The French Approach to EcoDistricts

by Caroline Nowacki, Marketing Coordinator at M-Group

EcoDistricts became very popular with the realization of projects such as Bo01 in Malmö, Sweden or the Vauban neighborhood in Freiburg, Germany. They promoted the design of mid-rise buildings and public services at the neighborhood scale to achieve energy auto-sufficiency, zero carbon emissions, social equity and a strong sense of community.

Following the global recognition of these projects, public and private initiatives multiplied around the world to build EcoDistricts. These projects mainly focused on environmental performance, often giving up the social and economic aspects of the first EcoDistricts. In the United States of America, associations are instrumental in promoting the construction of EcoDistricts. The U.S. Green Building Council, widely recognized among professionals for its training programs and certification of green buildings, extended its certification program to the district scale with “LEED neighborhoods”. The American Planning Association (APA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also published smart growth guidelines and award recognitions to the best planning policies, encouraging cities to modify their policies to enable more sustainable developments.

In France, the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy launched a national program of EcoDistricts (ÉcoQuartier) as part of the ministerial plan "Sustainable City" (Plan Ville Durable). It aims at improving the quality of life, preserving resources and landscapes, and adapting dwellings to inhabitants’ new expectations and lifestyles. The Program enhances the need for these EcoQuartiers to contribute to the three spheres of Sustainability: Environmental, Social and Economic. The district scale is recognized as the right scale to engage citizens in the planning process, create social diversity, and implement techniques and technologies to reduce resource consumption.

20 Guidelines are organized in Four Categories:                                                               

1. Environment and Lifestyles

2. Territorial Development

3. Resource Preservation & Climate Change Adaptation

4. Approach and Procedures

The main implementation tools of this program included:

  • A Call for Projects in 2009 and one in 2011, offering awards for the best projects,
  • A Set of Guidelines organized into four categories to cover the design, construction and management of EcoDistricts and to achieve:
    • Sustainable water management;
    • Optimal waste management;
    • Urban Biodiversity;
    • Alternative modes of transportation (Trams, bicycles, etc.);
    • Density;
    • Use of Eco-friendly materials; and
    • Social Diversity and Mixed-use.
  • A national “Club EcoQuartiers” with a membership of over 500 local governments, exchanging best practices, training, visits and conferences.
  • The label “ÉcoQuartier” created in December 2012.

The approach of the French government was to start a dynamic national program by creating a network and engaging the entire range of actors: National institutions that specialized in project financing, affordable housing, environmental protection, and transportation, local governments, construction and utility private companies, and associations of citizens. The French Government did not offer funding but provided recognition and access to shared knowledge and training, including how to obtain public and private financing. The number of competing projects increased from 160 in 2009 to 394 in 2011, for 28 and 24 awards respectively. 

The “Fort d’Issy” is an EcoDistrict located in Issy-les-Moulineaux, a city of 65,000 inhabitants adjacent to Paris. It has the particularity of being built inside a military fortress erected during the 19th century with 15 others to protect Paris. It had been closed to the public for several years before the City of Issy-les-Moulineaux purchased it from the State and decided to rehabilitate it as an EcoDistrict in 2009.

The “Fort d’Issy” is now almost completed and will offer a total of 1,623 dwellings (25% of which are affordable housing) for about 3,500 inhabitants, in 15 mid-rise buildings (about 7 stories). 16,145 square feet of shops (bakery, grocery store, restaurants, etc.), two schools, a police station, a nursery school, a Feng Shui Swimming Pool, an orchard of 350 trees, and sport facilities.

In terms of green technologies, a geothermal heating system will supply 78% of the heating needs of all housing, commercial and public buildings, without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. A natural gas system will complement it and serve as an emergency system. All the water pumped through the system will be re-injected underground to ensure the sustainability of the installation. To manage waste, several trash collectors are installed within the district and connected to a pneumatic network of tubes installed underground. A refuse collection truck connects to a kiosk outside the district and pumps out the waste from all district cans, limiting noise and traffic congestion inside the district. 

The buildings comply with French regulations limiting energy consumption, and are built to consume less than 65 kilowatt-hours per square meter per year. They are also connected to IssyGrid: the Smart Grid of the City.

The entire district is equipped with fiber to connect each dwelling to internet. A touchscreen is located at the entrance of each apartment, and inhabitants can use it to control and program lighting, blinds and shades, and temperature. They can also check energy consumption in real time. This touchscreen is linked to the internet and a district intranet where they can exchange information with neighbors. The service is also accessible by cell phone. Smart phone and tablet applications are also now available to the public to discover the history of the military fort, to know more about the project and participate in a forum to exchange information and plan community events.