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.
“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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.”