and bigger and heavier and heavier since 20 years. And in the streets of the cities, that can't match with safety of the people, with the place taken by those vehicles. In the streets, sometimes they are parked on half of the sidewalk because they don't have enough space, because they are more than two meter wide. So in narrow space, when you don't have space, we need to have smaller cars and not bigger cars. So we had that, yes, that idea to ask the people not to take a top down decision. We could just take the decision ourselves without going to ask the Parisians. But we wanted to do that. And as there is a clear majority for that, by the 1 October, this new terrification and new price for the heavy vehicles will take place in the streets of Paris. [00:36:55] Alexander Schmidt: That's another major step. Thank you. Thank you for sharing this. And certainly something that we will read in the news once it's implemented. [00:37:03] Christophe Najdovski: I hope that it will be also a signal for the car companies to have cars adapted to the cities and. Okay, we will see. Maybe they will understand the signal. I hope so. [00:37:21] Alexander Schmidt: Brilliant. That brings me to my last question for today and the question we ask all of our guests. So, for you, what is a smart city? [00:37:32] Christophe Najdovski: A smart city is a city that gives well being for all the people in an inclusive way. It's not just about technology. Technology can, of course, be useful. And I would say that the innovation is not also about technology we can have also social innovation. So a smart city for me is a city who gives the opportunity for all the inhabitants of a city to live well, and not just on a technology basis. [00:38:19] Alexander Schmidt: That's a very great answer. I love that a lot. Christophe, thank you so much. Thank you very much for coming to the show. And thanks again to Urban Future for making this possible here in Rotterdam and to all of our listeners. Don't forget, you can always create a free account on bable-smartcities.eu find out more about smart city projects, solutions and implementations. Thank you all very much and have a great day. [00:38:43] Christophe Najdovski: Thank you. [00:38:45] Tamlyn Shimizu: Thank you all for listening. I'll see you at the next stop on the journey to a better urban life.

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