In our quest for rapid progress, one fundamental aspect has often been neglected: sustainability. The result is that Western cities, built on the premise of immediacy, are now suffocating under the weight of their own short-term thinking. Each summer they suffocate a little more, losing their appeal to their inhabitants in search of comfort and meaning. To breathe new life into these urban spaces, it is essential to turn to nature. But this reorientation raises a crucial question: how can we reconcile nature's slow pace with the need for economically viable solutions?
Phytoremediation: a virtuous and economical choice
It's easy to think that pollution remediation studies are reliable because they logically consider all existing solutions. And yet, if we take a step back, other solutions that make sense and are equal to the many climatic and environmental challenges of our century seem obvious. They are all natural methods, based on nature. "Too long", some may think! "Not economically viable enough," say others. But these natural solutions, provided by nature itself, now have the power to make sense of a polluted wasteland that no one wants, but that the city needs!
Industrial development has made us forget that nature is well designed. And it is precisely the consequences of this industrialisation and climate change that are now reminding us that there are plants that can absorb pollutants and thus remove pollution naturally. The other good news is that planting is not expensive. In fact, it's a triple win for :
Urban biodiversity, which also helps to combat urban heat islands; Improved air quality and storm water management. Remember, healthy soil absorbs more carbon and filters more water!
Using time wisely to make the most of it
"Plants are ideal, but they need time to act, and time is money... Taking more time is often incompatible with the constraints and requirements of an urban project." These are classic remarks that need to be put into perspective. An unused polluted industrial site in or near the city is quickly subject to insecurity, unhealthy conditions or even illegal dumping. A wart that damages the image of the town and the daily lives of its inhabitants. Initiating a natural decontamination process by planting suitable vegetation will certainly take longer than treatment after excavation. But that doesn't mean that there won't be any benefits until the site is completely cleaned up! For example, by bringing the soil back to life, plants open the door to other temporary uses. Brownfield sites, for example, are fantastic tools for raising awareness of biodiversity. All you have to do is create an educational trail to discover certain plants. This shows that time, often perceived as a cost, can become an asset if we know how to use it wisely. This applies not only to wasteland, but also to any other urban space.
Rewarding sustainable behaviour
The only downside is that the main obstacle to the adoption of such methods lies in the current structure of economic and regulatory incentives. Let's face it, contractors have no incentive whatsoever to find more virtuous and less costly solutions. This is because most of them are paid on the basis of a percentage of the cost of the work. This inconsistency requires not only a change in the rules, but also a fundamental change in the way tenders are organised. To encourage the adoption of more environmentally friendly practices, all contractors who favour this type of approach should be rewarded and not penalised by a reduction in their remuneration.
Unlocking the potential of urban land through nature
Many public and private stakeholders have unused land in cities and towns that, far from being just empty space, has considerable environmental and economic potential. Often perceived as a burden to maintain, this land can be transformed into a valuable carbon sink if managed wisely. Again, the key is to adopt nature-based solutions. By selecting plant species with strong root and aerial development, these spaces can activate their carbon sequestration capacity while requiring minimal maintenance. This approach not only reduces operating costs, but also offers significant co-benefits to the city from the moment the planting is carried out: combating urban heat islands, improving air quality, social acculturation in favour of biodiversity, etc.
This process is a perfect example of how nature's long time frame can be harmoniously integrated into the urban fabric to produce economically viable solutions. Plants take time to grow, that's a fact. But if a project is well designed, it is possible to combine environmental and economic interests. The rhythm of nature requires urban projects to be designed in a way that moves away from traditional approaches such as road or concrete construction. In this sense, it is essential to take into account the specific characteristics of the soil and climate, including their future evolution. This obviously extends the design phase. On the other hand, the implementation and acceptance phase will be much faster! The end result is a more socially, environmentally and economically virtuous project.
Following the cycle of nature opens up new possibilities, but above all it is in line with the philosophy of the 'Slow City', which aims to create urban spaces where residents can take the time to appreciate and experience their environment to the full. An approach that naturally implies that the design itself takes time. Time for what? Time to think sustainably in order to make savings, to anticipate tomorrow's uses so as to avoid having to invest again, to implement natural spaces that are adapted to climatic contexts, but also to the general demand of citizens to give cities the possibility of remaining attractive for a long time.
A cost-effective ecosystem approach
The ecosystem approach to nature and the city is proving not only profitable, but also essential for anticipating and adapting to future challenges, particularly climate change. Thanks to the principle of genetic selection, for example, it is now possible to choose plants on the basis of their real capacity to adapt to an area, but also to its potential for climate change. This selection enables plants to stand up better over time than certain inert materials, paving the way for more adaptive and resilient urban development. This notion of adapting to climate change is very new among developers, and also implies that long-term planning should no longer be seen as an obstacle, but as an opportunity. An awareness that is far from collective! This is borne out by the Greater Paris projects, which were not designed to adapt to climate change and which, in the face of predictions, run the risk of rapidly becoming obsolete, requiring new investment in the medium term. Further proof, if proof were needed, that it is not nature's long cycle that represents an economic challenge, but rather mankind's inability to integrate it effectively into its urban development plans.
It's time to rethink our economic and regulatory approach to encourage the development of nature-based solutions. Far from being an economic burden, these methods are a wise investment in the future, promising more resilient, healthy and sustainable cities. By integrating the slow cycle of nature into urban planning, we can not only respond to today's environmental challenges, but also create urban spaces that are great places to live without losing out financially.