Model Mad, Mayor

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Anne Hidalgo, the Paris mayor, said she was “convinced that together, cities, businesses and citizens will save the planet. Their alliance is critical.” Credit Scout Tufankjian/C40

We started this model mad series of links to share stories of people, and of public institutions, and of private enterprises among others finding creative outlets for expressing resistance to powerful interests determined to undermine environmental responsibility. This governor was a favorite among our readers, so we expect this mayor will join the upper ranks of appreciation:

Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, is also chairwoman of C40, a network of the world’s biggest cities committed to addressing climate change. As mayor, despite strong opposition, she has closed parts of the city — including along the bank of the Seine River — to traffic. Recently, I asked Ms. Hidalgo about her interest in environmental issues and why women are important to the solutions.Her answers have been edited and condensed.

How did you get interested in environment and climate change issues?

Air pollution was the issue that first alerted me to the importance of taking bold action to protect Parisians. Pollution created by heavy traffic has always been a challenge for big cities like Paris. When I was a deputy mayor between 2001 and 2008, Paris made a lot of progress by creating the Vélib’ bike sharing system, one of the first in any major city in the world, and the Autolib’ electric car hire system. When I was in charge of urban planning, we pedestrianized the first section of the bank of the Seine, from the Musée d’Orsay to the Eiffel Tower. This was disruptive at the time, but today Parisians and Paris lovers can’t imagine this iconic landscape as a road anymore.

We know you’ve introduced “Paris Respire.” What does that involve? What else have you done in this area, and what do you hope to do in the future?

Paris Respire is the reclaiming of the streets of Paris, for the enjoyment of pedestrians — the adults and especially the children — and the cyclists. Some of the city’s most iconic areas, including Le Marais, Montmartre and the Canal St.-Martin, are closed to all vehicles on Saturdays and/or Sundays. This showed to Parisians what it meant to live and commute alternatively. They were given the opportunity, for the first time in living memory, to experience a healthier and more peaceful city, breathing a cleaner air.And we do even more now. Every first Sunday of the month, the Champs-Élysées is also closed to vehicles. Most recently, we pedestrianized a second section of the bank of the Seine, between Les Tuileries and Sully-Morland, creating a wonderful new space for Parisians and those who love Paris, to enjoy.

We also launched “Reinventing our squares.” This began with the Place de la République, which was one of the most dangerous or unpleasant places to visit as a cyclist or pedestrian. Today, most of the square is reserved for these users. Our plans are now to expand this initiative to seven more squares.

What are the biggest contributors to the pollution problems in Paris?

There are no surprises here. It is cars, particularly the oldest ones. Tourist buses also contribute significantly. All diesel vehicles cause particular problems because the pollution from these is the most damaging to human health. That is why, with the mayor of Mexico City, we announced that we will ban all diesel vehicles from our cities by 2025.

All cars entering Paris must display a colored sticker called Crit’Air, indicating the age of the vehicle, engine size and emissions.

In order to provide alternatives to private car use, since I became mayor we have expanded the Vélib’ bike hire system to more than 14,000 bikes. The Cityscoot system allows people to rent an electric scooter from their smartphone, making millions of journeys each year with zero emissions. We will also launch the SeaBubbles in Paris this year: These flying taxis over the River Seine will offer another transportation alternative.

How has being a woman hindered — or helped — you as a mayor of a major city and a leader in environmental causes?

The fact is that women have to work 10 times harder to get the same opportunities as men. And they have then 10 times less the right to fail.

For a long time, women were working on environmental issues, because men were not interested in them. It was seen as a career dead-end. And despite that attitude, an incredible group of powerful women succeeded in delivering one of the greatest diplomatic achievements in history, when more than 170 nations signed the Paris Agreement on climate change. It has truly inspired a new generation of young women and men to help tackle the climate crisis.

Read the whole interview here.

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