In a city of monuments that trace history back to the Romans, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe leaves behind 1,321 markers to his own 13 years in office.
That’s the number of stations for the bicycle-sharing program he launched in 2007, one of his innovations now emulated elsewhere. He handed the banks of the Seine to pedestrians, created manmade beaches every August and kept the city open all night once a year for a contemporary arts fair.
Parisians voting in municipal elections in two days will render judgment on Delanoe’s impact as they choose between his deputy, Anne Hidalgo, and the nation’s former environment minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. The winner will confront global forces that also frustrated Delanoe, 63, the city’s first Socialist mayor: rising housing prices, the loss of manufacturing jobs and the widening gulf between the richest and poorest urban residents.
“Delanoe absolutely improved the quality of life,” Ricky Burdett, a professor of urban studies at the London School of Economics, said in an interview. “He established -- particularly for a beautiful European museum-like city -- a very good model. But he hasn’t been able to deal with deep structural problems: transport, social equity, governance and environmental footprint.”
The numbers tell the tale: Over his two terms, the city of 2.3 million gained 125,000 residents and added 300 miles of bike lanes. It lost 50,000 jobs and home prices climbed 175 percent. Delanoe declined to be interviewed.
His successor will be the city’s first female mayor, placing Paris among a handful of major cities to have a woman at the helm. Neither London nor New York has had a woman mayor.
The new Paris mayor will expand the post’s reach, joining a commission to be established in 2016 to coordinate between Paris and the surrounding counties. The city itself, whose borders date to 1859, contributes about 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. The region, the so-called Ile de France, literally the Island of France, makes up 30 percent of national GDP, four percent of the euro area’s.
Hidalgo promised to overhaul two major squares -- Bastille and Nation -- emulating Delanoe’s creation of a pedestrian zone under the shadow of the bronze revolutionary symbol of Marianne at Republic square. She pledged that “on top of improving urban quality, we’re paying attention to beauty. It’s a new way to build the city.”
After its successful introduction, it was exported to London, New York City, Milan and Kyoto. It served as a case study at the Harvard Business Review. In 2011, Delanoe began a similar program for electric cars dubbed Autolib’.
Delanoe’s landmarks also include “Paris Plages,” a manmade beach created by dumping sand along the banks of the Seine river, and “Nuit Blanche,” the all-night event featuring free cultural happenings across the city.
Delanoe also has overseen the design of a new city center at a 1970s era shopping mall, called Les Halles, an ancient market site. He expanded bus lanes 10-fold to 1,800 miles, installed tram lines around the city and extended subways deeper into the suburbs.
With little free area left, he struggled to expand parks, a gauge of sustainability. The 16 square meters of green space per capita put Paris behind London and New York.
Critics say innovation stalled after Paris lost to London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics. “Since about 2008, he’s been on management auto-pilot,” Kosciusko-Morizet said in an interview.
LSE’s Burdett said that in the past five years there were “no major initiatives” to match London’s central “Tech City UK,” a digital-industry project that created 50,000 jobs with tax breaks and incentives to lure investors and talent to east London.
“With Delanoe we lacked an ambassador for Paris to attract and stir business,” said Christophe Scheidhauer, the Greater Paris Investment Agency’s head of research. “We need a face, someone who’s out there.”
Playing catch-up, Delanoe assigned his research and innovation adviser, Jean-Louis Missika, to supervise creation of a technology hub due for completion in 2016. Hidalgo hired Missika to run her campaign and pledged to pursue the project to make Paris a “start-up capital.”
While the U.K. boasts that “more billionaires live in London than any other city in the world,” Delanoe stuck to his Socialist roots, emphasizing diversity. He added 70,000 subsidized-housing units, making 20 percent of the city’s housing stock rent-controlled, against 15 percent in London.
“We had to fight the market,” Bernard Gaudillere, Delanoe’s chief of finance, said in an interview. “With no intervention, the city would have drifted into gentrification. Rich ghettos next to poor people’s ghettos wasn’t the model we wanted.”
Paris ranks third among European cities in GDP per capita. At 51,200 euros per person, it’s behind London and Luxembourg, according to EU data. The Paris region’s wealth per capita added 35 percent between 2001 and 2011.
Hidalgo, 54, promised to raise the proportion of social housing to 30 percent in 2030. Kosciusko-Morizet, 40, pledged 10,000 new social-housing units per year.
A dome of pollution hanging over the capital this month, which prompted officials to offer free public transportation and limit auto traffic, underscored unfinished business that may impose unhappy choices on the next mayor.
“Other cities like New York, London or Vancouver have made choices to become greener cities,” Morgan Poulizac, lecturer in urban studies at the Institute of Political Studies, or Sciences Po in Paris, said in an interview. “These policies have a very high cost and the consequences on social diversity are clear: most have become rich ghettos.”
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