Interview with Cyrille Moreau, Vice-President of Rouen Normandy Metropolitan Area

For this third episode of Chroniques Urbaines, we exchanged with Cyrille Moreau, Vice-President of the Rouen Normandy Metropolitan Area, who enlightened us on how biodiversity is taken into account in the city’s projects.

What tools is Rouen Normandy Metropolitan Area implementing to fully integrate biodiversity issues into urban projects? What are the challenges that remain unresolved? He answers in this episode!

Green Soluce: The Rouen Normandy Metropolis was awarded the “Best Inter-municipality for Biodiversity 2018” prize during the “French Capital of Biodiversity” competition organized by the French Biodiversity Agency, among others. How did you achieve this distinction?

Cyrille Moreau: First of all, it should be noted that we have been awarded two prizes in this competition because we can apply several times but on different themes. In 2018, we submitted an application on a systemic approach to land control, in other words how we manage land to preserve natural spaces of various natures such as wetlands, lawns…. The Rouen Normandy Metropolis strongly wishes to use land control as a means of preserving natural areas, we couple this with eco-grazing [ecological technique for maintaining green spaces using herbivore grazing, thus limiting the use of machinery and chemicals, NDLR] to ensure its protection.

The Rouen Normandy Metropolitan Area has committed to applying the same methodology of taking biodiversity into account to all the development projects it undertakes. This methodology can be summarized by the following question: can land control be exercised on a project, either to protect the target environment or to disseminate new species?

Many communities use these two techniques, land control and eco-pasturage, but it is really our systemic approach that has differentiated ourselves from other applications. It should be noted that today too many local authorities set up only one action by political theme associated with the city (biodiversity, mobility…), in order to address all of them, but this does not allow for a transversal reflection taking these issues into account.

Green Soluce: Do you think that metropolises could do more to promote biodiversity?

Cyrille Moreau: Today, it seems necessary to integrate the issue of biodiversity into all city policies – regardless of the field they cover – and to consider the plant aspect from the design stage of a project. With this systemic approach, many benefits are obtained, such as the creation of green continuities (ecological corridors) that allow species to move and colonize other territories. Whether in terms of biodiversity or more generally climate, the actions taken by public and private actors do not meet the challenge of climate change. The report that analyses the climate plans of the major cities published by WWF a few months ago is alarming! The actions implemented correspond to 1/3 of what would have to be done to comply with the Paris agreements.

Green Soluce: What tools did you implement to accelerate the integration of biodiversity into real estate and urban development projects?

Cyrille Moreau: Biodiversity is addressed during the major development operations led by the Rouen Normandy Metropolitan Area. As for the Flaubert eco-neighbourhood, an operation to convert brownfield sites into offices and housing planned for 2021, biodiversity has been considered in the overall development: water flows, ecological corridors and the place of plants in private and public spaces have thus been established since the project was conceived. This had an impact on the developer since he had to respect the biotope coefficient (percentage of a developed area that will be definitively devoted to nature) included in the Local Urban Plan. In the specifications for public calls for tenders concerning our scope of action, we also ask candidates to take biodiversity issues into account.

The future Flaubert eco-neighbourhood located in Rouen and Petit-Quevilly.

Credits: Rouen Normandy Metropolitan Area.

Green Soluce: What are the remaining challenges?

Cyrille Moreau: The Rouen Normandy Metropolitan Area uses land management throughout its 670 km2 territory. The decrease in State allocations to local authorities has a direct impact on operating budgets, and in particular on expenditure on the maintenance of the natural areas that form part of them.

To continue to protect sensitive natural areas, it is therefore necessary to set up low-cost management. Agriculture, livestock or market gardening are the preferred solutions today. However, training farmers in eco-grazing takes time, especially for new farmers from cities, and we are no longer able to establish enough farmers.

How can a policy be put in place to set up farmers, preferably organic farmers, to manage these areas without the community’s management costs exceeding the budget? This is the question the Metropolis is trying to answer.

Green Soluce: What about urban space?

Cyrille Moreau: Urban areas, which also face heat island phenomena, face the same problem. As soon as we install a strip of vegetation or a tree, it takes gardeners to maintain them, which is a cost. The trend in communities is therefore to mineralize urban areas rather than green them. If we are not able to find new governance techniques to reduce the costs of maintaining these natural spaces, communities will no longer create green spaces and biodiversity will continue to decline. In order to overcome this problem, metropolitan areas such as Grenoble empower the inhabitants of a district through a proximity policy: the authorization to green at the foot of the building is included in the Local Urban Plan, removable squares to green up are installed at the request of citizens and a communication campaign invites them to take care of these new green spaces.

Local and regional authorities must design new forms of management other than relying exclusively on community employees to maintain these spaces. Although I agree that implementing innovative actions is more complex than hiring gardeners with an allocated budget.

Green Soluce: Do you use biodiversity to address climate change?

Cyrille Moreau: The Rouen Normandy Metropolis has the particularity of benefiting from forest areas on 1/3 of its territory. The state of forest soils is as much an issue as that of agricultural soils, yet awareness on this subject is almost non-existent. However, it should be noted that the natural migration of some species is much slower than climate change!

Citizen engagement is important in the fight against climate change and is effective when citizens find it useful to preserve the environment. Biodiversity is perfect in this context since natural areas make it possible to fight against heat islands by creating islands of freshness while allowing species to develop and move freely. The tree is the main driver of biodiversity and the vegetation cover it creates cools the urban space.

The demand for plants from citizens is extremely high, which conflicts with some current community policies, such as the establishment of parking areas on public space.

If Mayors and urban leaders do not change the way they plan their territories, which are gradually becoming unbearable due to climate change, they should not be surprised to see their citizens leave.

Interview by Constance Flachaire and Lucille Christien for Urban Chronicles™

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Green SoluceInterview with Cyrille Moreau, Vice-President of Rouen Normandy Metropolitan Area
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