Wild weeds proliferated this summer in the vegetable garden of the playground of the Buisson-Molière school, in the city center of Tours (Indre-et-Loire). “At the start of the school year, we will need a week of gardening to restore it,” said a teacher from the school group with a smile. The establishment was one of the first in the municipality to benefit from the “Récré en herbe” program, launched in 2021.
The 5,000 m2 of the primary and nursery school courtyard were completely remodeled for a budget of around €320,000. Much of the bitumen has been removed, replaced with porous and draining surfacing, wood chips, grass and turf. An amphitheater was built so that classes could be held outside in good weather. Around forty trees were planted.
Under the lime trees already present, wooden games extend over a generous area. The route of a stream was dug, but the project was temporarily abandoned for technical reasons. “Before the work, there were 80% asphalt surfaces here. Today it is 40%,” explains Franck Gagnaire (PS), the deputy mayor of Tours, delegate for education.
An island of freshness and an educational tool
“We wanted to both fight against heat islands and promote biodiversity. This redevelopment also ensures that activities are distributed differently in the courtyard so that everything is not colonized by ball games,” he says.
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The benefits were immediate. The children have made the place their own. “They are more peaceful and accidents are much rarer,” recognizes the same teacher, happy to have a new outdoor educational tool at hand. His students express greater attention to their environment. “At the end of last year, I surprised a group of children, on all fours, observing a caterpillar. Before, there would have been more than one who would have crushed it,” he believes.
A new doctrine, initiated by the “Cours oasis” of Paris
The elected officials of Tours were inspired by the “Cours oasis” of Paris, the first municipality to have deployed a “de-artificialization” program in around a hundred schools and colleges. “The shift is recent,” observes Franck Gagnaire. In Tours, the last schoolyards that were completely resurfaced with bitumen date back to 2018.”
The City has committed to carrying out comparable work in around fifteen establishments by the end of the mandate, in 2026, representing a total budget of around 5 million euros. Last year, communities from the metropolis, the department and elsewhere came to visit this school
“Projects are flourishing everywhere”
“Projects are flourishing everywhere,” rejoices Élodie Briche, “R&D Sustainable Urban Planning” coordinator and “intrapreneur” at Ademe, the ecological transition agency, which supports communities wishing to create islands of freshness. “Many of them benefit from the rehabilitation work carried out in aging schools. Generally speaking, there is a consensus in the communities. They act for future generations.”
Heatwave, solutions to cool cities
The state start-up “Fresher my city” was created for this purpose. “It is a public digital service which helps communities in their choice of urban cooling solutions. In the spaces we deal with, the schoolyard figures prominently,” she says.
On this platform, technical sheets guide municipalities according to economic, technical and climatic criteria. “We especially need to think about the type of climate of tomorrow,” says Élodie Briche. “The Mediterranean climate will gradually replace the oceanic climate, currently present in the majority of metropolitan territory.”
Communities must finally think about maintaining green spaces in the long term. In certain municipalities, the responsibility could fall to associations or neighborhood committees. In return, schoolyards would open on weekends or during summer vacations to provide the population with these cool spaces.