France’s capital city is getting its first urban forest as its green transformation plan takes shape, but not everyone is impressed.
Paris has started planting its first urban forest as it aims to become one of Europe’s greenest cities.
By the end of spring there will be 470 trees, including oaks, ashes, maples and wild cherry, in an area that used to be a busy roundabout.
“This will (also) considerably reduce air pollution,” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo says. “Wherever we create this type of forest or develop these sites, it allows us to have areas for walking and cycling, and we will be able to reduce the use of cars.”
Paris has planted tens of thousands of trees since 2020
In 2020, the Socialist Party mayor was re-elected on the promise of a “massive greening” of Paris, with a major commitment to plant 170,000 trees.
By the summer of 2023, halfway through her term, the mayor’s office claimed to have already planted 63,500 trees.
And “45,000 trees will be planted this winter”, Christophe Najdovski, Deputy Mayor of Paris, says, which means that the city is approaching two-thirds (64 per cent) of the target.
With an overall budget of “more than €100 million… we have never planted so many trees in the streets of Paris since the days of Haussmann,” he insists.
What is an urban forest?
Najdovski defines the concept of the urban forest as the “reconstitution of the ecosystem of a forest” on a small urban site.
But this has not convinced his political opponents and some environmental campaigners.
Valérie Montandon, a Paris Les Républicains councillor, says the term urban forest is “verbal manipulation”.
This criticism has been echoed by a number of environmental associations.
“A forest is not a plantation of trees but an ecosystem. It is not a forest but a grove,” says Christine Nedelec, President of France Nature Environnement (FNE) Paris.
For her this greening technique was “not the right thing to do” on the Place de Catalogne in Paris’ 14th arrondissement, because of the “monstrous roadworks” it would entail.
Why are green spaces important?
Research shows that urban trees can lower temperatures between 2C to 10C depending on local conditions.
And aside from their cooling effects, green spaces and trees are linked to increased happiness, better mental health, increased social interactions and lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Hidalgo has made clear she intends to press on with her planting plans. Several proposed sites for more urban forests have been dropped, but the mayor announced on Wednesday that one at the Hôtel de Ville will go ahead after Paris hosts the 2024 Olympic Games.
For Montandon, this “first urban forest is the tree that hides the forest of broken promises”. She also complains that spaces that already exist are being used to fulfil the promise of 300 new hectares of green spaces in the city by 2040.
For example, Paris’s city council counts cemeteries as future green spaces, even though they are already accessible to the public.
At the end of November, a dozen associations also wrote to Hidalgo demanding a “moratorium on tree felling, as well as the definitive abandonment of clear-cutting” in the Bois de Vincennes.
“There is no clear-cutting” in this wood, refutes Najdovski. He says they are “thinning operations” that are part of a forest management plan validated by the State.
This involves replanting with other species to put an end to a single-species forest that is more vulnerable to disease, and “therefore to have a forest that will be more resilient”, he explains.