As Paris’s Deputy Mayor in charge of “Paris Métropole” and relations with the region’s other local governments, Pierre Mansat is at the center of the debate regarding Paris’s governance.
I had a chance to sit down with him and discuss the historic changes underway following the Prime Minister’s announcement last month of the creation of a new metropolitan entity for Paris.
Knowing that the readers of this blog are mostly international, how would you portray for them the importance of the Nouveau Grand Paris announced by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on March 6th?
The importance of Jean-Marc Ayrault’s announcement is above all in the unification of two projects: on one hand the transportation project that associates the mobilization plan and Grand Paris Express and thereby gives a true view of the transportation network in 2030; on the other hand the governance project that marks the political birth of the metropolis.
This unification is very important because it gives form and readability to the metropolitan project. Until now, the general public thought that Grand Paris was just a transportation scheme. Now we finally present a global project that will address the urgent problems of the urban area: not just transportation, but also housing, emergency social services, and so forth…
How does this announcement fit into the history of Paris, which has the particularity of a very highly fragmented governance?
Until the middle of the twentieth century, the whole territory of France was structured in the same way, with municipalities, départements, and regions.
With the rapid development of urban areas, the laws passed in 1966 and 1999 and then the decentralization laws of 2004 and 2010 created and reinforced inter-municipal cooperation entities (EPCI), thus responding to the governance needs of most French metropolitan areas.
The configuration applicable to the other French metropolitan areas, where the core city and its suburbs form an inter-municipal entity, was not applied to the Paris urban area, which is at a much vaster scale. On the contrary, the inter-municipal entities that took form around Paris are like counterweights to Paris – which is not negative, on the contrary. Nevertheless, it had become urgent for the Paris metropolitan area to act together.
That is why the new draft law is historic. It finally addresses the special needs of Paris: to act together while acknowledging the polycentrism of the Paris metropolis. I am very happy that the government has responded to the proposals of Paris Métropole in this direction: to fill in the map of inter-municipalities and create a metropolitan entity.
What do you think the role of the départements will be?
I have always felt that in order to build the metropolis we needed to bring the stakeholders together around a shared project. You can’t trample over what exists, you need to build the new based on what you have.
Some will say that the Paris metropolis will just add to an overly-complex multi-layered administrative organization, but I do not think it does. I think the new and strengthened tools – the intermunicipalities and the metropolitan entity – are the right ones to carry forward the project that we collectively believe in for the metropolis: that of a polycentric and attractive metropolis that stands together. If there is to be a rationalization between different administrative structures at some point, it will occur naturally. But first, let’s put the project on the rails!
As things are, the département is the most effective administrative level to organise social services. In the future we will see, perhaps at some point these responsibilities will end up being transferred to the intermunicipalities. But today the lay-out of the intermunicipalities is not yet completely determined and we need everyone to come together to make the Paris metropolis work.
Do you think Métropole de Paris will be effective and influential with its initial responsibilities? How do you see its role evolving?
All the functions of a world city cannot be handled by a single entity, at a single scale. If you consider the logistical functioning of Paris as a basin of consumption, which is a significant issue for the metropolis, the logic would be to define Grand Paris up to its main port, Le Havre. For other matters, such as urban development and housing, policy needs to focus on the dense urban area to be effective, because that’s where you find the needs and the challenges. That is especially true because we are aware of the large-scale environmental issues and believe in the need to contain the expansion of our metropolitan areas.
I therefore believe that the structure put forward in the draft law, cast at the scale of the urban unit and relying on the intermunicipalities, is relevant for its initial responsibilities: urban development and housing, but also the energy transition and emergency social services.
Of course the structure will evolve further. But the approach proposed in the draft law is an essential step in the construction of the Paris metropolis. One could imagine that at some point the responsibilities of the metropolitan entity might be expanded, but let’s not go too fast. The challenges faced in the areas defined by the draft law are already very considerable. What’s more, the effectiveness of the metropolitan entity will also depend on the operational tools available, and we still have a great deal of work to do in that area.
Can you comment the nature of relations between the local governments in Paris’s urban area?
Until 2001, Paris ignored its neighbors. Relations between Paris and the neighboring municipalities were unbalanced and the image of a hegemonic relationship between Paris and its suburbs was omnipresent.
With Bertrand Delanoë [Mayor of Paris since 2001], we have sought to break with that history. We started many cooperative initiatives with other local governments on a broad set of subjects.
We also brought the local governments around the table to work together on our common future. The exchanges that were born in this way, first as part of the metropolitan conference in 2009 and then in the framework of the Paris Métropole coalition, took place on a basis of equality – at Paris Métropole each local government gets one vote – and with the constant objective of improving the quality of life of the people living in the metropolis. That method and those objectives, very different from those of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Grand Paris, now are a consensus among the local governments, and will remain.
I believe that completing the map of the intermunicipalities – or of municipal cooperative structures – will allow each stakeholder to find its place, its role, in the metropolis. There will no longer be Paris and its suburbs, but some thirty entities that, with their particularities, will together constitute the metropolis.
Do you believe that Métropole de Paris will really allow the Paris metropolitan region to make up the shortfall of new housing built with respect to the political objectives
The elected officials of the metropolis’s local governments all agree on the need to build more housing, and even the quantified objective of 70,000 units a year is widely voiced, which was not the case not so very long ago. With the creation of Métropole de Paris on January 1st, 2016, the conditions seem to me to be gathered to achieve that goal.
What feedback have you received from those living and voting in the metropolitan region since the announcement of Nouveau Grand Paris?
It is too early to say. March 6th was very recent, and the announcements on the transportation network have focalized attention.
But in the last quarter of 2012, Paris Métropole organized twenty or so public debates across the whole metropolitan area. They were a great success: more than 3,000 people had a chance to express their expectations, their complaints, and their hopes for Grand Paris.
We must continue in this direction, more closely associating the people living here in the process of building the metropolitan project. Especially once the decentralization law is consolidated, we, who hold elected positions, will have an important role to play by making the new organization clear and by bringing people together around the project.