by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders
Surrounded by mountains and ski resorts, Grenoble is known as the Capital of the French Alps. Adding to this city’s list of accomplishments, the European Commission just named Grenoble as the 2022 European Green Capital to recognize its progress in climate action, eco-mobility, and all things sustainable.
Grenoble has always been a leader in renewable energy generation. In the 1800s, this city became world-famous for harnessing the power of water. In 1925, it hosted the International Exhibition of Hydropower attended by over one million people. Today, Grenoble is served by eleven hydropower plants, twelve photovoltaic facilities, a biogas unit, and a wind farm.
In 2005, Grenoble doubled down on its green power legacy by becoming the first French city to adopt a climate plan. By 2016, the city had cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent. It now aims for a 50 percent reduction by 2030 and to be carbon neutral by 2040.
To manage stormwater as well as heat, the city is removing concrete, improving infiltration, installing green roofs, planting trees, and adopting strict green space requirements for new development. Grenoble generates public support and participation for this effort with several creative programs including ones that subsidize residents for installing green roofs and facades.
In 2010, almost 70 percent of daily trips here were made on foot, by bicycle, or on public transportation. The city achieves these impressive statistics by incentivizing car sharing, pedestrianizing streets, and putting frequent public transport within 300 meters of 98 percent of the population. By 2030, Grenoble aims to have a fossil-fuel-free urban center.
In the last 15 years, Grenoble developed four new parks, a remarkable accomplishment for a city that is confined by mountains and has France’s third-highest density outside the Paris region. The city also partners with residents to build green public spaces with its “streets into gardens” program. Today, 92 percent of Grenoblois live within 300 meters of green space. A participatory science program called “Street Wild” invites citizens to monitor and improve the biodiversity of the city’s extensive green and blue network.
The city has won national awards for its eco-neighborhoods. A former military barracks was transformed into the de Bonne eco-district featuring cogeneration for all of its electricity, France’s first energy-positive office building, and access to Grenoble’s 26-mile tram network. The even greener Flaubert eco-neighborhood, which the Green Capital jury called a model of the city of tomorrow, is being designed and built in cooperation with the school of architecture with extensive community input.
Grenoble stresses innovation in its effort to evolve a circular economy. A research campus named GIANT (Grenoble Innovation for Advanced New Technologies) pioneers heat pumps and other building systems that exceed national energy-performance regulations. Recovered and renewable energy now supplies 72 percent of the power to the Grenoble district heating system which serves 100,000 inhabitants.
The European Commission was particularly impressed with Grenoble’s innovative approach to participatory democracy. Ecocity Builders includes this characteristic in its Ecocity Standards, which calls for robust, equitable, public participation in decision making and support for neighborhoods and community organizations as well as agencies and institutions. Based on the outcome of the European Green Capital competition, Grenoble clearly understands that it takes ecocitizens to build an ecocity.