To those who say Ecocities are impossible, that a green economy will fail, and that citizens will never support or get involved in Eco-principles on a large scale, I give you Nantes.
Following in the footsteps of Stockholm, Hamburg and Vitoria-Gasteiz, Nantes Métropole is the European Union’s Green Capital for 2013. The European Commission launched the Green Capital project in 2008 to recognize and reward cities’ efforts to increase sustainability and improve quality of life. Addressing these issues is a pressing concern for European cities as three in four European citizens currently live in urban areas and that number is expected to grow to four in five by 2050.
This year will bring many exciting events to Nantes including ten local or national conferences and 11 European or international conferences, not least of which is the International Ecocity World Summit this September 25-27th.
Few outside of France may have ever heard of Nantes–it is well worth paying attention to.
Nante’s story mirrors that of many industrial cities in Europe and the United States. After the closure of the city’s main economic source–the shipyards–in the 1980s, city leaders were faced with a struggling economy, civic stagnation and abandoned, decaying industrial sites. But instead of trying to recreate failed systems and lingering in the industrial past, Nantes took a unique leap of faith and decided to invest in sustainable infrastructure, culture and quality of life. No mean feat for the 1980s.
Planners carefully redeveloped the shipyards into green public space and focused on highlighting the city’s history (dating to Pre-Roman times), fostering culture and community development, and connected the city via high speed rail to Paris. Nantes’ planning framework promotes urban density, solidarity, and equal access to green living amenities for citizens of all income levels. The result: in 2004, Time Magazine named Nantes the most livable place in all Europe.
A few numbers from Nantes:
- 57m2 of green space per person
- 15% of residents use public transportation daily
- Everyone lives within 300m of a green space in the city
- 80% of the Nantes/Sant-Nazaire metro area is natural and farmland space
- Only 11% of household waste goes to landfills
Nantes works hard to encourage dense urban development to accommodate its growing population rather than sprawling into surrounding green areas. In addition many riverbanks, wetlands and green spaces have been restored to support a thriving wildlife population.
Nante’s city governance also attempts to break with a long history of top-down city planning that has often been patronizing and alienating. City leaders name civic pride and involvement a top priority for the city, and their policies reflect this. Vigorous public outreach campaigns involve citizens with the planning of their neighborhoods and the government also holds household workshops on carbon footprint reduction and sustainability.
Of course it is all a work in progress; still, Nantes is a consummate example of the Ecocity principles in action and we are so excited to come together for the 2013 World Summit in such a remarkable city!