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In Paris, residents fight to protect their “green oasis”

Paris (12and), report

It’s a noise that Parisian ears aren’t really used to hearing anymore. A cheerful chirping of spring emanating from a huge climbing ivy, where a small colony of house sparrows has taken up residence. About fifty individuals who frolic in the courtyard of this Parisian building of the 12and arrondissement. Between these four walls, camellias, rhododendrons and ferns spring from earthenware pots enamelled in blue. Wisteria clings to the windows and a palm tree climbs to the third floor in search of light. A rare place, today threatened by a real estate project.

Thirty years ago, however, this place was just a concrete slab, resembling many other courtyards in the capital. It was patiently vegetated by a resident to become today a small green setting, which its inhabitants have baptized green oasis ».

The interior of the building’s courtyard, which has been patiently planted for thirty years and has become a refuge for Parisian biodiversity. © Laury-Anne Cholez/Reporterre

Threatened sparrows and pipistrelles

The story begins in August 2017, when a neighbor discovers a building permit to destroy the building on which the huge ivy hangs. Intrigued, she discovered that the real estate developer, Cogedim, wanted to build a seven-storey building there for 36 apartments, including 10 social housing units. For the inhabitants, this project would mean the disappearance of house sparrows, a species that is nevertheless protected. This massive [de lierre] serves not only as a shelter and food source, but also as protection for the nesting cavities below »explains a report by the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO), who came to appraise the colony. The association has identified between 40 and 50 individuals and issues an extremely unfavorable opinion » on the project, given the disastrous state of the species in Paris: the population of house sparrows fell by 72 % between 2003 and 2016.

Another animal is threatened by this future construction site. A bird much more discreet than sparrows, and especially more nocturnal: the pipistrelle bat. A protected species almost threatened »classified on the red list of continental mammals of metropolitan France, whose habitat it is forbidden to destroy, except in the event of an exemption granted by the prefect for a reason of general interest.

The building that will be destroyed to build a new real estate project. © Laury-Anne Cholez/Reporterre

The Renard association, which confirmed their presence thanks to an ultrasound sensor, insists on the importance of this colony located between the Bois de Vincennes and the small belt. An ecological corridor to preserve. The maintenance of vegetated environments is necessary to preserve the urban ecological link and strengthen it », explains the association in an expert report. She also reminds that the destruction of habitats is one of the primary causes of the disappearance of species ».

Faced with this, the promoter Cogedim promises to do everything possible to preserve this fauna by working with a firm of ecologists. He assures that he will avoid demolishing the building during certain sensitive periods, will set up temporary refuges during the construction site and then permanent refuges within the new buildings. He will select plants that favor the abundance of insects, etc. Measures which did not convince the inhabitants, who keep across the throat a letter claiming compensation from them of 1 million euros for abusive procedure.

Claudine Gazel showing the letter received by the inhabitants, in which the promoter Cogedim claims 1 million euros for abusive procedure. © Laury-Anne Cholez/Reporterre

To save the sparrows, the pipistrelles, but also the chickadees, the wood pigeons, the blackbirds, the house robins, the black crows or even the magpies which sometimes take advantage of this island of greenery in the heart of the city, the inhabitants decided to unite in order to prevent the destruction of the wall.

Anne Lenfant is one of them. Short hair and small glasses, she has lived here for ten years and realized her luck during confinement by spending a lot of time admiring the ballet of birds on the green roofs of the building which will be destroyed. Facing her bedroom window, hundreds of blue irises sway in a light breeze. It is said that a neighbor would have one day thrown a bulb of this flower and that it would have multipliedexplains Anne Lenfant. Two months ago, the owner came to pull out small shrubs that grew there, including a cherry tree where the sparrows fed. I cried about it. It’s hard to think that everything you’ve had in front of you for years can disappear overnight. »

View of roofs that have been naturally green for thirty years, thanks to the seeds brought by the wind or the birds. © Laury-Anne Cholez/Reporterre

Legal remedies

The group of residents has launched legal action against the Cogedim project. They filed a non-contentious appeal before the administrative court in 2017, which they lost, then appealed to the Council of State, which confirmed the merits of their appeal and quashed the decision of the administrative court. A new judgment must take place during which the inhabitants will be able to present new arguments, in particular on environmental issues. Subjects not addressed at all in 2017, when these considerations were less taken into account than today.

The collective also sought political support. The mayor of 12and district where the building is located, Emmanuelle Pierre-Marie (EELV), notably requested the classification of the place as a protected green space (TEUs), according to The Parisian. Of course, there are not 1,000 hectares of land at risk. But it is one more destruction among urban plans where only financial profitability triumphssays Clément Kopp, one of the inhabitants. The administrative machinery is dominated by this profitability, and not by the protection of the environment. »

While waiting for the outcome of the legal appeals, the opponents do not give up and dream of an alternative project. They contacted Cycloponics, a start-up that grows mushrooms in disused underground car parks, and visited a saffron farm on the roof of the Bastille opera house. They approached a school of architects to think about bioclimatic architecture. It remains to find a rich patron: the building was sold to the promoter for the sum of 7 million euros.

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