Plea aimed at the presidential candidates
As the urban population keeps growing, the vegetalization of cities is becoming politicians’ main leitmotiv.
The benefits of nature in cities are numerous and unquestionable: comfort and health (Islands of Freshness, well-being, quality of air), cultural services (educational space, reconnection with the living), protection of biodiversity (ecological continuity, rainwater absorption), and climate change (Carbon sequestration).
Our gardeners and our landscape designers work daily with 4 elements, which are essential to life on earth: water, soil, sun and plant biology. They act on biodiversity all the time.
They thrive to make cities more resilient but they are on the poor end of the real estate and urban value chain.
Nature is a universally shared commodity. It deserves massive private and public investments.
Landscape designers and gardeners are working towards the biodiversity
Landscape designers and gardeners need to be involved in any urban project from the very start to protect the existing ecosystems and build resilient spaces.
Landscape design requires knowledge in various and complementary areas: botanic, pedology, urbanism, hydrography, geology, geography, as well as human and social sciences. It goes beyond the artistic or aesthetic design alone, as it directly impacts the living world. It plays a strategic role in the ecological transition. It acts in the public good.
The current salary of gardeners needs to be reviewed. Today’s contractors are paid on a percentage of the total building work budget. The landscape designers’ fees are based on a primarily numerical model, as they are directly linked to the cost of the project. On average, the fees of the landscape designers represent 1% of the total contracting fees (architect and design office combined) of a real estate project, which is absolutely nothing in regards to all the benefits Nature brings to cities!
The percentage of landscaped building surfaces, carbon generated by plants, rainwater absorption, nature as a community place and plant diversity are all measurable positive effects leading to a real paradigm shift. This is the real challenge. We must treat without any further delay the landscape designer and all those who make cities greener as the main actors and pay them accordingly using an Environmental and Social Impact Coefficient.
Put an end to the lowest bid doctrine used in public and private contracts for landscaping companies.
Greening as an adjustment variable at the end of building works.
Greening is automatically used as the adjustment variable by all the players in the real estate and construction sector, to which it is linked to by default: “Building” is not ” Planting “. Landscaping bears two kinds of burden: it comes after the built environment, once all the other building Trades and Professions have been dealt with and paid, and represents the final margin, which the builders rely on to strengthen their balance sheet. The unit known as “Green Spaces” accounts for 2% of the cost price of a real estate project.
And the outcome is very clear: prices are driven down, the low bidder rule dominates, and the landscape building sites are becoming less and less profitable, if not operating at a loss.
This leads to a landscaping and gardening service market, which employs thousands of small companies unable to get structured, opposite a property production system which cuts down on costs, decreases margins and increases tenders to get the best prices.
This is the ultimate paradox of our modern society: building more and more without investing in nature and biodiversity conservation. We ask that the units referred to as Green Spaces are financially secured in public and private contracts.
Discounted maintenance contracts
The maintenance of our urban landscapes has a massive impact on the biodiversity and the ecosystems and our economic system, once again, is going against it.
The communities and cities are proactive and understand the place of vegetation in the city. They open public gardens, parks and greenways, which are very popular with the inhabitants. However, the maintenance of green spaces is usually treated as a cost. A second environmental criteria would help the businesses which adopt sustainable practices.
The same goes for the private stakeholders, which see the management of green spaces as a cost centre, in which the gardener’s work has no added value.
The term “Green Spaces” clearly shows how it is perceived by the economic world: a measurement of the surface, of green colour, without taking into consideration the living world or the biodiversity. To date, the maintenance of green spaces has been measured in a quantitative way, mainly in terms of m2 worked and working hours.
And why this is happening? Because of the financialization of the economy. It led to a concentration of high added-value jobs in the world’s largest companies in order for the shareholders to get higher returns by outsourcing the low value-added professions to other players, who then themselves become large groups – who subcontract the maintenance, cleaning and reception services of their green spaces at a lower cost. It is a non-virtuous system, which creates a disruption in the job market between workers, employees and managers. As a result, the landscaping companies’ profitability is declining, even though they hire a lot of people and cover the whole of France with sustainable and non-outsourceable jobs. The sector growth pushes the players to regroup in order to get bigger and be more competitive in a highly competitive sector.
This system leads to a dead end: the vegetalized spaces lack investments in spite of their strategic contribution to making cities more resilient in the face of climate change.
We advocate for another value sharing model, where the maintenance of our natural and landscaped areas is not solely viewed as a cost, but also as a leverage for the highly desirable ecological transition, which is a tool for public health, social bonding and resilience of the cities.
We would like the presidential candidates to agree on an urban planning law reform
We would like to add several measures to the law:
- Oblige companies and public authorities to use a landscaper and an ecologist for any building renovation or construction work
- Impose (qualitative) greening criteria in building permits
- Impose a (quantitative) greening percentage in building permits
- Protect open grounds (any non- artificialized surface) in every building project
- Apply a penalty for cutting down trees in cities
- Regulate the green spaces work contract in public and private contracts
We would like that the presidential candidates commit themselves to a new pact with Nature in Cities.
- Recognize the green spaces as a Public Health Tool
- Protect nature spaces in cities
- Encourage higher education to include classes on climate change and loss of biodiversity
- Encourage nature and garden awareness class as early as primary school
- Require an environmental assessment of public spaces at the beginning and at the end of each presidential term
- Create parks and gardens in artificialized and waterproof neglected urban areas
- Include the principles of land sobriety in urban policies
By implementing these different proposals it will be possible to invest in the whole value chain of landscaping professions which work hard every day to create resilient and habitable cities in order to limit global warming to a maximum of 2°C by 2050.
We call for a clear commitment of the candidates in the Presidential Election.
Gautier and Benjamin la Combe