Kim WillsherTue 3 Mar 2020 05.00 GMT
Terror, floods, heatwaves, protests and climate fights have not stopped the politician from standing for a second term
When Anne Hidalgo was elected mayor of Paris in 2014 she thought she knew what running the French capital involved after a decade as first deputy.
In the event, no amount of experience could have prepared her for what was to come.
Before her first year in office was out, there had been terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo newspaper and the Hyper Cacher supermarket. Ten months later, the capital was devastated by a series of suicide bombings and shootings that left 131 dead, and Parisians shocked, grief-stricken and fearful.
Her six years at City Hall have also seen two serious floods, several heatwaves – temperatures in Paris rose to a record 42.6 C last summer – 16 months of weekly Gilets Jaunes protests and, since December, demonstrations against the government’s pension reforms.
“It’s not been a very easy time. We’ve had some terrible shocks and catastrophes, lots of events that could not have been foreseen: terrorism; a massive influx of refugees and migrants and an acceleration of the climate emergency,” she says.
“It’s not enough to want to be mayor of Paris because it’s fun or because you are running this magnificent city, you have to have broad and solid shoulders. It’s been like piloting a catamaran in an almost permanent force 7-9 wind for six years.”
In her place, she says, some might have said “enough” but Madame la Maire as she is now called – previously the noun maire was always masculine, never mind the gender of the incumbent – is seeking a second term in office.
“You have to ask, why do I want to be here, when I could be doing something a little easier? You have to work on your relationship with power … then you have to be methodical and rational, criticise, analyse before acting, understand, ask questions around you and of yourself, and once you have decided on a path, follow it. Otherwise, you are just a headless chicken,” she says.
She is a technocrat who abhors populism and putting a celebrity spin on political life. She smiles a lot and is collegiate – her deputy mayors are loyal and she defers to them – but the smiles mask a steely determination.
The core of Hidalgo’s first term in office has been tackling pollution and making Paris greener. Key is the idea of the 15-minute city, where residents can find most of what they need – shops, leisure facilities, education – on or near their doorstep. Her programme also includes planting thousands more trees to create mini urban forests, new parks, gardens and vegetable patches on roofs.
“We have 10 years to act on the climate emergency. To act, not sit around for 10 years thinking and discussing how to act,” she says.
One of her most controversial acts of the last six years has been to pedestrianise the main highway along the right bank of the Seine, turning it into a long narrow park for walkers, cyclists, musicians and cafes.
Parisian taxi drivers and private car owners are among the fiercest critics of her crusade to discourage individual vehicle use and tackle pollution by pedestrianising other swathes of the city centre, which has resembled a vast construction site at times.
The motoring lobby says the subsequent build up of traffic has made air quality worse, but Hidalgo is unrepentant arguing her measures will eventually pay off. Under her guidance, the city council has already voted to ban diesel cars from 2024 and petrol cars from 2030.
“We’ve given vehicle owners plenty of notice so they cannot complain they were not warned,” she says. “The place for the car in our city will be reduced even more with more alternative mobility available like bicycles, more buses and car sharing.”
Anne Hidalgo: ‘Being Paris mayor is like piloting a catamaran in a gale’ | The Guardian
Kim WillsherTue 3 Mar 2020 05.00 GMT Terror, floods, heatwaves, protests and climate fights have not stopped the politician from standing for a second term When Anne Hidalgo was elected mayor of Paris in 2014 she thought she knew what running the French capital involved after a decade as first deputy. In the event, no… [Read More]