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Under mayor Anne Hidalgo, Paris has seen its first car-free day in the city centre, as well as a lower speed limit in other nearby districts.

The car-free day was initially proposed by the collective Paris Without Cars; a movement concerned with limiting pollution, and has been timed to coincide with the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference. While anti-pollution movements are common throughout most developed areas of the world, in Paris, this movement has particular salience following the news in March that Paris was the most polluted city in the world. During this period, the smog in the city centre was so dense that it resulted in the city’s landmarks being obscured, including the majority of the Eiffel Tower.

Geography applicants should consider the causes behind the rising pollution levels in Paris, with particular attention to how the automotive industry has contributed to the rising smog levels. As Economics applicants should be aware, France has the highest percentage of diesel cars on the road due to successive price depreciations over several governments, making it more cost-effective than petrol.

While the day was a success for many Parisians, with one woman in particular noting that walking through Paris without the same concentration of pollution was “like a headache lifting,” the day was not without its detractors. In particular, some criticised the extension of the ‘car-free’ zone – only around one-third of the city in total was affected by the ban, and as ‘car-free’ didn’t include taxis and buses, many streets remained busy and filled with traffic, preventing the pedestrianisation that the movement intended to temporarily create.

HSPS and Psychology applicants should consider the sociological and psychological impacts of a traffic-free day; how the absence of business and pollution can impact upon social interaction. As one member of the public who practiced yoga in the centre of the city put it: “everyone’s on a bike and smiling. It’s incredible to see”.

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