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Green (?) Paris

18 of May '23

At the end of last August, Météo-France, the official administrative body in charge of French meteorology and climate, released an official summary of the past summer. There were no surprises: the summer of 2022 was the second warmest in the country's history, just after the tragic heat of 2003, when roughly 15,000 people died in France due to high temperatures.

Although the average temperature recorded on thermometers during the three summer months was a degree lower than nineteen years ago, it still produced many tragic records. These include, for example, twenty "tropical nights" (with temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius) in Nice, which, after all, lies on the cooling sea, or one hundred and thirteen consecutive days with a dash above 25 degrees in Marseille. The level of the French Vistula, or Loire, was so low that in many places one could walk and almost dry-foot from one bank to the other.

plac za Operą Garnier; niestety, również i tu plany miejskiego lasu rozbiły się o brutalną rzeczywistość - gęsta sieć podziemnego transportu uniemożliwia jakiekolwiek wysokie nasadzenia

The square behind the Opéra Garnier; unfortunately, here, too, plans for an urban forest crashed into a brutal reality—the dense network of underground transportation makes any tall plantings impossible

photo: author

Of course, increasingly high temperatures are also being recorded in the nation's capital. In the second half of July last year, the mercury on thermometers here soared to 40.5 degrees. It was the second warmest day in the city's recorded history. The truly Saharan heat and hitherto unbeaten sad record occurred just four years ago: July 25, 2019, the bars of the mercury showed 42.6 degrees in the shade. The rapid acceleration of climate change can be seen on the calendar—as many as four of the five warmest days in Paris' history occurred after 2015.

plac Giełdy w grudniu 2022 roku; jak widać, mimo zapowiedzi, nie posadzono tu ani jednego drzewa

The Exchange Square in December 2022; as you can see, despite announcements, not a single tree has been planted here

photo: author

Increasing and longer with each passing year, the heat is becoming truly unbearable in the French capital. Quite obviously, one feels the high temperature differently, being on the shore of the sea or the ocean, and differently, being in the extremely dense, compact buildings of Paris, with small yards and little green space compared to other European capitals. If you look at the numbers reported by the Green View Index (a site created by researchers to measure the percentage of tree canopy in cities), Paris compares quite poorly with other European capitals, with a score of 8.8 percent. By comparison, Oslo's rate is as high as 28.8 percent, Geneva's 21.4, Amsterdam's just over 20 percent or London's nearly 13.

żałosne próby zazielenienia miasta, czyli poustawiane tu i ówdzie donice z zaniedbaną roślinnością

Pathetic attempts to green the city, i.e. pots of neglected vegetation placed here and there

photo: author

In addition, the fact that about 80 percent of the buildings are of various classes now already historic, because they were built before 1945, also plays a negative role. Unfortunately, historically and aesthetically valuable architecture also has its other face, definitely less friendly to both everyday life and the environment. The facades of seventeenth-century buildings in the Marais or nineteenth-century Haussmann townhouses with their inherent historical details cannot simply be thermally insulated from the outside. Even more problematic are the local roofs, the vast majority of which are made of sheet metal (zinc or copper) or dark stone slate. While this legacy of historic townhouses is a defining feature of the city and is extremely aesthetically pleasing and scenically beautiful (in 2014, an application was even submitted to have Parisian roofs listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the rapidly and prolonged heating of the metal sheets (whose temperature can reach up to... 80 degrees!) contribute to raising both the local temperature and the temperature inside buildings. For years, the lives of a huge number of people living in attics during the increasingly hot and long summer months have simply turned into hell. In addition, most often this problem affects this poorest layer of society. This is because attics are home to so-called chambres de bonne, or former servants' rooms. These are usually one-room apartments with a high turnover of tenants. As a rule, they even lack their own bathrooms and are inhabited by people with very modest incomes, unable to afford either the relieving though environmentally lethal air conditioning, or long vacations in a cooler place.

jeden z niewielu placów oddanych niedawno do użytku: zieleni wysokiej jak na lekarstwo, gołym okiem zaś widać „efekt Miyawaki”ego”, czyli zawyżające statystyki, gęsto posadzone krzewy

one of the few squares recently put into use: high greenery is scarce, while the naked eye can see the "Miyawaki effect", i.e. densely planted shrubs inflating the statistics

Photo: the author

The highly climatically problematic rooftops and the need for a sensible solution to this nomen omen pressing problem have been discussed in Paris not since today. Following the experiments carried out by the New York authorities, in 2017, for example, the city authorities commissioned a cool-roofing experiment, consisting in repainting previously dark roofs with a special, reflective white paint. Only that in the Big Apple, 6 million square meters of surface have already undergone this type of transformation since 2010, while Parisian roofs, despite the very positive results of the tests carried out—still remain the same color. Only a few experimental facilities have been painted, everywhere unequivocally finding a reduction in temperature both on the surface of the roof and inside, even by several degrees.

jeden z niewielu placów oddanych niedawno do użytku: zieleni wysokiej jak na lekarstwo, gołym okiem zaś widać „efekt Miyawaki”ego”, czyli zawyżające statystyki, gęsto posadzone krzewy

one of the few squares recently put into use: tall greenery is scarce, while the naked eye can see the "Miyawaki effect", i.e. overstating the statistics, densely planted shrubs

Photo: the author

Of course, it is not without significance here that in New York the vast majority of roofs are flat—the reflected light does not affect the neighborhood as much as in Paris, where mansard-type roofs prevail. However, having lived in France for more than twenty years, I think that the typically strong attachment to tradition among the French may also play its role. Just remember the great international architectural "brainstorming" after the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral burned down. Discussion by discussion, consultation by consultation—and even so, a decision was made very quickly to rebuild the temple as accurately as possible in its current form.

The vote has already been cast

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