Image credit: Element5 Digital

A greener autumn

Autumn is here. And for Strasbourg that means a positive start for the new school year.  In September the city is launching a series of measures that will involve youths in the fight against climate change.

How to encourage the use of public transportation? How to promote equality among kids? How to make schools greener? Those might have been the questions that the City Council asked themselves, and here you’ll find the answers.

Accessible public transport for youths 

Since 1 September, anyone under the age of 18 can travel free of charge and without restrictions on Strasbourg’s public transport network.

We expect to convince some 30,000 youths for the first years, but in the long run the scheme targets 80,000 of them in total.
— Maxime Ammendolea

For Maxime Ammendolea, European Affairs Officer at the Strasbourg Municipality, the initiative pursues both social and ecological goals: by providing free transport to all minors, regardless of the area from which they travel, it ensures territorial equality;  at the same time, increasing the use of trams and buses has a positive effect on air quality, with clear benefits for all city residents.

To achieve this transition, Strasbourg has overcome three main challenges. First, financial: the initiative costs an estimated six million euro that “will be compensated by the Strasbourg Municipality and other partners,” Ammendolea says. The goal is to “convert” as many as possible, including teens whose parents are driving them around or kids who commute by more polluting means of transport. “We expect to convince some 30,000 youths for the first years, but in the long run the scheme targets 80,000 of them in total”, Ammendolea explains.

A minor subscribing to the programme. Image credit: Jérome Dorkel

Strasbourg is the first city in France to implement this initiative, the city says. That presents yet another challenge. In other cities, users of free public transport usually first pay out of their pockets and get reimbursed later. In Strasbourg, the public transport company had to produce new cards, communicate with users and improve its online platform before registering all new subscribers in a short time.

“The implementation was not easy, but we did our outmost to meet the deadline. And it’s been a great success,” Pia Imbs, President of City of Strasbourg recently told local media. For Jeanne Barseghian, Strasbourg’s Mayor, this is “above all a response to air quality issues and against global warming.”

In the end, the initiative is about guaranteeing mobility for everyone, but benefits extend beyond this goal: parents save money, young people gain autonomy, the public transport network is optimised, and sustainable practices are acquired.

Reinventing schoolyards: greener and equal

Here comes the second initiative: to redevelop all schools and early childhood courtyards by 2026. The main goals are to reinvent their use to contribute to gender equality and combat climate change.

The project will rethink the use of spaces and games in the schoolyards; for example, by not having a soccer field (mostly used by boys) that takes 80% of the space. And also by encouraging gender mixing in spaces.”
— Maxime Ammendolea

Let’s focus on the first one. How will this project implement the idea? Ammendolea has the answer: “It will rethink the use of spaces and games in the schoolyards; for example, by not having a soccer field (mostly used by boys) that takes 80% of the space. And also by encouraging gender mixing in spaces.” Building green schoolyards will prompt people to the rethink schoolyards’ educational function and their place in a neighborhood’s ecosystem.

Not only that, greening schoolyards will contributes to the fight against global warming. The project will create islands of freshness, new spaces of nature and proximity in the neighbourhood. Put together, these activities aim to raise awareness and instruct the educational community about environmental challenges, biodiversity, and urban food issues.

In collaboration with the tree planting operation called ‘Canopy plan’ (to protect and increase the number of local trees), the City of Strasbourg wants to accelerate the green transformation of the territory, first and foremost in the schools, where educational conditions should be met.

Kids are participating in a planting activity. Image credit: Jérome Dorkel

The canopy index (the area covered by vegetation) currently stands at around 26% for the whole city, but there is a vast disparity between districts. The objective is to reach 30% by 2050 by implementing an ambitious planting policy. Thus, the projects developed in the framework of greening schoolyard will also contribute to the Canopy plan.

Co-designing public spaces with the educational community

The school grounds project will be the subject of an in-depth consultation process and all members of the academic community will contribute to co-designing the area: children, parents, teaching and municipal staff, associations, and elected representatives. The City council will propose active methods of animation, workshops and school visits.

The aim of the consultation is to envision the ideal playground while taking into account climatic and environmental considerations, educational and social issues (mix of spaces), children’s safety and schools’ individual needs. Ideally, the consultation should also allow representations and practices in the urban area to evolve.

To be chosen for the programme, schools have to meet criteria such as: being located in a heat island or in an area where air quality thresholds are exceeded; face the threat of mineralisation;  have space to develop their courtyard; have access to green areas nearby; implement accessibility and eco-mobility. The number of children involved is also taken into account.

As for qualitative requirements, eligible schools should already be involved in sustainable development initiatives; their proposals should have been presented and relevant, and their educational team and parents already committed to the environmental cause.

Back to school, but stepping forward into the future.

Marta Buces Eurocities Writer
in numbers:
  • €6M

    the estimated annual cost of the free travel for youths initiative
  • 80.000

    youths targeted by the scheme in the long run
  • 26%

    area covered by vegetation concerning the whole of Strasbourg