Which US city is closest to Paris

Traffic turnaround Paris on the way to the city of 15 minutes?

Climate change, sustainability and thus also the reduction of CO2 emissions are among the pressing issues of our time. But it is not just ecological issues that call the growth of large cities into question. The corona pandemic is currently also revealing a great need for urban redesign. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, takes up the challenge and sees Paris in the future as the “city of 15 minutes”. But the implementation is controversial.

By Stefanie Eisenreich

Who in a big city doesn't dream of being able to reach everything that modern humans need to live in 15 minutes: the workplace, leisure activities, green spaces, shopping opportunities, schools and kindergartens, restaurants, clubs and places where cultural life pulsates? Who wouldn't want the perfect city here, one that offers rest and relaxation largely car-free, but still dynamic and above all social proximity? The City of 15 minutes (Ville du Quart d‘heure) promises exactly that. Several cities around the world are already experimenting with this smart city concept. Now it is Paris' turn.

Paris - denser than New York and New Delhi

The French capital is considered one of the densest cities in the world. Over 20,000 inhabitants are distributed here on average over one square kilometer. Drivers, public transport, cyclists and scooter riders, pedestrians - they all fight every day for the space they need on the narrow streets of Paris. Figures from the national institute for statistics, INSEE for short, clearly show that the city suffocates in traffic at rush hour, traffic jams are normal, and public transport is overcrowded.

Rush hour at the Saint Lazare train station in Paris | Photo (detail): Pascal Terjan CC-BY-SA-2.0

The city has almost two million inhabitants. A slight trend also shows that more and more people are moving to the nearby banlieue, not least because of rising rental prices. In total, the entire Île-de-France region has a little over twelve million inhabitants. Around four million people commute to Paris from the suburbs or have to cross Paris to get to work every day. Almost 60 percent of them use the car.
 
In order to declare war on its excessive use, Anne Hidalgo, incumbent mayor of Paris, announced plans to convert the capital into a car-free city at the end of January 2020, long before the first lockdown, but already in view of the upcoming local elections in March. The City of 15 minutes was a central part of her election campaign, with which she won the local elections in the second round on June 28, far ahead of Rachida Dati and Agnès Buzyn.

Decentralized city organization

The idea came from Carlos Moreno, urbanist and professor at the Paris University Paris I, who was unfortunately not available for a personal interview as part of the research for this article. Based on Moreno's concept of chrono-urbanism (inspired by Jane Jacobs Living City), a decentralized city organization is to be implemented, which should give the residents more life. Everything you need in everyday life should be accessible within 15 minutes from anywhere in the city - if possible by bike. Anne Hidalgo wants to have 60,000 inner-city parking spaces removed for this purpose. In their place, green areas, playgrounds and other bicycle paths are to be created.

Anne Hidalgo is now known for her plan to redesign Paris sustainably. For example, she closed the banks of the Seine to cars and promoted the expansion of cycle paths to improve the quality of the air and quality of life in the capital. This also includes planting a further 170,000 new trees (there were 20,000 in her first term of office). In the entire Île-de-France region, more than 700 kilometers of cycle paths have been built since 2016. “In my neighborhood, the Rue de la Chapelle has been redesigned so that two bicycle lanes and two bus lanes have been created, and buses and bicycles now have more priority,” explains Ralph Winter, who teaches at the University of Nancy and lives in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. “Cars are not allowed to enter the city, there is now only one lane out of town. That actually guarantees faster travel by bus and bike and less noise, ”the 41-year-old says happily.

Utopia or a dream of the future?

Edouard Civel | Photo: private "Of course, it brings an incredible amount of quality of life when everything can be reached in 15 minutes," confirms Edouard Civel, Deputy Mayor of the 5th Arrondissement of Paris, who at the Polytechnic University in Paris on new forms of urban and social Ecology and green economy teaches and researches. But what looks good on paper is very controversial when it comes to implementation. Critics like the journalist Alice Delaleu accuse Hidalgo of leaving out the suburbs and outskirts: "By creating the city of the quarter hour, the city is building new walls and sinking into selfishness," she writes in the online magazine Chroniques d‘architecture. Ralph Winter, who on the one hand is delighted with the new cycle paths, is also critical of the implementation: “I wonder whether this will not only shift the problem of car traffic: the backlogs in the evening towards Porte de la Chapelle are getting longer and in the morning new traffic jams arise elsewhere in the city as long as the more distant suburbs are not yet adequately connected to the metro.

A circumstance that Edouard Civel also considers problematic: “I do not think that the method of making motorists' life hell by anarchically blocking lanes, reverses the direction of travel overnight and thus clogs the city is the right one, ”emphasizes the 29-year-old. What also has to be considered here is the future change of an aging population. “Today, for the first time, four generations are living together and no longer just three. And this fourth generation will also have different needs and age-related constraints in the future, due to which the people of this generation will not be able to systematically use anything other than the car. ”In addition, Paris is already very homogeneous due to the high rental prices, for Civel, however, a city must always remain inclusive. For him it is therefore clear that Paris must include the metropolis, i.e. the entirety of all suburbs, in order to implement a car-free city.

Worldwide experiment

It is an experiment that has fans around the world and is already being implemented in a similar way in cities like Oslo or Ghent. The one there circulation plan envisaged increasing bicycle use from 22 to 35 percent by 2030. Implementation began in 2017. Rivers, for example, have been drained and converted into parking lots. Two years later, the 35 percent target had already been achieved. The English city of Birmingham also announced one this year circulation plan at. Part of the areas that are now reserved exclusively for cars are to be restructured for public transport. Parking spaces are to be replaced by apartments and workplaces. More and more cities are being won over by these models. New York, London, Barcelona - they are all joining this rethinking. Last year, for example, the New York City Council passed a law to counteract the car culture: over the next ten years, 1.7 billion dollars are to be invested there to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
 
Smart cities that face the urgent questions of today and that change on the basis of a more sustainable model are no longer a utopia. But Paris is one of those cities that cannot be rethought without its suburbs. So as long as public transport is not expanded - the project Grand Paris, which will connect the more distant suburbs with Paris via public transport and better and faster subway connections, is to be completed gradually by 2030 - and considerations about rental prices and decentralization of jobs are not included, the implementation of the City of 15 minutes controversial in Paris.