13 July 2023
Versailles - Ville Nature: Future-proofing Nature for all Citizens
Louis XIV legacy to Versailles from the 17th Century, goes beyond the Palace and Park of Versailles, to a way of thinking about prioritising nature in the city. As a ‘Cultivating City’ in GoGreenRoutes project, the city of Versailles, led by Mayor François de Mazières, has renewed the concept of Ville Nature. In the modern realisation of 17th Century ideal, culture, architecture, and nature are intrinsically connected. In the words of the Mayor “The obvious is clear: everything leads us today to draw inspiration from nature.” Versailles is now renowned for its Mois Moiliére, a music and theatre festival with over 300 shows in its 27th running of the event, and in 2022 La 2e édition de la Biennale d'architecture et de paysage (BAP) de Versailles reflecting the Mayor’s vision. This reflection on the savoir-faire required to connect citizens to nature and to one another through landscapes resonates clearly with our project.
GoGreenRoutes, a €10.48 million EU funded Horizon project, aims to foster citizens' health by connecting people to nature. Versailles, one of six cities in the project, has strong ambitions for a nature-positive future. The implementation of nature-based solutions can support the city of Versailles to achieve their ambitions through the demonstration of the potential benefits for nature, citizens and sustainability. Our 40 partner consortium led by Maynooth University in Ireland, with world leading researchers at ISGlobal in Barcelona, and experts from local partner Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ), work collaboratively to support cities to reach their outcomes. Nature-based solutions, as succinctly defined by Gilles Doignon, Team Leader Biodiversity & Nature-Based Solutions at DG R&I, involve working with nature and people for nature and people.
Squaring the Circle
Square Blaise Pascal, an existing park and recreation area in Quartier Montreuil, is the site of the nature-based intervention in Versailles. The park offers unique opportunities for recreation, sport and is also a shortcut for commuters. The answer to the challenge is in the name. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was one of the foremost mathematicians of his time developing several treatise including investigations of air pressure (the unit of measurement bears his name), philosophy and geometry. His work included explorations of the relationship between squares and circles and Pascaul´s theorem lives on today. Today the park that bears his name, comprises a combination of circular areas for play and a large square area for ball games, connected by a green route. GoGreenRoutes will re-imagine this green area to enhance the opportunity for social inclusion with rest areas and through the provision of additional space for intergenerational interactions. Promoting the connection to nature with additional tree canopy cover to provide shade and thermal comfort for and relaxation, with a new geometry to the park.
François Darchis, deputy mayor with responsibility for the environment and innovation projects, stated that
“Better living in the city is one of the many challenges of global urbanisation in the coming decades. GoGreenRoutes works on the principle that nature can give us solutions that are easy to implement. In consultation with the District Council, Square Blaise Pascal will be our “sandbox” for this great European initiative.”
This concept of experimentation with nature in the city would align with the very ideals of Blaise Pascal himself. This development is among many recent successes in the city transforming public areas for the benefits of citizens and nature. A wonderful example is the new playground and biodiversity area at Le Square du Carré au Puits.
Esprit de Corps
Our recent work in Versailles this June was supported by four academic partner organisations and the municipality. This comprises ISGlobal researcher Evelise Periera Barboza, Professor Tadhg MacIntyre of Maynooth University, Scientific Coordinator, researcher Mengyi Jin, Trinity College Dublin, Franck Remy (Head of Innovation Team, Versailles) and from UVSQ, Prof. Karine Zeitouni, researcher Mohammed Abboud, and Dr Yehia Taher, Associate Professor. A shared learning ecosystem enables us to learn from one another and the expertise of the city team is paramount to this process. In cities, we perceive citizens to be experts too as they use the green spaces we tried and tested novel methods that can be applied by citizens in their communities as well as the municipality and Conseil départemental des Yvelines.
225 years ago, une petite escadre française prit la mer avec un millier d’hommes à son bord, sous le commandement du général Humbert, to support an Irish uprising against the British. This is just one thread in the great tapestry that connects France and Ireland through cultural, sporting, educational and economic ties. With the advent of Brexit, France is Irelands closest European trading partner and there is no ambiguity in this relationship. In 2022, the mayor of Versailles, Mayor François de Mazières, hosted the Irish ambassador to France, H.E. Niall Burgess, to discuss new possibilities in our relationship. The opportunity for knowledge exchange between French and Irish cities, notably Versailles and Limerick in this instance, at the municipal level has the potential to pay dividends for culture, citizen health and envisioning future concepts of our urban realm too.
Le Prochaine Foix
In 2024, Versailles will host several events for Paris 2024 including at the Palace of Versailles, which is the venue for many equestrian events in its iconic gardens. In the coming years, the Grand Paris Express will connect Versailles-Chantier with Orly airport, Satory district will be re-developed. Through shared wisdom, lessons from Versailles can help foster a strong connection with nature in Irish cities of similar scale including Limerick (partner city in GoGreenRoutes), Cork and Galway. The French ambassador to Ireland, H.E. Vincent Guérend, has built strong bridges with Irish cities through honorary consulates in our major cities. He notes,
"Sustainability is a priority in the cooperation between France and Ireland, spanning from transporation to energy, from innovation to research. In charting this new world, exchange of good practices across all sectors is absolutely key. I am delighted to see that the EU funded project GoGreenRoutes will participate in both enhancing the quality of life of our cities and creating new links between our two countries."
Our shared future draws inspiration from how nature was embedded in the past, and together we can ensure that nature endures in our lives once again.