Week 5: Sustainability in Strasbourg

Allo! How was your past week? Weekend? I hope that it was as beautiful and as heartwarming as ours was. I got to see visit a city dedicated to strengthening their networks of sustainable, eco-friendly transport, like on electric trams and bikes, to meet an organization that works year round to compost for the community (all on bikes!), and to meet the Mayor of Metz at the Ecology Festival on Saturday.

In Strasbourg, the streets were beautiful, not all too different in composition from the ones you’d walk down in Metz. There are cafés with tables sprawling out into the terrace, shops with postcard racks out front or with hand woven fabrics hanging over some displays, and musicians on street corners. The architecture, though, is a telling mix of French and German techniques (maybe due to their occupation in a couple of wars). The cathedral was breathtaking, in contrast with the beautiful orangish stone color cathedral in Metz, and with ornate detailing all the way up the grand tower. I’m partial to Metz because the stained glass is legendary, but there was something special about the cathedral in Strasbourg, maybe the views from the base of the tower were what did me in.

Apart from sightseeing, I met Joakim Couchoud from an association in Strasbourg called Sikle that operates much like Metz’s Epluchures and Bicyclettes. Sikle is a larger movement with more frequent pickups (up to 5 times per week) and visits around 16 restaurants/business, approximately ten more than we visit here in Metz. Their composting site is much larger, also, because they pick up much more waste each trip than we do with E&B. The objectives in each sense are the same, though: they aim to reduce the amount of waste generated by people in Strasbourg that goes immediately to a landfill or incinerator. There is potential for their food waste, and they don’t want to waste the opportunity (or the waste, haha). Once E&B gets a few more volunteers, I think they’ll be able to operate at a level like Sikle with no problem whatsoever. They’ve laid good groundwork and have done a lot of good with their small operation so far, I’m just happy to see that Metz isn’t the only diamond in the rough. There are cities all over Europe doing what they’re doing on larger and smaller scales, trying to make a difference in their impact on the environment and on the community. That’s the most successful and inspiring aspect to me. I’m bringing this idea home to Georgia Tech with me; look out for an Epluchures and Bicyclette club on campus in the spring!       

After a brief lunch on a log bench, we made our way to the Department of the Regulation of Traffic in Strasbourg, where we met Benoît Wolff, who explained the innerworkings of the circulation system that manages the traffic lights, public transportation, and monitors public roadways for accidents (as a partnership with the police department). Strasbourg is an extremely bike friendly city (the most notable in France) and the public transportation system, a network of tramways, is also widely known for its effectivity. At the Department of Regulation, there are people working around the clock to ensure that the car traffic blends seamlessly and safely with the tram and pedestrian traffic. I would say bike traffic, as well, but they make a lot of effort to keep the bikes and cars separate. There is a large network of bike paths that Strasbourg dedicates time and money into developing so that bikers don’t need to share the road with cars or share the sidewalk with pedestrians. It makes a switch from driving a car to riding a bike seem that much sweeter, doesn’t it? No pollutants AND safety? Sounds like a dream. Their facilities have been some of the best since the 1970s, and they’re constantly trying to improve the state of mobility in their city both for the environment and the safety of the citizens in Strasbourg. I think the climate strike going on in town added to the experience, as well, because we could see the mob moving from one screen to the next across the intersections with cameras as Benoît was talking. I knew at that moment that Strasbourg was cool with me!

I know I already mentioned this as an introduction to my topics in the blog, but I met the Mayor of Metz, Dominique Gros (third from the left in the first picture below)! He was a strong spoken man who liked to joke, and even though I didn’t fully understand all of what he said, he made the people watching him smile and preached about the importance of the efforts people were making at the Ecology festival and for the environment. What’s not to like? The Ecology festival was held at the European Institute of Ecology, which we visited earlier in the semester to learn about sustainable developments in Metz. This time, we were outside helping at a table for Metz à Vélo, whom you’ve met before. We asked people if they liked to bike, handed out some pamphlets, and talked with them about the importance of a shift in mobility towards bikes. We had pamphlets with tips and tricks for things like biking to work (how you keep yourself looking professional as opposed to sweaty), and one was a map of all the biking paths in Metz. We were faced with an irritated woman, at one point, complaining about bikes on the sidewalk and the dangers that she’s witnessed as a result of them, but our friend Edmond just clapped back saying “The sidewalks are split between bike and pedestrian lanes; you just don’t respect them!”. This highlights the main problem that I’ve seen with bikes here in Metz; there aren’t lanes dedicated to one or the other (except in few locations), so pedestrians and bikers often have to share, which doesn’t always end harmoniously.

There were tables at the festival for homemade products (promoting a zero waste lifestyle), a table set up for tree conservation, for teaching people how to compost (lead by our friend Jean-Jacques), one for the European Institute itself, another for Motris (hosted by another friend, Olivier Rudez, whom we do E&B with) and most others selling naturally, sustainably sourced goods. There were food trucks and live music as well, which made for a lot of happy tummies and good fun. I’m so happy that I attended and became a part of this program because of events like the Ecology festival, where I got to see a community come together and rally for the environment. I’ve been inspired by the people here to act on the concern that I’ve had for the environment since my youth. I can do it, we all can, we just need the know-how. I feel confident that my efforts and the people that I’ve met here in Metz have permanently changed the way that I’ll live my life. Go green, my friends, the rewards are endless.