[FOCUS SMART CITY] Paris “smart and sustainable” by 2020?

This is at least the ambition of the Paris City Hall, displayed on its official website. Yet, the capital is currently only 38th in the smart parking application Easy Park’s ranking of emerging smart cities’ performance. A position that does not reflect the potential of the City of Light, visited by more than 30 million tourists every year. Despite its status as a world metropolis and its attractiveness to tourists, Paris is struggling to renew itself and is often criticized for its lack of cleanliness and safety, high costs of living and high level of pollution. At the national level, the capital is not a model of development either and only ranks 23rd amongst France’s most dynamic cities, according to the Figaro. The ranking focuses on each metropolis’ economic vitality and takes into account various socio-economic indicators, from businesses’ health to the number of schools and 4G coverage. In light of these challenges, the city has implemented a far-reaching strategy designed to reaffirm its competitiveness on the global stage and join the ranks of cities that have already turned the “digital” corner.

The project aims to tackle contemporary urban challenges, such as transitioning to green energy, enhance sustainable mobility and improving residents’ lifestyles. The Paris City Council therefore seeks to “encourage citizen participation” as part of a strategy that is also based on “opening up access to data, co-constructing projects, supporting the innovation ecosystem and interconnecting networks“. Its ambitions are articulated along three main axes: connectivity, openness and sustainability. In the first place, the project seeks to increase connectivity within the city by integrating new technologies into the urban fabric. Through investing in a “scalable infrastructure“, the city hopes to maximize the number of online services and digital platforms offered. Paris also aims to be an “open” city, whose redevelopment integrates its inhabitants, users, economic players and municipal officials. The last pillar of the project is sustainability, as Paris grapples with the tools necessary to undertake the ecological transition. Its strategy entails the adoption of new consumption habits (encouraging the circular economy, and the use of renewable energies), urban innovations and the interconnection of networks and mobility flows.

The Green transition involves everyone in Paris

Among the various commitments promised by the “Climate Air Energy Plan” launched in 2007, which aims to eradicate all carbon emissions by 2050, the Town Hall encourages citizens to get involved in the implementation of the objectives. These include the creation of a collaborative digital platform called “Madame la Maire, j’ai une idée” (Madam Mayor, I have an idea) to involve Parisians in the restructuration of the urban landscape. Indeed, the roadmap developed by the municipality combines both “openness” and “sustainability”. As such, the “Paris Digital City” project, launched in 2006, seeks to maximize the “open-data” sources available to the public in a spirit of “transparency and open innovation” according former mayor Bertrand Delanoë. To this end, the mayor’s office launched a digital data-sharing platform in 2011, which centralizes a large number of open-access datasets.

Bringing together multiple sectors, such as mobility, environment or culture, the website is aimed at facilitating interaction between all stakeholders in Ile-de-France; for example, it makes it possible to find out the number of shared bicycles available in real time, or the list of free-access Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the city. In addition, the City Council now operates a mobile application to enable Parisians to report any urban degradation (congested roads, defective lighting, etc.) and thus speed up the authorities’ response. The climate plan also focuses on promoting mobility and transport networks, smart housing, urban planning and resource and waste management. Indeed, a survey conducted by BVA earlier this year puts the city’s cleanliness at the top of Parisians’ list of concerns, highlighting in particular the return of rats in parks and the growing number of construction sites that affect the attractiveness of the city, usually known for its romantic landscapes.

The Greater Paris: when the Parisian metro gets a makeover

With 21,067 inhabitants per km², Paris is the seventh most densely populated city in the world; a figure that reveals the challenges tied to the management of the millions of everyday-travels in the French capital. In light of the multiplication of urban flows, it has become essential to optimize user journeys and make any immobilizing hazard as unlikely as possible. As such, the “Greater Paris” project, flagship of Paris’ adoption of the smart city model, plans to make urban traffic more fluid and reduce pollution and traffic jams by extending the rail network by 200 km – the equivalent of the current length of the railways. The Greater Paris also includes four additional metro lines (15, 16, 17, 18) serving areas that are currently difficult to access, and entails the extension of line 14 to the north and south to connect, amongst others, the Orly airport. A total of 68 new stations will thus be built between now and 2024, facilitating access and travel within the inner suburbs and better linking the capital to neighboring suburbs. Trains are also to be revamped: speed will reach 120 km/h, so that travel time can be significantly divided.

For instance, it will take approximately nine minutes to go from Issy to Cachan, instead of the current 46 minute-travel time. With a 35 billion euros investment, this “super metro” should also be accompanied by other autonomous and shared transport, such as the shuttles currently being tested at La Défense and Vincennes or the futuristic experiment of taxis “flying” on water. In addition, the RATP just launched an incubator for startups dedicated to the smart city, as a way to use technological innovations (such as Big Data, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, IoT) for the improvement of the urban network. Six startups will be selected according to their work in two areas: customer experience and air quality within the rail network. The RATP also invests in its surface network, which will be equipped with technologies that facilitate access to transport and the geolocation of vehicles. The agency finally focuses on the digitalization of railway professions, employee experience and artificial intelligence.

The municipality develops high-speed networks to promote exchanges

Urban development goes hand in hand with digital development: launched in 2013, another project foresees the deployment of very high-speed broadband (VHB) infrastructures that should connect the entire territory by 2022. The newspaper The Parisian underlines the fact that “in a few years, we will be able to work almost everywhere“. This statement is further supported by the words of Fouad Awad, director of the Ile-de-France Institute for Urban Planning: “by 2025, 21% of the working population in Ile-de-France will work remotely” thanks to the development of numerous co-working spaces and the widespread deployment of Wi-Fi. Indeed, one of the essential components of the project is to encourage exchanges between residents of the Parisian region. As such, the Tour Montparnasse will undergo a major refurbishment, the aim being to rethink the design of the emblematic monument by integrating “objectives of use, comfort and energy performance” and to breathe some fresh air into it.

From 2024, the tower should house hotels, offices, cafés and restaurants in order to restore its attractiveness and make it a place of exchange. The building will not be the only one to benefit from dust removal, as other “eco-friendly” infrastructures are planned to be integrated into the urban fabric. Positive-energy buildings, green walls and roofs, or the widening of pedestrian areas on busy roads such as Place de la République or Place de la Bastille to encourage the use of bicycles and scooters are examples of Paris’ transformation. These various commitments therefore make it possible to respond to the key issue associated with the smart city, which should not exist only through the use of new technologies but, on the contrary, preserve the “human” element at the heart of urban transformations.

A lukewarm reception?

While Paris City Hall prides itself on its innovative and disruptive ambitions, they are sometimes not unanimously supported. Indeed, the current mayor Anne Hidalgo’s ideas led her to be nicknamed “Queen of Hipsters” by her detractors following several controversial decisions: making the Seine banks pedestrian or implementing alternate traffic circulation. As we nearly reach the end of her mandate, the Mayor achieves mixed results as her policies allegedly reinforced sectarianism, augmented traffic jams and exacerbated the problematics of the migrants. As a result, Hidalgo’s popularity rating has gone from 67% of favorable opinions among left-wing supporters in 2015, to only 32% today.

The City Hall thus still has a long way to go to achieve the ambitious “collective and shared” project that it has set itself. Indeed, as the 12 000 Parisians leaving the capital each year show, Paris is struggling to remain attractive to its inhabitants’ eyes. In spite of these obstacles, the outgoing mayor manages to secure her rear: as electoral campaigns begin, a poll conducted by the LREM candidate Benjamin Grievaux places Hidalgo at the top of the voting intentions. Emmanuel Grégoire, her first deputy, characterizes the movement as a “citizens’ platform aimed at promoting reflections and ideas that will make it possible to tackle some of the 21st century most pressing challenges by involving everyone”.