Heinz Tschabold Werner Richli, Thematic Equities

The city center of Paris as we know it today dates back to the era of Emperor Napoleon III, who commissioned Baron Haussmann to design and reconstruct the city center between 1853 and 1870. The plans involved integrating the surrounding suburbs and linking them to the center of Paris via boulevards. It is interesting to note that back then a similar approach was followed to that of the current "Grand Paris Express" (GPE) project.

The GPE project began in 2010, with construction having been underway for over seven years now. The idea is to expand the transport network surrounding Paris by means of a circular railway that will provide better connections within the Île-de-France region as well as making it a more attractive location to businesses and residents alike. The first metro sections are scheduled to be up and running in time for the opening of the Summer Olympics in Paris in 2024.

Focus on the expansion of local public transport

The circular railway is a huge project and comprises an urban area with over 11 million inhabitants – bigger than that of Greater London.1 Cumulative expenditure amounted to over EUR 26 billion as of the end of 2021 and will increase to EUR 40 billion by the end of the construction period. This includes expenditure on modernizing the existing network as well as real estate developments at the planned metro stations. With the GPE, the Île-de-France department intended to connect municipalities to key transport hubs by extending existing metro lines (11 and 14) and building four new ones (15 to 18). The plan is set to relieve the city center of private traffic and at the same time boost the attractiveness of outlying municipalities. Responsibility for the project lies with the Société du Grand Paris, which was established in 2010.2 According to the plan, the 68 metro stations – most of which are being built from scratch – will be surrounded by new housing, along with office and laboratory space for corporate offices as well as research and development centers. The extension to the metro network covers a distance of 200 kilometers, corresponding exactly to the length of the existing network. Around 90% of it runs underground at a depth of up to 50 meters. The driverless trains will operate at an average speed of 65 km/h and carry more than three million passengers per day. As things stand, the GPE has 158 construction sites in operation and 29 tunnel boring machines in use – the latter having already bored their way through 90 kilometers of rock. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the temporary standstill for work on the construction sites, the project is likely to be completed on schedule between 2024 and 2030. Key railway interchanges and individual sections such as line 14 from Orly airport to the Olympics site have now been completed.

City rankings: Paris has the potential to catch up on infrastructure

Paris is one of the top locations in Europe after London in the latest city rankings.3 Compared with previous assessments of the "attractiveness of Paris as a future business location," survey results have steadily increased since 2015. Paris already scores well in terms of basic provision such as health, education, and legal certainty.3 There is the potential for it to catch up on the infrastructure front, which is why the expansion of local public transportation is intended to make Greater Paris an even more attractive proposition for international corporates.

Most attractive cities for business relocations


Bar graph: London, Paris, and New York top the ranking of the most attractive locations cities for business relocations
Source: Global Cities Investment Monitor 2022 (slide 12)

London, Paris, and New York top the ranking of the most attractive locations cities for business relocations.

High expectations for sustainability

The GPE investment program will not only create a giant building site by 2030 but will also lead to the construction of new urban districts around the metro stations. In addition to better access and shorter commuting times, sustainability criteria and the careful use of natural spaces are of central importance not only to the construction project itself but also to the new urban developments. Implementation is also intended to contribute toward the achievement of the emission reduction targets set out in the Paris Agreement (Paris Climate Conference 2015, COP 21). On current estimates, between 27 and 51 million tons of CO2 will be saved between the start of operation and 2070.4

Reduction in CO2 emissions during the construction period

Since 37% of all global CO2 emissions are generated by construction activity and buildings,5 Société du Grand Paris is committed to reducing carbon emissions from the construction of the metro by 25% compared with conventional building methods. In particular, concrete and steel are responsible for over 70% of emissions. The measures being implemented by the construction companies involved – including Bouygues, Eiffage, and Vinci – include low-carbon and fiber-reinforced concrete, the conversion of extracted clay into an alternative binder, as well as the reuse of excavated material.

With regard to biodiversity and the circular economy, Société du Grand Paris points out that since the launch of the project, 49% of the material excavated (target: 70%) has already been assigned to other purposes, and an area of 38 hectares (out of a planned 80 ha) has been reforested and restored to nature.6 A total of 87,500 trees will be planted.

City of tomorrow

Along the GPE network and metro stations, Société du Grand Paris is promoting the sustainable conversion of the public space into smart green cities,7 as cities have particularly high carbon footprint. Here the focus is on three areas:

  • Energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy
    The aim is to produce electricity from renewable sources as independently as possible. In terms of solar power in urban areas, potential solutions include innovations such as movable and folding solar surfaces, photovoltaic facade constructions, and autonomous solar lighting. In addition, heat could be stored in the road surface and used in neighboring buildings and infrastructure via a heat pump system.8
  • Mobility
    The lowering of carbon emissions and air pollution, as well as the efficient use of transportation, are top priorities. The focus is on expanding e-mobility and digital solutions for efficient traffic management. This requires networks, battery storage, and charging infrastructure.
  • Green spaces and biodiversity
    The need for recreation areas and pressure on use in urban areas are steadily increasing. Climate and nature protection meet the demands of increasing numbers of people seeking relaxation. Cities of the future must respond to climate change and the loss of biodiversity with nature-based solutions: Green walls and roof gardens to cool the concrete desert, wet areas as water traps, moss walls that trap fine dust, and more habitats for animals and plants across the board.

New concepts for the city of tomorrow

Image: New concepts for the city of tomorrow with power roads, green floors, use of BIPV technologies, expanded biodiversity etc.
Source: Vinci; based on; downloaded on 31.03.2023

New concepts for the city of tomorrow with power roads, green floors, use of BIPV technologies, expanded biodiversity etc.

On the way to sustainable urban development

The reduction in the volume of traffic, shorter commuting times, and the conservation of natural spaces are key criteria for the new "Grand Paris Express" metro network. However, implementation is also intended to contribute toward the achievement of the emission reduction targets set out in the Paris Agreement (COP 21). The peak construction phase is over, individual lines will become operational over the next few years, and the urban developments surrounding the metro stations are slowly taking shape. The road to sustainable urban development is well underway.

About the authors
  • Heinz Tschabold

    Senior portfolio manager, Thematic Equities

    Heinz Tschabold (MA, CAIA), Director, is a Senior Portfolio Manager on the Thematic Equity team. In 2002, he joined Credit Suisse Asset Management, now part of UBS Group, and was initially responsible for implementing quantitative models in the real estate sector. Since 2006, he has been responsible for mandates in the area of international real estate and infrastructure investments as a Senior Portfolio Manager and he is also responsible for the selection of companies and funds. Before joining Credit Suisse, Heinz worked as financial analyst at UBS Warburg and assisted Swiss companies in the construction, machinery, and electrical engineering fields. Heinz holds a degree in Business Administration from the University of St. Gallen, a master’s degree in Finance, and is a Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA).

  • Werner Richli

    Senior portfolio manager, Thematic Equities

    Werner Richli (MA, CEFA), Director, is a Senior Portfolio Manager on the Thematic Equity team. In 2003, Werner joined Credit Suisse Asset Management, now part of UBS Group, where he developed real estate research and was responsible for the asset allocation of the first real estate fund investing internationally as well as the development of the mandate business for international real estate investment. Starting in 1987, Werner worked as a financial analyst at Credit Suisse Investment Banking and assisted various Swiss companies with their initial public offerings. He holds a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Zurich, and he is a Certified European Financial Analyst (CEFA).

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