A greater appetite for innovation? Some inspiration from Europe

A greater appetite for innovation? Some inspiration from Europe

28.10.2015 - Posted by Rob Catchlove
Imagine the Docklands in Melbourne, but actually worth going to. Well, the French have nailed it with the Confluence Smart City development in Lyon. Having recently spent three months in France I saw some amazing examples of innovation. However you define innovation, there is a distinctly different feel to the way Europeans innovate in city planning, economic development, water, energy, and transport systems.

The Confluence Smart City development illustrates this well. The Confluence development is basically an inner city redevelopment exercise in Lyon, the third largest city in France and almost 500km south west of Paris. Formally a port and dock, it is now a revitalised business, shopping and residential area. Fundamentally, the goal of this 150 hectare precinct is to attract business and residents to the city and showcase Lyon as a ‘smart city’. This has translated into leading edge developments, international architects, mini grid systems, reuse of industrial buildings for nightclubs, acclaimed museums.

Hikari development in the Confluence area

I toured one of the new buildings – Hikari (built by Bouygoyne, a French urban developer). Hikari is made up of three mixed use buildings with an integrated basement. It aims to be water neutral and have zero net energy use (i.e. generate more energy than is used on site). The best bit for me was the photovoltaics on the fa├žade (as part of that zero net energy use approach). Hikari has been a huge collaborative project (for example, Toshiba did the smart network), and apparently the apartments are selling like crazy. What was interesting was that when we toured the basement and saw the water treatment and tri-gen plant, even the maintenance workers fixing one of the valves spoke with passion and energy about how the building works. This sort leadership and innovation inspires everyone, not just the high profile architects and planners.

Another great example of innovation in France is the Bluely car share scheme. Bluely started in Lyon in 2013. It involves small four seater electric cars that charge at stations around the city. Paris was first with this type of scheme. ‘Autolib’ and Bollere Group then started the Lyon and Bordeaux car share schemes, and are soon to start something similar in London. Within two years of launching in Lyon there are 130 cars and 49 stations. This scheme is all about a new model of car use and ownership. Even in Australia the majority of our car trips are short. So this system gives people the opportunity to use a car for one or two hours (or longer), pick and drop off the car from different places, and do away with parking problems (you book your park in advance). What’s more, the Bluely cars run on green energy (sourced externally from the cars), and can be used to charge a member’s own electric cars, if they have one. I liked this scheme as it was great to see a new business model working so well.

A BlueLy car parked at a charging station

We do a lot of innovative things in Australia, but I can’t help but think that Europeans are inherently better at trying new things and making them happen. Is it that they have a greater appetite for innovation and acceptance of risk? What’s holding us back?