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The Gentrification Side Effect Of A New Swiss 'Eco City'

In the small French-Swiss border town of Viry, a new "ecodistrict" is being built from scratch. With environmentally friendly homes, the town is aiming to attract a rich population from neighboring Geneva - to the detriment of locals, wh


GENEVA – In Viry, a small French town 15 kilometers from Geneva, there are cranes as far as the eye can see. The town has 3,600 inhabitants, but this number is about to double, mostly thanks to the Swiss coming from across the border.

A new city is being created from scratch here, but not just any city, an "ecodistrict". The environmentally friendly project is poised to attract a new population, almost entirely made of Swiss people or members of Geneva's international population. Left out by a county that doesn't produce enough accommodations, they have set their heart on Ecovela, a futuristic and "awesome" eco-friendly town, according to Genevan State Councilor Michèle Künzler. The councilor admits that "it saddens her to see what her neighboring country is capable of doing, when Geneva is not planning any construction of this kind."

All together, 800 houses and apartments will be built, delivered in different phases until 2020. More than 1000 people will be able to move into the low-energy apartments, which have green roofs and photovoltaic panels. The city will include a pedestrian town square and a "green corridor," of walkways, planted with 750 trees. Price per square meter: 4000 euros, which is very reasonable. There will be a percentage of social housing as well.

Not everyone believes Viry's Ecovela is "awesome." Many locals are worried the town might lose its identity. "We're not at home anymore, but these wealthy Swiss will feel right at home. Borders have disappeared and life is getting more expensive. They can afford it, but we can't," says Anne-Marie, who voted for the far-right Front National party for the first time during the French presidential election.

Claude Barbier, a city councilman from the Green party, is angry too, but for other reasons: "What's the point in building an eco-friendly town if the mayor plans to build a motorway junction right next to it?" He also points out that the current wood-burning power station won't be enough to heat homes in a region that never breaches 19°C; not only does the wood need to be imported from other regions by truck, but electric heaters will have to be added. "So what's the ecological gain?" he wonders.

"There's a race for housing, which is a source of imbalance, both socially and ecologically," Claude Barbier concludes.

Read the full story in French by Christian Lecomte

Photo - Viry Eco Quartier

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