Living Cities: Trashy Paris — Green renovations — Urban farming

Living Cities: Trashy Paris — Green renovations — Urban farming
Опубликовано: Thursday, 16 March 2023 18:35

A conversation on what makes a livable city.



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Happy Thursday, city-lovers, and welcome back to Healthy Cities.

This week we take you to the smelly streets of Paris, where a garbage workers’ strike has seen mountains of trash bags pile up on sidewalks. The issue has become political, with opponents targeting Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and warning of a major public health risk.

We also take a look at efforts to promote urban farming, and the challenges cities face as they look to shorten supply chains and boost local food production. More on that below.


PARIS STINKS: The streets of Paris are lined with mountains of black trash bags as garbage collectors strike against President Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reform. The shoulder-high piles of waste are raising temperatures in the city, with locals worried about health risks and elected officials taking aim at Paris’ Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo for supporting the strikes. “It’s shitty, it’s not pretty and it smells,” Mathilde Boyer, 23, who lives in the southern 15th district, told our colleague Nicolas Camut.

Where it started: Garbage collectors have been on strike since March 6 in protest against a controversial reform of France’s pension system that would raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 or 65. Garbage collectors can currently retire at 57 with reduced benefits on account of the hardship of their work, which has been shown to affect their life expectancy; Macron’s reforms would push that back to 59.

Lay of the land: The situation is particularly bad in the 10 arrondissements that rely on municipal garbage collectors, but even in areas where trash collection is privatized, garbage is piling up as a result of disruptions at local incinerators, AFP reports. The Paris mayor’s office estimates that some 7,000 tons of trash have been left uncollected since the start of the protests.


Some 7,000 tons of trash have been left uncollected in the streets of Paris since the garbage collectors’ strike started | Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images

Rat alarm: Paris is already one of the most rat-infested cities in the world, with 1.5 to 1.75 rats for every person living in Paris. Experts say the strikes are making a bad situation much worse. The strike is causing “a change in the behavior of the rats,” Romain Lasseur, a specialist in rats and invasive species told Le Parisien. “They will wander around in the garbage cans, reproduce there, and leave their urine and excrement. There is a worrying health risk, for the garbage collectors and the general population.”

Political blowback: The issue has sparked a major political brawl, with the mayors of several Parisian districts blaming Hidalgo for the mess — a favorite pastime among right-wing and center-right officials — and calling on her to step in for the sake of public health and safety. Criticism has also come from political rivals eyeing city hall, including Transport Minister Clément Beaune, although the next round of elections isn’t until 2026. Reacting to the criticism, Hidalgo on Monday reaffirmed her “total support for the social movement” against Macron’s planned reforms, including the striking garbage collectors.

How it’s going: The waste treatment branch of France’s national trade union — the CGT — announced Tuesday the protest will continue until March 20. Hidalgo’s deputy, Emmanuel Gregoire, assured reporters the city is “putting in place stopgap measures to deal with absolute emergency situations.” But Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin intervened Tuesday evening saying he would force garbage collectors back to their jobs.

Nail-biter: The mayor’s office said the garbage war would end if Macron’s government withdrew its pensions reform. A vote in both houses of Parliament is scheduled to take place today.


ROME PLEDGES MAJOR NEW INVESTMENT: Rome mayor Roberto Gualtieri has secured €13 billion in national and EU funding to improve basic services and revitalize the city, he told Bloomberg TV. The goal is to “make the city not only efficient, in terms of ordinary services … but also to put it at the forefront of the challenges of digitalization, technological innovation, sustainability,” according to Gualtieri. Money will go toward modernizing the city’s public transport system, building a new waste-treatment plant, installing 5G infrastructure and redeveloping parks and gardens.

HIGHER EU GREEN RENOVATION TARGETS: The European Parliament on Tuesday voted for more ambitious rules for renovating buildings across the bloc, including ensuring that all new buildings are zero-emissions from 2028. The Commission’s initial proposal floated 2030 as the target date. The legislation, which will now be debated between the Parliament and EU countries, aims to decarbonize the EU’s building stock by 2050.

‘A STEP BACKWARD’ IN MILAN: Milan’s civil registry this week stopped accepting birth certificates in which both members of a same-sex couple are listed as parents of a child born abroad. The city was ordered to stop registering these births by the prefect of Milan, who cited Italy’s law on medically-assisted reproduction, which is only allowed for heterosexual couples, and the national ban on surrogacy. Milan mayor Beppe Sala called the development “a step backward” but said he could not risk municipal employees being prosecuted for breaking the law.


Berlin’s Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district has started a trial to eliminate private parking spaces | iStock

BERLIN TESTS PARKING SPACE REVAMP: The German capital’s Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district has started eliminating private parking spaces in the Graefekeiz neighborhood on a trial basis. Residents will get a say in how some freed-up spaces should be used; other areas will be used to park e-scooters, bikes or shared e-vehicles, or become charging or delivery points. The project, which also includes new speed limits for traffic in the area, will be reviewed in 2024.

HOW CLEAN IS MY AIR? Stockholm this week launched a new app that allows users to track pollen and air pollution within the city in order to plan stays, walks or bike rides. Users can access forecasts for any street in the Swedish capital, making life for asthmatics just a bit easier.

BARCELONA WANTS TO BURY YOUR PETS: Barcelona’s city council plans to set up public cremation and burial services for pets in 2024, with a new cemetery located in the Collserola Natural Park just above the city. The project — the first of its kind in Spain — will cost around €1.1 million and will charge pet owners around €200, according to The Local. The scheme comes in response to high demand for such services; almost 50 percent of families in the city have at least one pet.


CITIES’ SUSTAINABLE FOOD SOLUTIONS: Projects to grow vegetables on rooftops and vertical farms are popping up across Europe in an effort to shorten supply chains, cut greenhouse gas emissions and provide residents with higher quality, healthier food. But local leaders say urban farming projects are no silver bullet, and are calling for a deeper rethink of where food is grown and how it’s produced.

Problem of scale: The problem with rooftop farming is that it can’t easily be scaled up because cities lack the space, said Alvaro Porro, commissioner for social economy, local development and food policy in Barcelona. “All these innovations about cultivating on the roofs are great, inspiring, but won’t provide quantity,” he told my colleague Louise at an urban farming policy event organized by Eurocities in Brussels.


Rooftop farming is no silver bullet solution, as it can’t be scaled up because cities lack the space | iStock

Integrating farmers: While Barcelona lends financial support to rooftop projects, its focus is on ensuring local farmers and retailers have easier access to the city’s markets, according to Porro. “They get their money from selling their produce, but also some extra salary as they clean the forests, the sides of the road, the walking paths,” Porro said, explaining that the goal is to shorten food supply chains, create closer ties with local farmers and encourage more sustainable agriculture.

Setting land aside: In Bordeaux, in southwestern France, the city is also taking steps to support local farms. With the number of farms dropping from 600 to 150 over three decades, the city is trying to take back land for food production to ensure there is space for farming even as the city expands. The goal is to encourage farmers and wine growers to stay in the region — and attract new producers to move in, said Patrick Papadato, vice president for nature, biodiversity and food resilience strategy at Bordeaux Metropole. Local authorities have created a €150,000 investment fund to help farmers adapt to climate change and put another €200,000 on the table to support local wine growers, according to Papadato.

Public procurement issues: Both Papadato and Porro said public procurement rules make it difficult for cities to promote sustainable and locally grown food products. The EU has harmonized them to ensure fair competition between all businesses across the bloc, but that means companies can’t be discriminated against based on their location or where they source their products when authorities reply to public tenders. “We have narrow margins to act,” Papadato said. Porro said there are ways to get around the rules, for example by setting criteria on the carbon footprint of food supplies that would favor local producers. But he added that ultimately, EU rules on public procurement need to change to promote sustainability.

Having a say: Local leaders also want Brussels to give cities a more prominent role in creating the bloc’s food policy. The Commission is set to present new rules by the end of the year to make food systems more sustainable. That means reducing pollution and biodiversity loss, increasing resilience to climate change, slashing food waste and promoting healthier diets. City leaders say the new rules should compel EU governments to consult with cities when developing their national food strategies and include specific measures for cities to implement.




Last week, we wrote about how few streets and monuments in European cities celebrate notable women. That inspired reader Aliyyah A. Ahad to comment on “how few women get featured on money.” EU countries that use images of people of their currency tend to “exclusively use either men, a man and a women together (normally royals), or allegorical women,” she noted. Aliyyah’s point is truly on the money.

This week, we’re curious to hear your thoughts about urban farming. Rooftop projects may not be able to feed a whole city but can make a difference at the neighborhood level. Do you think cities should be doing more to promote these schemes, and would you make use of them? Get in touch.


The BBC has a disconcerting dispatch from Istanbul, where residents worry not enough is being done to avert disaster if a major earthquake hits the city as experts predict is likely to happen before 2030. Around 70 percent of the city’s buildings are considered potentially unsafe, and a quake could kill up to 90,000 people, according to the BBC.

— Dubai has become “a wartime harbor” for wealthy Russians, the New York Times reports in this interesting piece. The city’s new Russian residents are partly multibillionaires evading sanctions, partly young men fleeing the draft; both groups say they feel at home because the city isn’t hostile to Russians.

— Elon Musk plans to build a town east of Austin, Texas for his employees, describing his project as a sort of utopia, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Twitter CEO is not the first tycoon to come up with the idea: Bloomberg has this nice write-up of other hot-shots who have built their own urban communities.

MANY THANKS TO: Aitor Hernández-Morales, Louise Guillot, Daniela De Lorenzo, Marion Solletty, editor Stephan Faris and producer Giulia Poloni.

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POLITICO’s Global Policy Lab is a collaborative journalism project seeking solutions to challenges faced by modern societies in an age of rapid change. Over the coming months we will host a conversation on how to make cities more livable and sustainable.