Paris, France

Photo by CAUE de Paris.

The power of plants and natural ecosystems to deliver benefits

How is the initiative shaped by scientific evidence of the potential for plants and natural ecosystems to deliver benefits?

One of the objectives of the Oasis project is to recreate greater biodiversity in schoolyards, to raise awareness among young people of the importance of creating and protecting a natural environment in the city. Indeed, nature is a very important source of well-being for everyone (as exposed in UNICEF discussion paper on The Necessity of Urban Green Space for Children’s Optimal Development) and guarantees a better quality of life in the city.  To defend this vision of the city, the City of Paris relies on both internal and external expertise. Within the City, a large amount of work has been carried out to promote the restoration of green, blue, and brown networks (see website “La biodiversité à Paris”). Specialists in biodiversity issues have contributed to the project in the design phases of the new schoolyards, specifying the importance of creating more natural spaces (creation of different plant strata, installation of facilities to accommodate small fauna, etc.). These recommendations were taken into account in the first schoolyards. Furthermore, external researchers are also involved in the evaluation of the project, which allows the adjustment of the technical solutions deployed in the natural courses, in order to make them even more effective from the point of view of ecosystems’ restoration. Finally, exchanges with researchers contribute to enabling the first users of the schoolyards, the students, to be sensitized to nature and to better understand its functioning, in particular with participatory projects, where the children become actors in the collection of scientific data.

How has the city exploited the potential of plants and associated ecosystems to deliver more than one benefit?

The greening of schoolyards, in addition to restoring biodiversity in the city, also aims to combat the urban heat island effect. Plants play a very important role in improving the local microclimate. This is especially the case of trees, which provide both shade and significant evapotranspiration. The species are chosen to be respectful of the local biodiversity (indigenous species) and for their resistance to the challenges of climate change. Plants are therefore able to contribute to better rainwater management, as planted areas contribute to soil permeability and groundwater recharge. Some plants can contribute to soil decontamination as well. Finally, green spaces have a significant role in absorbing CO2 for better air quality. All these benefits are developed within the framework of the Oasis project where green spaces represent between 30% to 50% of the transformed schoolyards’ areas.

These new spaces become learning landscapes and create connections between students and nature and promote a greater awareness of the challenges of climate change and the importance of nature in the city.

Furthermore, natural areas contribute to the wellbeing of the inhabitants, especially those who can access schoolyards on weekends, having a positive impact on mental health. Finally, they play a role in the better sharing of space, as the green spaces in schoolyards are more spontaneously used by both girls and boys, without any gender division.