Paris arrondissement mayor: Pandemic ‘accelerated’ trends, challenges are here to stay

"A major world metropolis does not have the same logic as a small town, but the challenge for Paris is to be both a major business hub that hosts the world's greatest museums and a city where people can continue to live, whether they are executives or cleaning ladies," said the mayor of Paris' 18th arrondissement. [Daboost/Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Attracting societies back to normality after COVID.

While not having profoundly changed Paris’ neighbourhoods, the pandemic has ‘accelerated’ trends and created challenges that are here to stay, the mayor of Paris’ 18th arrondissement, Eric Lejoindre, told EURACTIV France in an interview.

Eric Lejoindreis is a member of the Socialist Party and mayor of Paris’ 18th arrondissement since 2014. 

Would you say there was a pre-and post-health crisis period for urban policy?

I think that crises, like the COVID-19 crisis, are more revealing and accelerating than transforming. We realised that when peoples’ homes were small, and it was necessary to distance outdoors, we had a real issue. The idea of freeing up surface parking spaces to create café terraces, enlarged pavements or bicycle paths is a policy that we’ve been pursuing for quite a long time, and COVID-19 was an important moment of acceleration.

In the same way, we saw a change in how Parisians or the inhabitants of the 18th arrondissement spent their time at home, on public transport or in the office. These are all things we knew about but have seen reappear. These are deep-seated movements that date from before COVID-19 which will last a long time.

Whether or not to maintain the terraces temporarily set up during the health crisis was also debated…

I’ll take the example of the 18th arrondissement, where around 800 terraces have been created in addition to the existing ones. If you count very widely, 20 or 30 caused us problems concerning public space or noise occupation. The central question posed by temporary terraces is what to do with the street when we have decided that it is not just a place for traffic. There is an element that makes it possible almost to know whether a terrace will be a problem or not.

It is not linked to the nature of the street in urban terms, nor the quality or lack of quality of the shopkeeper. It’s linked to the clientele, and you know that a space occupied by inhabitants never poses a problem, whereas an area occupied by people who are not inhabitants does. The question is, who benefits from this new space being taken over?

Reshaping cities to speed up post-COVID normality

An increasing number of EU countries have started lifting COVID-related restrictions in a first sign of returning to normality. However, there are doubts as to how ready societies are for a full return to “old normal”, after two years of varying and often frustrating public measures.

The pandemic has also prompted many city dwellers to turn to home delivery. What can you, as a mayor, do to encourage your constituents to return to restaurants?

The first question is whether delivery or takeaway services are cumulative with restaurant services or if they compete with each other. When I talk to restaurant owners in the 18th arrondissement, they are unsure about this. My feeling, in any case, in the more affluent city centres, is that these things are cumulative.

The people who order at home are also those who perhaps go to the restaurant most often. I don’t know for sure at the moment. I think there is a real need to look at temporalities. Take the issue of teleworking; it creates a clientele, especially for takeaways in residential areas. So it’s a highly complex movement to grasp, and I think we need a little more time. I am not sure that we need public action to change citizens’ demands.

However, there is also the question of the growth of delivery platforms, which has led to an increase in the number of delivery people using bicycles.

The problem now is how to organise these delivery flows. We see a considerable expansion in home delivery, which also raises the question of waste management, especially recyclable waste. We can see that many home delivery structures are making an effort to use recyclable containers and limit plastic.

The 18th arrondissement is also a place that attracts many tourists, mainly thanks to Montmartre hill. Aren’t restaurants a strong attraction?

There is a fundamental question about what restaurants offer today and how to “de-specialise” them? I would suggest restaurant owners in the 18th arrondissement focus first on a local clientele and then on a wider clientele. More and more tourists will want to have lunch with Parisians, rather than in significant touristy places.

France lifts most COVID-19 measures

Most COVID-19 measures have been lifted in mainland France since Wednesday, although some remain recommended. Health Minister Olivier Véran hopes to lighten the vaccine pass currently in force by mid-March.

The schedule put in place by the government in recent months …

Beyond restaurant owners, do you think it is important to support small shops?

One of the elements which make Parisian and street life is the relationship with small shops. We have had some experiences where we have demonstrated that when we take a very close interest in local shops, in commercial establishments, including the commercial structuring of the street, we gain enormously in quality of life.

In the 18th arrondissement, we recreated commercial areas of different sizes and worked on their use. Everything is linked to the attachment of Parisians to these shops. We also try to support local initiatives. We have a lot of young entrepreneurs in Paris who have great difficulty finding places to develop their activities. Our policy of allocating premises at the foot of buildings of the city’s social landlords can really help.

Finally, what sustainable changes can we imagine in this post-COVID-19 period that we are now experiencing? How do you see the city of tomorrow?

A significant world metropolis does not have the same logic as a small town. Still, the challenge for Paris is to be both a major business hub that hosts the world’s most excellent museums and a city where people can continue to live, whether they are executives or cleaners.

The question of travel and public space must also be central. We can see that Parisians are keen to reduce noise, traffic and costs. The Paris of tomorrow must be the city where you are at your own pace and, at the same time, an inhabitant of one of the world’s largest and most attractive metropolises.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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