Resilience thinking demands that cities look holistically at their capacities and their risks, as the challenges cities face are rarely just one discrete shock or a lone stress, but rather interconnected combinations of both. When the city of Parisapplied to join the 100 Resilient Cities network in 2014, the city highlighted its vulnerabilities to extreme heat and flooding. Given the legacy of the tragic 2003 heat waves in which over 700 people died, the likelihood of the river Seine to overflow its banks during major rainfalls, and the expected degree to which climate change will exacerbate both of issues, these were obvious risks to prioritize at the time.
But beginning in 2015 Paris saw a dramatic and unexpected increase in migration, with 50 to 60 migrants arriving daily, most of them asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East – a vulnerable population in need of integration into the city’s fabric. Paris also suffered multiple terrorist attacks in 2015, which together claimed over 130 lives. Therefore, as it developed its Resilience Strategy, Paris reoriented its efforts to prepare for the risk of extreme heat toward projects that would simultaneously build inclusive and cohesive communities.
As Paris developed its Resilience Strategy, the City reoriented its efforts to prepare for the risk of extreme heat toward projects that would simultaneously build inclusive and cohesive communities.
Paris is the densest capital in Europe, with only 14.5 m2of green space per inhabitant, compared to London’s 45 m2 or Rome’s 321 m2. The majority of Parisians live no more than 200 meters away from a schoolyardThis preponderance of asphalted and impervious surfaces increases both the urban heat island effect and the risk of storm water flooding. With space at a premium, the city had to consider existing assets it could leverage to tackle its resilience challenges of heat waves, flooding, declining social cohesion, and limited green space.
In the course of developing its Resilience Strategy, Paris determined that its schoolyards and college campuses represent over 70 hectares of paved and impervious open-air surfaces within the city, making them a contributing factor to the urban heat island effect. Moreover, these locations are easily recognizable and familiar to the public, and very few Parisians live more than 200 m away from one, making schoolyards not only a major piece of social infrastructure, but one which to date has been off-limits to the general public even outside of school hours.
The Paris Resilience Strategy, adopted in September 2017, therefore envisions the renovation the city’s network of 761 schools into green islands, or “oases,” of cooler temperatures and community solidarity for all neighborhood residents, including the most vulnerable.
The OASIS – Openness, Adaptation, Sensitisation, Innovation and Social ties – Schoolyards Project entails the transformation of local urban areas to adapt to climate change, working jointly with the city residents who will use these spaces.
The city launched this ambitious work with the 2018 renovation of three pilot schoolyards, costing approximately EUR 1 million in total from the city’s existing budget for school renovations. The three schools selected were the: École maternelle, 70 avenue Daumesnil, in the 12th arrondissement; the École maternelle, 2 rue Charles Hermite, in the 18th arrondissement; and the École maternelle et élémentaire 14-16 rue Riblette, in the 20th arrondissement. For the last of these three, the renovations were co-designed with the education community, including teachers, children, and parents.
Criteria used in selecting the three pilot schools included:
direct street access
low proximity of other green spaces
interest of relevant education community to participate
low levels of soil pollution
meets minimum surface area requirements for measure of climate impacts
pre-existing funding allocated for renovation
The renovation work entailed:
replacing asphalt with porous material
increasing green spaces
modernizing water management for flood control
installing cooling fountains, water sprayers, and other facilities
improving stormwater drainage
creating natural and artificial shade structures
Additionally, the project will reinforce social cohesion by co-designing the schoolyards together with local community (including the pupils). While initially the upgraded schoolyards are providing cooling benefits to the students and teachers during school hours, and to vulnerable citizens, particularly the elderly, during heat waves, the city’s eventual aim is to open the spaces to the wider public outside of school hours, and to use the schoolyards to raise awareness on the impacts of climate change in the urban environment.
What makes the OASIS schoolyards work innovative is its governance, which brought together twelve different city departments (schools, health, roads, green spaces, and water departments, to name but a few) to design and deliver the project in an integrated manner, using a common process, budget, and schedule. Within this unique governance system, the Chief Resilience Officer and the Paris Resilience team played a leading role in coordinating efforts and ensuring the maximization of the project’s resilience dividend.
The renovation work entailed creating natural and artificial shade structures.
A key aspect of the schoolyard oases is replacing asphalt with porous material.
The city’s eventual aim is to open the spaces to the wider public outside of school hours
The Role of 100 Resilient Cities
For the three pilot schoolyards transformed in 2018, 100RC supported Paris by providing and/or connecting the city with: technical input on low cost, low maintenance engineering solutions; support for the pursuit of new funding streams; best practices and expertise on community advocacy; and the measurement and evaluation of impact. We are also capturing and sharing the learnings of this work across our network of 100 cities and more broadly, thereby elevating awareness of Paris’ leadership in urban resilience.
As the project scales up through 2019, 100RC will support Paris in the development of a more standardized method for co-designing the schoolyards with the children, parents, and teachers who are already using them, and moreover to engage citizens in the neighborhood, young and old, in improving their living environment and communities.
Learning and Looking Ahead
By 2050, the city aims to scale this concept to the over 700 schools across the city, as part of its wider program to make the city more resilient to heat waves. Paris is planning to pilot its first resilient street in 2019. In 2019, Paris will focus on renovating an additional 33 schoolyards, with a goal of accelerating the process of co-design with users. In addition to scaling up the project across the city, Paris is now thinking of replicating the resilience approach used in the OASIS project to other infrastructure and facilities.
Some key learnings that emerged from the 2018 pilots include the need for city planners and urban resilience practitioners to develop a robust methodology for co-designing and co-building such OASIS schoolyards with the wider education community. The city also aims to standardize the frameworks and specifications used for transforming a schoolyard; the three pilots were each transformed separately by the architecture units in their respective arrondissements. Paris is working to define different categories, with minimum criteria which must be met for a schoolyard renovation to qualify as a cooling oasis, and some higher qualifications defined for a handful of flagship locations.
In the process of transforming the next tranche of schoolyards, Paris will test and evaluate innovative methods for cooling outdoor spaces as well as the adjacent school buildings. The city will explore cutting edge and highly sustainable materials and engineering solutions – their insights will have relevance and replicability for cities around the world as the impacts of climate change grow. However, the procurement of these new solutions will increase the cost of implementation. The city is therefore seeking new methods to finance not only some portion of capital costs but also resources for operations & maintenance.
A final question that Paris aims to solve is how to open the schoolyards to the general public outside of school hours while addressing all concerns about safety and upkeep. The schoolyards are envisioned as sites for community interaction and conviviality, accessible to all.
Outcomes and Impacts
Compared to the current design of the schoolyards, the renovated oases are expected to generate a 10% decrease in surface temperatures, a 1 to 3 °C decrease in daytime air temperatures, and a 4 to 16 mm of increase in water absorption. These new breathing spaces at the heart of neighborhoods, designed with users, will improve the living environment, cope with the climate emergency and reinforce social cohesion. The OASIS, this fertile island able to accommodate the plant and the human within an arid expanse, then becomes, in a more metaphorical sense, a refuge in the middle of the pressures of the urban environment.
New breathing spaces at the heart of neighborhoods, designed with users, will improve the living environment, cope with the climate emergency and reinforce social cohesion.
The OASIS approach is also gaining recognition at the European level, with the project recently winning this year’s Urban Innovation Actions (UIA) award, among 22 other projects from across the continent.Paris has received funding to renovate 10 of the 33 schoolyards slated for 2019. Paris has received 5 million euros co-funding which will be used for developing a standardized methodology for co-designing the OASIS schoolyards as well as identifying effective solutions for overcoming current bottlenecks to opening the school facilities to the wider public. The money will also be used to renovate 10 of the 33 schoolyards slated for 2019. As part of the UIA project, a robust and comprehension evaluation of the OASIS project’s approach, process, outcomes and impacts will also be conducted.
The OASIS project was explicitly designed in terms of the qualities of urban resilience.
The project is ROBUST because it meets all minimum building code requirements and puts safety first in its design.
The project is INTEGRATED, as it was designed to leverage synergies with other city plans and budgets, and moreover a key first step for the pilots was establishing an integrated governance system with stakeholders from various city departments, who together could unpack the complexity of the project and organize and facilitate well informed decision making.
The project is REFLECTIVE as measurement and evaluation has been built in as a key component, and changes in important metrics like temperature and water infiltration will be monitored and data analyzed. Any insights gained from initial results will be incorporated into the design of future renovations.
The project is RESOURCEFUL because it leverages existing city resources, with the pilot schools selected partially by virtue of their already having a budget allocated for renovation.
And finally, the project is INCLUSIVE because the OASIS schoolyards will be open to vulnerable groups during heatwaves, and eventually to the wider public outside of school hours year-round. Moreover, co-design of the community of the school and its wider neighborhood will be a key component of the program moving forward.