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Bringing Natural Capital to Cities: Paris

Paris, the City of Lights, the City of Love… and the region that 7 out of 10 inhabitants would like to leave!

Paris, the City of Lights, the City of Love… and the region that 7 out of 10 inhabitants would like to leave! Like many metropolitan areas, Paris is expensive, it’s polluted, and it’s stressful. Which makes its quality of life relatively low compared to smaller cities.

Recently, the city has launched a major initiative to bring nature back to the citizens. The goal is to increase, by 2020, urban parks by 30 ha, green roofs or green walls by 100 ha, and plant 20,000 new trees [1], adding to similar greening initiatives already launched by the Greater Paris Region.

Will this be enough to bring back the quality of life to Parisians? This, among other questions, is what we are investigating through the IDEFESE (Assessment of Ecosystems and Ecosystem services in Ile de France) project. Our team is set to measure and map the multiple benefits of nature, in Paris and the larger region of Ile de France, with the aim to inform regional and urban planning.

ecosystem services analyses for the Paris region
Example of output maps from an ecosystem services analyses for the Paris region (Source: Geoffroy 2017, Master’s thesis)

The underlying idea is pretty simple. Natural ecosystems, from large forests to a simple planter box, produce a range of benefits to citizens: they cool down the air during heat waves, retain runoff when it rains, reduce noise, and also provide mental health benefits and recreational opportunities. Therefore, we should design our cities and regions to maximize these benefits for people, especially those who might suffer the most from a lack of these services.

However, this is rarely how urban planning works: first because planning is a complex political process, which means that technical information is only one of multiple factors that influence projects on the ground. Second, because information on nature’s benefits, or “ecosystem services”, is rarely available to planners and decision-makers.

The IDEFESE project helps address these issues through three activities.

First, we analyse institutional settings and decisional processes governing urban planning in order to identify where the notion of ecosystem services can be used most efficiently. There are many planning documents in a major metropolitan area like Paris, developed by stakeholders with different environmental, social, and economic agendas, and responding to different legal obligations. Our research proposes to use an ecosystem services approach to provide a common ground to multiple actors, covering multiple goals, and improving the coherence of planning documents.

Second, we conduct a spatial analysis of nature’s benefits, including how they have evolved until now, and how they will evolve under future urbanization and climate scenarios. In particular, we will compare actual urban master plans with new urbanization scenarios co-developed with a stakeholder group comprising urban planners, ecologists, and representatives from interest groups (farming, watershed management, …).

Finally, as part of the scenario analysis, we will investigate important questions about inequality that are often neglected in urban planning documents: for example, does the spatial arrangement of urban green spaces in Ile-de-France reduce or exacerbate existing socio-economic inequalities? Will these inequalities change with future urban plans? 

As many cities turn to investments in nature-based solutions to address global changes, the IDEFESE project contributes to advance research on urban ecosystem services and its application to urban planning. And for NatCap, partnering with IDEFEDE brings another pilot city to envision, test, apply, and extend the new Urban InVEST tools–broadening the initial set of pilot cities in the U.S. and China. With its ambitious plans for greening the city, Paris constitutes a great playground to develop new science and assess the potential of urban nature to contribute to people’s wellbeing.


Learn more about the Natural Capital Project’s Sustainable, Livable Cities work.

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