“The greening of the city is everyone’s business,” says Éric Piolle, mayor of Grenoble, France, the unofficial capital of the French Alps. As one of the first Europe Ecology (Green Party) members to lead a city in France, he’s made it so. In 2022, the European Union named Grenoble the EU Green Capital, an annual award given to a city that is “leading the way in environmentally friendly urban living.” A series of public-private partnerships and a strong emphasis on participatory democracy has allowed Grenoble—population: 160,000—to become one of the world’s most environmentally friendly.
As mayor, Piolle’s approach to sustainability is rooted in science and driven by citizens. Surrounded by mountains, Grenoble’s topography dictates its need for urban density, and thus the city is the third most concentrated in France. However, it is also dedicated to providing ample public green space through ambitious planning that encourages urban gardens, vertical gardens, and tree planting programs that allow private citizens to plant corporation-donated trees in unused public spaces. Soft mobility efforts like pedestrianized streets in the city center, a thriving carpool network, “bicycle highways,” and a municipal school for bike safety education are other examples. These kinds of citizen-enacted policies create a sense of partnership between the public and its leadership, with a singular goal toward better urban living and climate-conscious action.
“To enable everyone to not only live with respect for our environment, but also to live better, we must rely on research,” says Piolle, noting that making the latest information about climate change publicly available is key to informed citizen participation in the city’s climate proposal program, which allows submission of proposed municipal actions for bettering the environment and offers support to enact them through public or public-private partnerships with corporations. For example, the public electricity supplier, GEG, “produces the equivalent of green electricity needs of all households in Grenoble,” Piolle explains, enabling all homes to be fully powered by renewable energy. The city is also replacing its asphalt with materials that allow water infiltration, has banned phytosanitary products, and is completing energy renovations of public buildings to improve their performances and reduce environmental effects.