High temperatures have been the protagonists of summer 2022 in Paris, with three long heat waves that have put the city to the test, revealing its lack of adaptation. A situation that will get worse in the coming decades and for which urban planners and environmentalists are calling to transform the capital, starting with its famous zinc roofs.
These gray roofs are the most recognizable piece of the Haussmanian buildings, named after Baron Haussmann, responsible for the renovation that turned Paris into the image it is today: wide boulevards, unified facades… A pharaonic transformation of colossal costs that ended with the old medieval Paris prevailing in many cases to the neighbors.
But the Paris of the last 150 years has become obsolete in the face of the problems brought about by global warming, with increasingly frequent heat waves. The large boulevards function as heat islands and the houses are fully exposed to the sun.
“The challenge now is to carry out a Haussmanian transformation in a short time, but without guns, with a democratic process. The challenge lies in the enormity of the works, the financing, the technical know-how and the acceptability of the population,” he explains. to EFE Alexandre Florentin, councilor of Paris for the ecologists.
Florentin chairs the “Paris at 50 degrees” mission, which between October and March will try to seek consensus among political representatives and study the possible changes that the capital needs.
To shake consciences, Florentin repeats a question that has become his motto: “There are three options, or we roast, or we flee, or we act. We are talking about enormous social inequalities because the poor will stay and the richest will leave. I I have decided to act.”
What, then, would a Paris prepared to withstand the increasingly intense episodes of heat look like?
“The most important thing is the vegetation. Nothing better than trees has been invented to cool a city: they provide shade and during the night they evacuate the heat from the ground to the sky. An adapted city is a vegetable city with streets where there is a road for nature,” says engineer Franck Lirzin, author of the book “Paris face au changement climatique” (Paris in the face of climate change).
Lirzin, who works at the Ministry of Economy and Finance and advised French President Emmanuel Macron on the election campaign on issues of urban planning and building renovation, was one of the first to point out the issue of zinc roofs, but he knows that change would be very difficult.
“Paris is a very proud city that does not want to touch its buildings in the least. But it is a city that is too mineral, with unprotected facades and windows without shutters or parasols. Adaptation involves insulated roofs, not necessarily zinc, with vegetation and thicker walls,” he describes.
In his book, Lirzin escapes pessimism to imagine a Paris that, although it will no longer be able to avoid temperatures of 45 or 46 degrees in the coming decades – in the concrete of the floors or roofs it has already reached 50 or 60 degrees-, if she could come out of the challenge embellished and be more comfortable.
The City of Light would become known as the City of Nature, he fantasizes, with many more shady spaces, green facades, conscientious residents who have created orchards on their balconies and Andalusian-style interior patios.
And although Paris has been trying for years to have its zinc roofs considered a UNESCO world heritage site, Lirzin invites architects and the Administration to think about modifying these buildings, which in a few years “will be uninhabitable.”
“Paris has always privileged aesthetics over comfort. That is why we are very inspired by Mediterranean architecture where the climate has always been present. There are passive techniques that do not consume energy: thicker walls, smaller windows, roofs that provide shade or the vegetable patios, which allow the heat to escape,” he says.
One of the challenges of the transformation that Paris could initiate will be convincing Parisians that installing air conditioning in their homes is not the solution. As to date the heat waves have been punctual, most of the houses are not equipped with individual systems, which are also energy-consuming.
Lirzin and Florentin agree that more virtuous and preferably collective solutions must be sought, at the level of neighborhoods or buildings, such as urban cooling.
Despite having collaborated closely with Macron, who defends an environmentalism that does not stop economic growth, Lirzin agrees with the environmentalist Florentin on another point.
“We cannot continue thinking that technology alone will be enough for us to adapt. We must go further and change customs, the way buildings are built, and above all we must mobilize enough money to transform the city and achieve carbon neutrality”, the engineer defends.
Before the mission “Paris at 50 degrees” begins, with representatives from across the political spectrum and whose conclusions will be known in March 2023, Florentin affirms that, without a doubt, more nature will be needed, flee from dark concrete and put more shutters.
“And we may have to question ourselves about our rhythm of life, live more at night, we have a lot to be inspired by Mediterranean culture. The challenge is not technical, but one of rhythm and political consensus. We have to go faster and discuss urgent solutions,” he adds.