Public infrastructure and clean mobility: how Paris turns green

With only a few months to go before Paris hosts the 2024 Olympic Games, France’s capital has not only pressed ahead with massive public infrastructure projects but it has also set its sights on ambitious green goals, delegates heard at the ESG Real Estate Roundtable that was organised by PwC in Paris recently.

Sevinç Ar Chimot, Cleantech, Grand Paris & Smart City Expert, Choose Paris Region

“We are determined to change the perception of Paris”, said Sevinç Ar Chimot, Cleantech, Grand Paris & Smart City Expert, Choose Paris Region. “Now it is not seen as a green city, but a lot of work is being done on different fronts to make sure that it will be a model of sustainability”. 

The challenges to overcome are many: from climate change to biodiversity erosion, from territorial and social fractures such as hypermetropolization and inadequate housing to the legacy of deindustrialization.

The main positive is the change in mindset among people, she said: “There has been a radical transformation in the aspirations of Île-de-France residents, who now want to live differently, work differently, and travel differently. People are also more willing to use public transport, cycle or walk”.

The region, an economic powerhouse in Europe, has to deal with some internal contradictions. It is still very centralized, yet residents increasingly prefer remote working: the percentage has doubled from 20% to 40% of employees post-Covid.

“We have a growing population, with 50,000 new Île-de-France residents every year, so we have no choice but to be sustainable” said Ar Chimot. “We want to be innovative and promote cutting-edge projects which have a positive social impact. Paris is very concentrated in the city centre now and that created a problem during the pandemic, so we must open up the city”.

Urban mobility and accessibility play a crucial role in this, and Paris, where the 15-minute city concept originated, is ahead thanks to the Grand Paris project. The public transport network will have 200 km of new automated metro lines and 68 new train stations, with a train every 2/3 minutes.

As the city gets more decentralized thanks to a better public transport network, people will be able to live out of the city centre. There are 600,000 sq m of real estate projects planned in the fast-developing areas, and they need to be built sustainably.

“The Paris Region also plans to reduce energy consumption in the building sector by 28% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality for its building stock by 2050”, she said. “But the challenge is that 72% of buildings in the Paris Region were built before 1980, so they need to be upgraded”.

Part of the plan is repurposing unused or obsolete office buildings into residential accommodation, addressing the serious housing shortage in the city.

“Often there are offices in B and C locations that are not suitable for offices but work very well as locations for residential assets, especially if the transport infrastructure is good”, said Thomas Veith, Global Real Estate Leader, PwC.

The need is clear, but there are issues with the time it takes to get the necessary permits and with the costs involved.

“The problem is that in Paris offices are even more expensive than residential, so repurposing is tricky, even if it is needed”, said Maurizio Grilli, Director, Property Funds Research.

“There are too many offices in Paris so a change of use is needed, as the population continues to increase”, Ar Chimot said. “It will take time, but the government is pushing for it and we expect more repurposing permits to be granted this year”.