Five Paris voters assess Anne Hidalgo's record as mayoral race heats up
After six years as Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo’s re-election bid is in full swing. With Parisians heading to the ballot box in March, the Spanish-born Socialist leads a crowded field on 23 percent in the polls. What do Parisians make of her time at City Hall? FRANCE 24 hit the streets of the French capital to find out.
Nadir, tireless cyclist
Nadir is busy looking for a bicycle that works at the Gare de Lyon train station’s Vélib bike-share stand. The chain is hanging off of one; the handlebars are stuck on another. He resigns himself to waiting for a fellow cyclist to drop off a set of wheels.
The computer scientist gets around Paris exclusively by bike. Every morning, no matter the weather, Nadir rides to work from his home in the 7th arrondissement (district), near Invalides. It isn’t always easy to power through the construction in the capital, he says. But one thing is certain: Since Nadir moved to Paris from suburban Villeneuve-Saint-Georges five years ago, he has seen the bike path network bloom. During his time in Paris, he's also appreciated the many urban planning changes, like seeing busy Seine-side highways given over to pedestrians in the heart of the city.
On the other hand, he regrets the lack of progress in tidying up the city. “There is still paper and dog poo on the sidewalks. I had the opportunity to live in London, where there is a big difference in that regard,” says Nadir. But the mess wouldn’t be enough to persuade him to move elsewhere. Nadir loves Paris. He even hopes to settle in the city permanently. He’d like to give up his studio to buy a bigger apartment. But he finds the prohibitive home prices in the capital discouraging. He’s looked, but he isn’t finding anything.
Does Nadir plan to vote for Anne Hidalgo in March? “No, even though her record is satisfactory on the whole.” He put a blank ballot in the box when he voted in 2014, but this year he is thinking of giving Les Républicains candidate Rachida Dati a chance. He thinks the conservative Dati, currently mayor of the 7th arrondissement, is a closer match with his ideas.
A cyclist finally drops a Vélib off at the stand. Nadir climbs on and rides off into the traffic.
Solveig, a big fan of Anne Hidalgo
A little further along, on the doorstep of the Jean Bouton primary school in the 12th arrondissement, 40-year-old Solveig is waiting for her son, Arsène. What does she think of Mayor Hidalgo’s record? “It’s super,” she gushes, acknowledging that she mightn’t be particularly objective. “I’ve always been Socialist and I really like Anne Hidalgo. Because she stayed faithful to the Socialist Party when so many others didn't. But I also like her for her management of the city.” Rattling off some issues – mobility, city debt, the culture options available in Paris – Solveig has no quibbles with Hidalgo’s six-year term.
There is, perhaps, just one fly in the ointment… As a single mum with three children, aged 13, 9 and 5, Solveig has had some trouble securing suitable housing. “I’m renting and I registered a request for social housing years ago. But my dossier still hasn’t amounted to anything. All the offers I’ve received haven’t matched my criteria.”
Solveig and her children have been waiting for a more affordable apartment ever since. “And yet, I work,” she says, “but the prices are much too high.” Still, she isn’t prepared to compromise on the neighbourhood. “For lots of reasons, I want to stay at Bastille,” she says. And the construction work in progress to renovate the area promises, “to make the square even more pleasant than before with more greenspaces and pedestrian lanes”, she says with delight.
She concedes there’s room for improvement in terms of cleanliness. “But I’m just back from Marseille and I tell myself it can be much worse elsewhere. No, truly, I am so comfortable in Paris. I wouldn’t leave it for the world!”
Vivane, between the scooters and the Airbnbs
Vivane, 78, is enjoying a pleasant retirement high upon Montmartre, the iconic hill in Paris’s 18th arrondissement. After having left the capital for suburban Fontenay-sous-Bois for several years while raising their two daughters, Viviane and her husband returned to the Paris they loved. Unlike her husband, she considers the incumbent mayor’s record pretty positive. “There is still some work to follow through on,” the former teacher says. “While things have improved with the number of bicycle paths, they aren’t always practical. Especially the ones designed to go against the flow of traffic.”
She also finds plenty of fault when it comes to scooters, saying they make life "difficult" for pedestrians as "those on scooters very often use the sidewalks... They are also too often abandoned just anywhere.”
But the biggest problem is another matter: The price of housing. “We are currently renting and are looking for an 80m² apartment in the 18th arrondissement. And you need to pay between €14,000 and €15,000 per square metre for a beautiful home in the very touristy Montmartre neighbourhood. Even with a €1.2 million budget, we aren’t finding it.” Vivane blames tourism, specifically Airbnb. City Hall hasn’t been aggressive enough in the face of the homesharing giant. “Across the street from me, one whole building was just sold off to create Airbnb tourist rentals. It makes market prices rise considerably for Parisians looking to house themselves.”
Viviane takes solace in her daily strolls through Paris and the many cultural activities on offer in the city. “Culture is everywhere in Paris. The museums are very expensive,” the elegant retiree laments. “When we go to Washington to see my daughter, all or almost all of the museums are free.”
Alix and the call of the wild
Staring at her laptop screen, amid piles of notes and markers in every colour, third-year occupational therapy student Alix is studying. In the break room of the Sorbonne’s faculty of medicine on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, where students write their final theses, Anne Hidalgo’s record is not their immediate concern. And yet, when they start thinking about it, they do have opinions.
Take transportation. It is easy to get around in Paris. And culture is accessible. After 26, young people age out of student ticket prices. But Alix knows good tips for cheap museum visits, particularly for the permanent collections of the 14 museums run by the City of Paris, which are free of charge.
There are, however, accommodation “hassles” for those who don’t benefit from student social housing. “The first year was tough for everyone. I had to move twice, leaving a squalid apartment in the 14th arrondissement and then a shared flat in the 10th before finding a little one-bedroom flat in the neighbourhood.” And Alix was lucky; her friends sitting at neighbouring tables had to resign themselves to life in the suburbs.
The capital is cruelly short on greenery for Alix, who hails from France’s southwest and misses the bucolic landscapes. There is too much concrete in the capital. “I don’t see myself staying here more than two or three years,” she says. “I need nature too much.”
Erai, a cobbler between two strikes
In the little family shoe repair shop at 27 ter, boulevard Diderot in the 12th arrondissement, father and son are bustling. Nailing, gluing, cutting heels, licence plates, keys. There is no shortage of work for Erai, 28, who runs the small shop with his dad. Business hasn’t always been booming, though. The street out front, which runs from the Seine to the Place de la Nation, is a frequent route for protest marches. “The Yellow Vest demonstrations and now the pension reform strikes really hurt us,” the young cobbler says. While some shops benefited from financial aid from Paris City Hall, “we didn’t see any. We didn’t suffer any damage, but our revenue was cut in half. And yet, every month, we still have a €1,300 rent and other bills to pay,” Erai’s father chips in.
There is also the problem of all the roadworks in the city. “It’s appalling,” the young shoe repairman grumbles. “Before, for me to drive to our suppliers at République, I’d take about 15 minutes, there and back. Today, because of the construction, it takes me more than 40 minutes.”
Another sensitive subject: The dirty streets. Since the summer, Erai has noted that the street-cleaning trucks don’t come this way anymore. “I called the municipal authorities and they assured me that the services still pass, but I can see for myself that is no longer the case.” As a result, he begins his day by cleaning the shopfront, sullied by vagrants’ urine.
“When it’s cold out, it’s not so bad, but in the summer, it stinks, it’s unbearable,” he says. There is a lot of begging in the neighbourhood, the shopkeeper notes, nodding to a pair of homeless people sitting on the sidewalk across the street. “The city does do what’s needed in that domain, but it can’t make people do anything they don’t want to do.”
This article has been translated from the original in French.
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