Connected, sustainable, but also inclusive: the cities of tomorrow are springing up each and every day, right across France. At the forefront are the 21 industrial demonstrators of urban sustainability where the French state, local communities and private firms are trialling the most innovative solutions. So that the “smart city – French style” can take its place amongst great French exports on the world stage.
So, what does the city of tomorrow look like? Will it be based on circular economy, like Sevran (in the French department of Seine Saint-Denis) where construction projects seek to invent sustainable new building materials as opposed to creating waste that is costly to process? Or future-proofed, like Plaine Saint Denis, where the aim is to develop construction methods that pre-empt the evolution of society and the working environment? Or frugal in energy consumption, like Ile Folien in Valenciennes (Nord), which is constructing innovative renewable energy networks? Or inclusive like Lyon, where a new type of health service is being created? Or resilient, like Marie Galante (in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe), which is aiming for greater self-sustainability of energy and food supply, but also greater mobilisation of local resources? Without doubt, the city of tomorrow will not be static – it will be polymorphous, resilient and adaptable.
Identify stumbling blocks
These new forms of urban development are being tested right across France. This is the aim of the 21 “industrial demonstrators of urban sustainability”, christened DIVD for short and introduced by the French state in 2015 and 2017. Their remit is to give firms the opportunity to realise their expertise in the field of urban innovation – at a given location – in close cooperation with local communities and residents. And ultimately, to be able to replicate the most compelling solutions across France and indeed abroad. Because this is not just a question of mastering technologies. According to Hélène Peskine, permanent secretary of France’s inter-ministerial agency PUCA (Plan Urbanisme Construction Architecture), which oversees the industrial demonstrators on behalf of the ministries of ecological and social transition and territorial cohesion: “this approach means we can identify stumbling blocks – be they social, economic, regulatory or governmental – that innovators sometimes come up against”. For although the cities of tomorrow will doubtlessly be more energy efficient, better connected and better constructed, above all they will be built for and with the people who live in them.
More energy-efficient cities, accessible for every budget
How to build passive, low-energy housing and energy self-sufficient neighbourhoods? In today’s world the challenge is no longer simply technical. “But how to build without extra cost and still guarantee significantly lower energy bills for residents: that remains a challenge”. In Carquefou (Loire Atlantique), Hughes Delplanque, energy-environment cluster manager of Loire Atlantique Développement, has the same concerns as many of the other industrial demonstrators.
More than 60% involve an energy component – and a central priority of all these is to provide energy efficiency that is accessible to all budgets. But how do we take this ambition forward? The range of initiatives on offer is very diverse. In the garden city of l’Escalette, in Mouvaux (Nord), the goal is to offset the cost of the energy efficient renovation of 280 dwellings by densification of the neighbourhood and production of a small amount of renewable energy within it. Meanwhile in Carquefou, 320 collective housing units with particularly low energy consumption are being built and will use photovoltaic roofing. In Eureka, in Lyon’s Confluence district, photovoltaic roofing has already been installed on one building and a generator powered by rapeseed supplies energy to three buildings. On Folien Island in Valenciennes, the ambition to achieve energy self-sufficiency is being driven by a number of projects, including the use the water outflow from sluice gates at the nearby lock to provide energy self-sufficiency for 180 homes.
Energy to suit all tastes
In Emul, the industrial demonstrator in Marseilles, the heat from sea water powers a temperate water loop which can be used to provide both hot and cold water. The same principal is being used in Saclay and Cordees (Paris Batignolles) to pump water from the Albien nappe of the Paris Basin. Descartes 21, in the town of Champs sur Marne (Val de Marne) is planning to use similar technology but is already trialling digital radiators, which use heat generated from computer servers to power the buildings. The ski resort of Chamrousse (Isère) aims to combine a solar energy farm with a wood fired biomass power plant and make use of innovative energy storage systems. The main ambition in the town of Marie Galante is to develop solar energy, which is also on the agenda in the small municipality of Marmagne (Cher). Test, one of the industrial demonstrators (and which is still seeking a local partner), is working on a solution that is certainly amongst the most ambitious from a technological perspective – heat storage in the foundations of buildings!
The first challenge is to accomplish these works with limited excess costs. In Carquefou, the additional costs are estimated at just a small percentage of the total. But going forward, there must be a guarantee that energy bills for residents actually decrease. In Cordees (Paris), developers are drawing on lessons learned from the disillusionment experienced by residents in the eastern part of the Paris-Batignolles eco-district: actual energy consumption turned out two to three times higher than the (very low) level originally promised. The result is that the industrial demonstrator now seeks to create a real chain of responsibility, from the design stage right through to long-term management, to ensure that promises become reality. Elsewhere, the principle of collective self-consumption of energy, has moved up the agenda. This is completely new in France – but how does it work?
Smarts grids : from conception to implementation
Until recently, the owners of an electricity generator connected to a network had to sell their entire electricity production to the network, then buy back the electricity they consumed from that same network. However, the law now permits networks to bull such users for the difference between their production and their consumption. Hence the user-generators benefit from the potentially lower cost of their own production but also from not having to paying transport-distribution costs to the network for consumption of the electricity (in kilowatt hours) they actually produced themselves.
Although in principal this seems simple, the actual regulations are still being defined. Hence the interest on the part of the industrial demonstrators, who can test out different potential solutions on the ground, working in close collaboration with Enedis, which manages France’s electricity distribution network. Various elements are still in development, including locations, dimensioning, specific transformer equipment and systems that can record and account for the difference between electricity production and self-consumption in real time at any given location. Much is still to be done and the industrial demonstrators are at the vanguard of this work! Lyon and Marmagne, for example, are trialling usage of blockchain – a system of digital information distribution originally devised for buying and selling the digital currency Bitcoin – to record and account for incoming and outgoing energy flows!
More inclusive towns
3,000 inhabitants in 1949, 45,000 in 2013, undoubtedly more than 115,000 in 2030: this is the town of Saint Laurent du Maroni, in French Guyana. New residents are flooding in from neighbouring countries such as Suriname and Brazil, and even Haiti. However, most of the newcomers live in informal dwellings. Devising constructive and regulatory systems that provide everyone with the ability to build their own home – legally and at low cost – is the objective of Maroni Lab, the industrial demonstrator chosen by French Guyana’s local land and development agency in Saint Laurent du Maroni. Many of the DIVDs seek to develop solutions for more inclusive cities. In some cases, digital technology is called upon – but only in well-targeted fashion. As Hélène Peskine recently explained: “digital technology often reinforces individualism, but here the idea is to trial public services that provide a collective interest”.
Rethinking the health service
Lyon-Confluence, for example, has seen the creation of “Third Place” areas – spaces for communal activity and encounters – and also “Health Space”, a totally new concept. One of the aims of such spaces is to anticipate the health needs of residents. The “Health Space” will use a local wellbeing indicator, which is still in development, to measure such factors as noise pollution, air quality, and residents’ quality of life perceptions. According to how it develops, healthcare professionals could use the technology to issue alerts to the most vulnerable and at-risk residents. A number of older people will be recruited as volunteers at ten housing units to trial usage of sensors that communicate with local street furniture: this interaction will hopefully allow anomalies to be detected so that appropriate action can then be taken. But who will operate this “Health Space”? How can its future be secured in economic terms? What technologies will be needed – and which may be inappropriate? These are the questions that developers are working through.
The autonomy of older residents is also central to the agenda at Capital Santé, the DIVD working in the metropolitan area of Montpellier. In Castelnau-le-Lez, residents of Eureka housing – which is currently being delivered – will be able to use a digital platform called “myeureka”. Chantal Marion, vice president of Montpellier Métropole Méditerranée explains: “myeureka will allow residents to call for the assistance of a plumber or doctor, order delivery of a meal or a product”. In Lattes, the health autonomy centre is currently developing innovative assistive devices such as adapted kitchens, smart systems for changing difficult-to-reach ceiling lighting and much more besides.
Big data at the service of citizens
In the Beaubrun Tarentaize neighbourhood in Saint Etienne, the municipality is applying itself to another kind of work site. “Using big data, we are seeking to improve the “rest of life” outlooks of households with the fewest opportunities” explain Jean-Pierre Bergé, the deputy mayor, and Virginie Raynaud, the municipality’s urban sustainability director. The idea is that sensor technology will be installed in homes and buildings to measure water and energy consumption, but also, for example – to show the number of available parking spaces. Each resident will therefore be offered the opportunity to understand – in a recreational and educational manner – how they can change their personal consumption and to learn practical ways to reduce their expenditure. Given the potentially intrusive nature of this project, the elected officials in Beaubrun Tarentaize need to be fully on board and able to convince their constituents of the personal benefits to be gained from sharing their data in this way. “We are working in collaboration with CNIL (France’s national data protection agency) and the legal profession to establish a forum where projects can be discussed with residents in complete transparency”, they explain.
Meanwhile in Rennes, the aim is that 3D modelling of the city, developed by Dassault Systèmes, be used to improve the city’s offer to residents by inviting start-ups to propose new services. As Gérard Le Bihan, from the Images and Networks Innovation Cluster, the driver behind Virtual Rennes, explains: “examples include: using the modelling to obtain a detailed picture of fuel poverty hotspots and then to better target funds allocated for energy-efficient building renovation; tracking journeys made by cyclists in order to choose better locations for cycle docking stations or other cycle specific facilities; and having the means to show future municipal projects – in 3D – to residents in order to facilitate conversation and consultation”.
Let’s not forget local jobs and public services
Maryse Coppet, a lawyer who leads the Guadeloupe DIVD “Marie Galante – sustainable island” seeks to initiate a transition on the island of Marie-Galante (part of the French overseas department of Guadeloupe) towards a more sustainable future. In addition to a range of energy measures and an agricultural development plan focussing on subsistence farming, Maryse Coppet has fought hard for the island to host a Simplon.co school, offering computer programming courses to residents. The aim is to facilitate local entrepreneurship and break the spiral of financial dependence.
And of course, ensuring adequate space for public services is also an imperative for these new neighbourhoods. This is a main focus of Rémi Costantino, director of outlook and strategy at Euroméditerranée, which leads the industrial demonstrator Emul. “Public services are no longer investing in the land holdings” he explains. “We therefore need to invent spaces with hybrid functions that ensure their future is sustainable”.
City-dwellers do not love their cities: this was the verdict of the latest study conducted by the Observatory of Emerging Uses of the City. Hence some of the industrial demonstrators are seeking to reconcile residents with the cities in which they live. In Descartes 21 (Val de Marne), Bouygues Energie Services will undertake a diagnostic evaluation of levels of environmental noise and quality of lighting, then use the results to instigate improvements. On a more recreational tip, a sports circuit with Wi-Fi connectivity will be installed, giving everyone the ability to track their route and enhance it using their smartphone. In the future, visitors to Chamrousse will also be able to use their smartphones to find a parking space, to purchase a ski lift pass and to zo om down the ski slopes whilst calculating their speed. And these uses are just the beginning.
In Palaiseau, Marc Rozenblat is hoping to give urban street lamps a second lease of life. Using LiFi technology – which uses light to transport data – passers-by in the Camille Claudel neighbourhood can already access local and community services by simply walking beneath one of the 77 street lamps already equipped with the technology. “Opening hours for the local media library, council services, orientation information for newcomers, warning systems for natural disasters and so on: with this technology it will be possible to create one of the largest information networks in the world, run by the local community”, enthuses the president of Smart Lighting Alliance. The second stage – and a world first – starting in February, will involve fitting the lamps with bi-directional LiFi, meaning that data can be sent by users as well as received.
Less carbon-intensive mobility
A few weeks ago, in the Amédée Saint Germain quarter in Bordeaux, Alstom equipped a local tram with augmented reality that enables passengers to contemplate the landscape of the future during their journeys. Once again, this is an innovation with multiple potential applications – both touristic and industrial. Trialling new types of mobility is an important focus for many of the demonstrators. In Eureka-Confluence, Navya, the start-up company based in Villeurbanne, has been operating its driverless shuttle service since last autumn, and its route could soon be extended.
In Fontainebleau, the station has set itself up as a demonstrator, in pursuit of ways to expand the provision of services for both commuters and tourists. It has teamed up with the Château de Fontainebleau, the French National Forestry Office and local communities. “Because it is important that we all come together to reflect upon these issues” explains Jean Peynot, SNCF’s director of stations and connection in Ile de France. A concierge service and parcel collection point have already opened, but in the longer term, the idea is also to facilitate non-motorised access to the Château and forest, potentially offering end-to-end tickets (combining train, bike hire and entry).
To transform highways into sources of energy
Another ambition in Descartes 21 is to seize the opportunities created by the arrival of the “Grand Paris” stations to boost non-carbon powered transport. Already, the demonstrator is testing electric self-service bikes that are charged by solar panels and asking cyclists to allow their journeys tracked in order to improve “cyclability” in the local area. The next step will involve improving “walkability”. Soon, driverless shuttle buses could operate routes out of the station. The idea of pooling usage of car park space amongst shops, offices and residential buildings is also gaining traction, with the demonstrators Emul in Marseille, Eureka in Lyon, and Paris-Saclay, all working on innovations in this domain.
The impact is not only environmental, explains Rémi Costantino: “in the Allar district, the first phase of Emul, we were able to reduce the number of parking places by a third. And since the car parks operate with dynamic parking control, some spaces are charged by the hour, which generates further cost reductions for residents”, explains Rémi Costantino. In Lyon, as in Descartes 21, an additional aim is to transform highways into sources of energy. The Colas Group is planning to build a small section of solar-powered road in Lyon, whilst planners in Descartes 21, are working on the “5th generation road”, a project lead by IFSTTAR (French Institute of Science and Technology for Transport, Development and Networks), whose specialist transport laboratory is located nearby.
Cities with increasingly circular economies
It is of course a prerequisite that the cities of tomorrow will be constructed in a sustainable manner. In Bordeaux, the construction of two wooden towers, each over 50 m high, forms an integral part of the city’s demonstrator. Bordeaux also aims to be a trailblazer in the domain of CIM, or City Information Modelling – effectively an expansion of building information modelling (BIM), the technology for digital building modelling, to encompass an entire city or district. In collaboration with France’s CSTB (Scientific and Technical Centre for Building), the Bordeaux demonstrator will build entire neighbourhood blocks using CIM in the town’s Belvédère district. A further benefit is that the technology helps minimise environmental impacts of construction sites. This is the objective of Noé, a platform offering shared services for work sites, operated by Keolis, Suez, Eiffage Effia and Engie Cofely. Its planned features include provision of off-site parking for staff, deployment of electric shuttle buses to bring staff onto site, and the launch of a “climate currency”, which, according to Nadège Daudrix, project manager for Bordeaux Euratlantique, will “allow each actor on site to demonstrate that they have reduced their carbon footprint”.
Reclamation value of waste generated on-site.
Another industrial demonstrator, RSU (Rêve de Scènes Urbaines), plans to deploy a waste sorting system on its site in Plaine Commune, which it hopes will enhance the reclamation value of waste generated on-site. “To do this, we need to involve the companies who produce the materials used on the sites” explains Nelly Philipponat, from Saint Gobain. “The ability to reuse glass from construction sites in flat glass factories necessitates very strict sorting from the outset”. In Sevran, planners aim to reuse soil excavated from the Grand Paris Express construction site to create building materials such as compressed bricks, clay panels and coatings. Some of these materials are already in use, but on small scale only. “The challenge is to move to faster production and a process that can be reproduced”, explains Magali Castex of Grand Paris Aménagement, which runs the project.
 Undertaken by ObSoCo in partnership with Chronos and the support of Ademe, CGET, Channel and Institut Vedecom
Hélène Peskine, permanent secretary of France’s inter-ministerial agency PUCA (Plan Urbanisme Construction Architecture)
– Why industrial demonstrators of urban sustainability?
HP : France’s large companies need spaces in which to demonstrate their expertise in the domain of urban sustainability. We also promote collaborative working in order to identify whether obstacles to innovation exist and if so, how to avoid them.
– What role can the State play in this type of undertaking?
HP : We contribute to feasibility studies via the future investment programme, but this contribution is small – less than 2 million euros. Our main role is that of facilitator. We provide assistance to the DIVD administrators by clarifying legal matters, and sometimes obtaining rights to experimentation (under French law), and exceptions or derogations to regulations, when these are required in order to meet social, economic and environmental objectives that will ensure the project’s success. Our aim is to pool the experiences.
– How successful has the DIVD programme been so far?
HP : the industrial demonstrators have five years to bring their projects to fruition. But they are already demonstrating the huge variety of sustainability innovations to urban services: energy, mobility, health, city living, etc. And we have learned something else: that the manner in which the firms, local communities and stakeholders come together in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation in terms of steering the project is instrumental. In other words, good governance is crucial to the success of the projects.