World Mayor 2020

World Mayor vote 20/21
Philippe Rio
Mayor of Grigny, France
answers your questions

World Mayor invited participants in the 2021 Project to put questions to Philippe Rio. From the questions received, a representative selection was forwarded to the Mayor. He replies with candour, thoughtfulness and in detail.

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Question by Denise M., Paris:
What made you enter politics and decide to run for Mayor of Grigny?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
My entry into politics was civic society activism and the defense of tenants in the Grande Borne district. First of all, the right to housing and the fight against all forms of exclusion, with the involvement of associations and finally local political involvement because I love my city. One particular reading, which strengthened my commitment, was the Black Code (Code Noir) which legalised slavery and the slave trade, in total contradiction to dignity and human rights.

Question by Yanis F., Grigny:
What are your priorities for Grigny? How have they changed since you became mayor in 2012?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
The priority of priorities is the right to the city. The mother of all battles is education in the broadest sense, i.e. schooling, but also education through sport and culture. The father of all battles is the fight against poverty, without forgetting the culture of peace, the ecological transition of my city through an inclusive and popular ecology.

My fight, our fight, is also the fight to guarantee dignified housing, adapted to the needs of the Gignois population in a decent living environment. It is a right to housing for all and, more broadly, a right to the city that we support through all the public policies that are deployed.

My priorities have had to adapt to the intensity of the fragilities that have been increased by the COVID crisis, by deepening social inequalities, by making poverty explode, by emphasising the need for strong health policies at the local level and for a change of model to make an ecological transition.

Question by Hervé V., Grenoble:
I read with interest how, during the pandemic, your administration resolutely assisted the poorest residents in Grigny. After the long confinement, it is likely that many children, particularly those from poorer families, will have a difficult start to the school year in September. What help and support will Grigny town hall be able to offer?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
Within the framework of the Cité Educative, we are continuing our policy of good practices to relieve families' budgets with, for example, school supply kits at the beginning of the school year, scientific calculators for the 6th grade and school notebooks for the holidays. For young people, we also support students in their quests to succeed at university, help in finding a company for apprenticeships, and the development of training leading to qualifications and diplomas. It is the collective of the adult world at the service of our youth that remains our best asset.

Question by Françoise M., Grigny:
I am 80 years old and have lived in Grigny since Christmas 1970. I opened a school in La Grande Borne in September 1969 and taught for 18 years in this school. I finished my teaching career as a trainer for young teachers who received immigrant children from all over the world in their classes. I know very well that the population of Grigny is young and often poor and needs support. Nevertheless, I would like to ask a personal question linked to my age. I would like to live my remaining years at home, take advantage of local services and feel safe at night. What provision are there for people like me to grow old in peace? And is Grigny prepared for an aging population in the future?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
The COVID crisis has shown our shortcomings and insufficiencies in our public policies towards the elderly. Since the beginning of this crisis, we have multiplied our actions towards the elderly with health monitoring, the doubling of home delivery of meals, sports activities, and even regular telephone contact to fill the moments of solitude of our elderly. These new relationships will allow us to co-construct new public policies, particularly in the cultural field. We have thus been able to adapt and innovate in terms of outreach. Concerning the right to peace and security, the setting up of a municipal police force and video surveillance meet this need.

Question by Bernard Z., Grigny:
During the height of the Covid pandemic the Grigny municipality introduced several important measures to protect its population. Will you maintain any of them after Covid?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
As said before, we have made resilience together. We must maintain this state of mind, the new practices, but also make a different system. Strangely enough, the urgency of COVID has put the urgency of the essentials back on the agenda, such as education, housing and poverty, including employment and training, in a transversal and systemic way. Indeed, COVID has been a revelation of fragility and vulnerability. It is up to us to rise to the occasion socially, economically or to improve our lives together - I am thinking of the right to sport and culture.

After the health emergency, it is imperative to multiply the effects of our policies and avoid blind spots. Indeed, with the appeal of 14 November last year, which we launched with a handful of Mayors from all political backgrounds, which was signed by 200 Mayors of working-class neighbourhoods in the country and which brought the Prime Minister to Grigny on the occasion of the Interministerial Committee for the City, we were able to provide solutions. These measures are designed to last well beyond the Covid-19 crisis. Cities, territories and local leaders such as associations are the bearers of sustainable solutions. Local authorities can bring about solutions that are applied nationally, as we have done for the Educational Cities (Cités Educatives).

Question by Cécile H., Grigny:
It is part of Grigny’s poverty plan to allow all children access to school canteens, which will mean more meals will have to be provided, resulting in more food waste. How will you be able to limit the amount of wasted food and cut back on wasteful packaging?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
Firstly, since March 2021, breakfast in all nursery schools is a reality and a nutritional and educational success. We are thinking about breakfast in primary schools. As far as the canteen is concerned, our objective is to increase the number of pupils eating in the canteen from 30 to 50%.

The fight against food waste is still in experimental mode (weighing of food waste) and it is a necessary step to eat better and healthier. The savings made allow for better eating, more quality and a fair quantity.

Question by Saran D., Grigny:
Could you envisage setting up mandatory awareness meetings with parents to combat youth delinquency?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
Parents have a fundamental role in the education of their children. But more generally, it is up to the adult world to rise to the challenge of violence among young people. Our school retention mediators in primary and secondary schools help to prevent these phenomena.

Our city is also the one where the Cité Educative (now present nationally in 80 cities and soon in 220) was born, aiming to bring together all those who educate children, whether in or out of school: the National Education system, those involved in sport, culture, educators or school retention mediators in primary and secondary schools.

The measures obtained during the Inter-ministerial Committee for the City in the presence of the Prime Minister will enable the means of prevention and mediation to be reinforced with the prevention battalions.

Question by Roger G., France:
How do involve the citizens of Grigny, particularly the young and those from the most disadvantaged parts of the city, in decisions taken that affect them?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
The Children's Municipal Council and the Collegians' Municipal Council already exist, and why not the Students' Municipal Council? With UNICEF, Grigny is once again a candidate for the Child Friendly City scheme. Children's rights are one of our priorities and the participation of children and young people is an area of development with UNICEF. New practices are emerging for the redevelopment of public spaces (playgrounds, signage) and encourage us to continue our action in this direction.

Question by Yveline L., France:
Do you work together with companies to prepare young people for a working life after they finished their education? For example, do local businesses provide summer job opportunities and/or work experience and training during school terms?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
The challenge is to match the expectations of companies with the know-how and skills of job seekers. In Grigny, 50% of young people leave the school system without a diploma, without qualifications and without having inherited from their parents the social codes common in companies.

For the past 12 years, we have had a local tool, the training and professionalisation centre (CFP) that I chair. We are proud that 60% of the young people who are trained there are women and that 55% come from working-class neighbourhoods. This training centre is the university for those who have not been able to access it, a university of the second chance.

Grigny is also home to Cuisine Mode d'Emploi, a training centre for the culinary professions created by a famous Michelin-starred chef, Thierry Marx, which completes this training offer, as does the presence of the Centre de Formation En Essonne, a private training organisation specialising in the health and social professions.

Each year, 1,000 trainees are trained and relearn work codes such as punctuality. The mastery of French and mathematics is essential in these paths to sustainable employment.

Question by François P., Chantal H. and Nathalie S., Grigny:
Grigny is often described as the poorest city in France. What are your plans to reduce poverty?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
We want to be the national laboratory for the fight against poverty. We handed over this plan to the Minister for the City on 18 December 2020, when the minister visited our city. Nationally, our aim is to challenge and propose solutions to overcome poverty by acting on the structural causes.

Locally, we are calling for the implementation of a plan to combat poverty, which includes 21 solutions such as free breakfasts in schools, menstrual insecurity, access to rights, increased support for women who are raising their children alone, support for our elderly and improving the employability of jobseekers in particular

If the city also has such a high poverty rate, it is because the structure of its housing stock contributes to attracting a very vulnerable, very poor population.

The challenge in our city is to pursue our ambition to diversify the housing supply and attract people with jobs and limit the arrival of very vulnerable people.

Through the large-scale urban renewal programme, with 20% of the housing stock concerned, the challenge is to pursue the ambition to diversify the housing supply and, in particular, to allow young households who so desire to settle in Grigny by having housing adapted to their needs.

In addition, at Grande Borne, an action plan on population control is at the heart of the public policies that we are developing in parallel with urban renewal. This involves, among other things, working closely with Action Logement (the housing reservation agency for employees) to attract populations with a relationship to employment, limit the arrival of very vulnerable populations, particularly households from other departments or even regions, and initiate an ambitious transformation of the existing housing stock, particularly in the vicinity of the new public transport systems, for example by converting large units into small units.

In Grigny 2, the issue is more complex because the influx of people into private housing cannot be controlled. We therefore need to invent/adapt tools aimed at drying up the rent represented by renting out housing to fragile populations excluded from social housing, such as rent control. We are also leading a relentless fight against slum landlords by taking them to court.

 At the same time, we believe it is also necessary to provide landlords with tools to assist them in the act of renting. Tools such as the virtuous rental agency exist in large cities, and Actions logement is also developing tools for landlords. We wish to engage in this process.

Question by Cécile H., Grigny:
New developments are changing the face of Grigny’s town centre. While the town needs the new infrastructure, is the right balance between built-up areas and green spaces being maintained?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
Grigny is 25% of undevelopable space. It has 60 hectares of lakeside spaces, a source of biodiversity. The city has a delicate balance between built-up areas and green spaces.

The arrival in 2023 of the T12 tramway and the TZEN4 bus, and the new public transport system to complement the RER, will enable the density of housing in the city to be rebalanced, with a logic of de-densification in the vicinity of the station (an abnormally dense area) and intensification near the tramway station in the heart of the city.

The creation of a City Centre is the guarantee of a fraternal and sustainable city, offering generous public spaces, public services necessary for the population, places of practice and diffusion of culture, trade and employment...

In addition, an energy strategy based on deep geothermal energy has been deployed since 2017 on more than 50% of the housing and facilities.

Over the next decade, the Grande Borne park and all of the district's public facilities will be connected, making Grigny a renewable energy city for more than 80% and almost all of its facilities. With geothermal energy, 15,000 fewer tonnes of CO2 are released into the atmosphere each year, while reducing the bills of the inhabitants. Tomorrow, with the Grande Borne connection, the number of tons of CO2 saved in the atmosphere will be multiplied by 2. This exemplary project to combat global warming is being developed in neighbouring towns and will be intensified in Grigny in the new town centre.

Question by Jean Paul G., Grigny:
In 2019, Grigny was the first city in France to have conceived, designed and set up an educational city project, an initiative that many other in France have now followed. This ambitious project, which involves many partners, aims to provide young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with openings to culture, sport, health, safety, citizenship and many other subjects.

After more than 18 months of work, can you tell us what has been achieved and what still needs to be done?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
Educating a child takes time and patience!

The teamwork between teachers, parents, the city of Grigny and associations has been remarkable, even when the digital divide is a reality.

The COVID pandemic did not allow for the evaluation of school results, but the emulation around the education of children is better. Let's be aware that changing things will take a long time, but we are finally on the right path!

Question by Pierre G., Grigny:
Grigny is planning to build a multi-cultural centre. How will the centre cater for social and ecological changes as well as the inclusion of young people into society through education?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
The power of culture as a motor for emancipation and freedom is well established. This multicultural centre will first of all be at the heart of the city under construction. What a great space to connect the inhabitants of all the districts!

Our socio-cultural practices will have a tool adapted to the school or association environment as well as to artistic teaching. It is an incredible boost for our music, dance and plastic arts conservatory, our Children's Symphony Orchestra, for our social practices through culture already recognised by URBACT (European cities exchange programme), for the know-how of cultural actors from civil society who have just organised a free exhibition of 220 works by Banksy Human Collection, the funds from which are distributed to SOS Méditéranée, or the prospect of a circus school after a theatre school in full development.

Question by Emily P., France:
Grigny, often cited as the poorest city in France, is only some 30 kms south of Paris, one of the richest cities in the world. How could Grigny benefit from its close proximity to the French capital?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
Geographical proximity is not an asset in itself. Liberal metropolisation creates spatial and social segregation, firstly through discriminatory housing policies or ineffective territorial solidarity.

The challenge is to put in place real regional solidarity policies, voluntarily in terms of housing, through a real rebalancing of housing adapted to a population with low resources. This housing, in insufficient numbers, is concentrated in a few territories, thus bearing the burden of regional or even national poverty, without having the means to manage it. More generally, a different housing policy should be implemented in tense areas such as the Île de France, where the supply of public housing is insufficient to meet needs. 70% of households are eligible for social housing, whereas today the social housing stock represents less than 25% of the housing stock. Areas such as Grigny will remain pockets of poverty if an appropriate rebalancing is not carried out, taking into account the social realities of the inhabitants.

In terms of development, there is also an issue of complementarity to be understood. Today, operations and territories are in competition with each other. How can we build a more balanced development logic for the territory, redeploying wealth and guaranteeing quality accessibility? The scale of intervention is not the city but the catchment area and more widely the metropolis.

At the metropolitan level, Grigny and its intercommunal community have a concrete experience of cooperation with the City of Paris for public water with transparent management. We are committed to reappropriating the means of production and management of water for a fair price, a fair quality and a fair service. This cooperation is unique on a regional scale.

Question by Faten K. France:
Many of Grigny’s social and economic challenges are also faced by other cities in France, Europe and beyond. Do you work together with other cities, learn from their experiences and exchange examples of best practice?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
There is strength in numbers. This is why we actively participate in United Cities and Local Governments and we were responsible for co-leading the Human Rights, Social Inclusion and Participation commission. My vice-presidency of the association of elected officials Ville et Banlieue allows me to work with elected officials from all political backgrounds to mobilise the French government on behalf of popular cities. These are exciting exchanges and good practices, networks of resistance, creativity and incredible innovation. The territories are rich in good solutions.

Question by Danièle A., France:
For many years, you have been a prominent member of ‘Mayors for Peace’. Can you tell us why the organisation is still relevant and why mayors from France and elsewhere should join it?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
I am currently President of the association Mayors for Peace.

Peace is the condition for the full exercise of democracy and the basis for the respect of human rights. We are convinced that the culture of peace is also a local issue. Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary General, said to a Mayors for Peace delegation in 2010: "Building a peaceful world does not start in the conference rooms of New York or Geneva. It starts on the ground, in the neighborhoods, in the communities. It starts with enlightened leaders in cities and towns around the world."

I believe he is profoundly right, peace is happiness, and the culture of peace has its place in the political orientations of local authorities! It is in this sense that an association such as "Mayors for Peace" remains more relevant than ever, we must spread and infuse this culture of peace, from early childhood to our elders, from art to sports, through our way of thinking about urban planning in our cities, everything is linked to peace, EVERYTHING.

Finally, when it comes to nuclear weapons, when France spends 12 million euros a day to modernize its nuclear arsenal... this raises questions for us, at a time when this money could be used to cultivate abundance, peace and hope for a better world. We must denounce it, and propose something else, an alternative, for a world of Peace. This is the role that this association can play, that it MUST play, and this is why local governments should join it.

In a fragmented country like France, a world multilateralism upset by the return of nationalism, a humanity weakened by the health crisis of the COVID with its social and economic consequences, mobilized to the challenges of global warming, peace is the common path to take and very fragile to preserve.

Mayor for Peace works for a sustainable world peace without nuclear weapons by highlighting the testimony of the Hibakhusas and commits to safe and resilient cities. Mayors for Peace also questions governments about the budgets devoted to modernizing nuclear arsenals (12 million per day in France) and demands respect for international law by demanding ratification of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty while developing local plans for a culture of peace and non-violence.

Question by Lina F., France:
You have been Mayor of Grigny since 2012. During your years in office what difference, do you think, have you made to your fellow citizens?

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
Being Mayor is first of all a team ‘sport’ to be accomplished in the proximity, the listening, the exchange and the respect of the given word. Clearly establishing objectives and giving our all to achieve them.

We have drawn attention and obtained commitments at the highest level of the State on the difficulties of our city by the call of Grigny on October 17, 2017 and again recently, on January 29, by welcoming the Prime Minister in my city with 7 ministers. These are real boosts for our city and more broadly for the place of working-class neighborhoods in our Nation.

For the inhabitants of Grigny, this means more specialized educators, more places in day care centers, health equipment, the renewal of the learning vacation program and new sports facilities.

The 2 billion euros we have obtained nationally will allow us, in Grigny, to finance the projects for educational centers and to continue the renovation of the Méridien, Place de l'Ellipse, Balance, Minotaure and Places Hautes sectors. In the downtown area, work is progressing to create an ecological and cultural district, with housing on a human scale. This will be a neighborhood where all Grignois can meet, shop, be entertained and simply live, thanks to the installation of O'Marché Frais, a cinema, a music and plastic arts conservatory, a media library and an auditorium. In Grigny 2, in a decision that is unique in France, we have obtained 100% financing (including tax) from the State, in place of the co-owners, for of emergency and safety work that had become imperative despite the impossibility for many owners to finance it.

To make tomorrow better than yesterday is more than ever the meaning of my commitment for all Grignois!

Question by Alexandra I., France:
How do you evaluate, as a mayor, the impacts and the benefits of the actions taken until today in culture, on fields which seem so far from the culture of the people of your city ? 

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
Culture is curiosity, it is learning another point of view or a new language like music, smiles of learning and doing together by a choir of the Grande Borne, children of the Conservatory or visits of the great national museums like the Louvre or the Quai Branly.

And then there is the presence of popular cultures, a living and vivacious reality in Grigny. Our role is to create bridges between cultures through cultural mediation and to allow for encounters between cultures (discovery, initiation, improvement) and then the magic happens.

The exhibition in Grigny, which ended on July 10th, welcomed 5,200 visitors in 13 days, as well as students from 40 classes. I saw one of these children say in front of a work of Banksy: "It's good because on a drawing he throws flowers, it's better than rocks or Molotov cocktails" What a beautiful reflection of peace culture! Or this woman from the Comoros discovering classical music testifying: "Now, every evening, when I come back from work, I listen to classical music. It makes me feel good and it is beautiful".

Question by Alexandra I., France:
Personnally, what made that you got so interested and attracted to classical music that you decided to share it with your population ? 

Mayor Philippe Rio replies:
Music is universal. My attraction was generated by the arrival of the Massy orchestra in the Grande Borne schools and an annual concert made possible by my involvement with the association DECIDER, an association fighting against exclusion. This has been going on for 20 years now

I did not like classical music but I learned and I let myself be convinced by these passionate people, these lovers. It is the experience of beauty; hence our slogan "Nothing is too beautiful for our City". It is ambitious yes but it is a successful bet and it has lasted for 20 years with the same desire among musicians and the public to come and share the beautiful. This would be impossible without these men and women musicians, who make their art available in all simplicity.