Veggie meals to cable cars – changing the face of Lyon

One year after coming to power in Lyon, the green party has wasted no time in reshaping France's third largest city, often in controversial fashion. Here are some of the main ways the city is changing.

Veggie meals to cable cars - changing the face of Lyon
Lyon town hall, controlled by the greens since 2020. Photo: JEFF PACHOUD / AFP.

Sustainable developments

In Lyon, real estate developers have noticed big changes since the Europe-Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV) green party swept to power in June last year and took control of the mayor’s office for the first time.

“This project has been scrapped… and another… and another one too,” local developer Didier Caudard-Breille says as he ticks off his abandoned schemes.

He found out about one planned high-rise building being blocked in the local media, he says, while another he managed to save only by agreeing to replace a private swimming pool and sports area with social housing.

A major redevelopment of the area around the city’s main train station, a traffic-clogged district in the centre, has also been radically remodelled by Mayor Gregory Doucet’s staff to remove all of the planned high-rise office space.

Even a trendy and newly developed district at the confluence of the rivers Saone and Rhone in central Lyon is in the firing line for employing “bling-bling” architects with questionable environmental credentials.

“I don’t want to sign a construction permit for any building that will need to be knocked down in less than 40 years,” the deputy mayor in charge of urbanisation, Raphael Michaud, told AFP.

More cycle lanes

As well as overhauling building regulations, Lyon mayor Doucet has his eyes set on other classic green priorities: building up cycling lane capacity, improving public transport, and reducing space for cars.

Helped by the Covid-19 pandemic that has led to a cycling boom, the number of people logged on bikes in the city jumped 35 percent to 15.7 million in 2020 while the cycling lane network grew by 10 percent in the same period.

READ ALSO The best and worst things about life in Lyon

“We are not trying to make cars invisible, but we want fewer of them,” the deputy mayor in charge of transport, Valentin Lungenstrass, told AFP.

Not all cyclists are welcome, however: Doucet said last year that the Tour de France race was not welcome back in the city until it was “environmentally responsible” and called the national sporting event “macho and polluting”.

Cable cars

Another eye-catching proposal includes building an urban cable car system capable of transporting 20,000-25,000 people a day between the west of the city and the south.

Meat-free meals

But controversy came in February when Doucet announced that meat would be temporarily taken off the menu in school canteens in order to simplify the feeding of 27,000 children daily while respecting social distancing.

The move was seen as sacrilegious by some in a city that prides itself on its meat-heavy gastronomy, while Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin attacked it as an “unacceptable insult” to French farmers and butchers.

Lyon’s city council stated in 2020 the objective to serve 100% organic food in school canteens. Photo: JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / AFP.

Meat has since returned to schools, but a vegetarian option will be on the menu every day from September – above and beyond the government rule that all schools must have at least one meat-free day per week.

Presidential ambitions?

Local elections in France last year saw France’s Greens make major progress nationally, mirroring a continent-wide trend that has seen environmental parties capitalise on concern about climate change and pollution among urban voters.

Although nearby Grenoble in the foothills of the Alps has been run by a green mayor since 2014 and Paris has been governed by a socialist-green alliance since 2001, capturing Lyon was a major coup for the movement. Bordeaux, another of France’s major cities, also went green in the same elections that spelled disappointment for President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move and the far-right National Rally.

“The last elections were a major, major advance in France,” Evelyne Huytebroeck, vice-chair of the European Greens, a federation of European environmental groups, told AFP.

“There used to be questions about whether we could be trusted to run a budget and an administration,” Huytebroeck said. “We’ve managed to show in several cities that we’re responsable and capable, that people can have confidence in us.”

And while expectations for Greens are low in next year’s French presidential elections, there is hope further down the line as the greens extend their influence.

“Why not a chancellory, a presidency or a prime ministership?” Huytebroeck asked. “We’re not always destined to be on the lower levels of the podium.”

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French military bans Russians from chateau over Ukraine war

The French military has banned Russian nationals from visiting the Chateau de Vincennes, a medieval fortress, tourist attraction and military site on the edge of Paris, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, officials told AFP.

French military bans Russians from chateau over Ukraine war

Once the residence of French kings and among Europe’s best-preserved monuments of its kind, the castle is for the most part open to the public, including for tours, concerts, theatre plays and other events.

But although best-known as a tourist attraction it is also technically a military site, housing part of the French armed forces’ historical archives, to which access is restricted.

The mounted Garde republicaine – a division of the French military – are also partially based at the chateaux.

It is therefore covered by a French ban on Russian nationals entering army territory that was issued after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Each year some 150,000 people visit the chateau, paying €9.50 per adult admission.

But on July 28th, two Russian women were refused access.

“A guard at the metal detector asked to see my passport,” said one of the women, 31, who works as a journalist and has been in France for five months, having left Russia “because of the war”.

On inspecting the document, the guard informed her she couldn’t pass, the woman, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

Another guard also denied her entry and gave as the reason “because you are Russian”, she said, adding she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Contacted by AFP, the defence ministry confirmed late Monday that it had, indeed, “restricted access to military installations to Russian nationals” because of the invasion.

But after media coverage and social media comment, the ministry contacted AFP on Tuesday to say that the guards had in fact “indiscriminately applied a rule established in February concerning all military installations”.

“This rule cannot be applied in the same way for strategic sites and for sites accessible to the public, such as museums,” a spokesman said.

The ministry said security staff would now be informed of the distinction “to avoid any further incidents of this kind”.

Russian journalists could, however, apply for an exemption, a ministry official added.

The majority of France’s most popular tourist sites have no military function and would not be affected by the ban. 

Since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February, France has taken in some 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, government figures show.

About 73,500 Russian immigrants lived in France in 2021, according to the national statistics office Insee.

There has been debate within the European Union about whether further limits should be placed on Russians visiting the bloc for tourism or personal reasons.

Russia’s neighbour Finland last week issued a plan to limit tourist visas  for Russians but also emphasised the need for an EU-level decision on the matter.