Rennes Mayor Nathalie Appéré
replies to questions from
an international audience

12 February 2019: World Mayor invited participants from the 2018 Project to put questions to Rennes Mayor Nathalie Appéré, winner of the 2018 World Mayor Commendation for services to local government. From the questions received, a representative selection was forwarded to the mayor. She replies below with candour and thoughtfulness.

By Anna G., Rennes & Brussels, Belgium:
During your four years as member of the French National Assembly, you were one of only 155 women. Now, since the 2017 elections, the 577-seat parliament has 223 women members. Do you believe there has been a breakthrough in French politics or do women still have to work harder than men to reach the top?

Mayor Appéré replies: Had it not been for binding laws on gender parity in political representation, local and national government in France would still be almost entirely dominated by men. The law is a powerful instrument for promoting equality, overcoming prejudices and atavism, and combating discrimination. All our local government assemblies now have gender parity. However, there is still a long way to go when it comes to executive presidencies: only 16% of mayors are women; only 6 cities with a population of over 100,000 have female mayors; and only 3 French regions have female presidents. I welcome the fact that women now make up a greater proportion of France’s National Assembly; even so, some parties prefer to continue to pay fines rather than nominate female candidates. Over and above numerical parity, sexism in politics remains a major challenge.

By Jean-Yves L. L., Ploemeur, Brittany, France:
In the book on Women in History in Brittany (Femmes dans l’histoire en Bretagne), you are quoted as one of the 90 women who have made history in the region. Do you think this regional recognition has helped you in the competition to get the 2018 World Mayor Prize?

Mayor Appéré replies: Femmes dans l’histoire en Bretagne is an outstanding book. I was very happy to see a section about me in my capacity as the first woman mayor of the region’s capital, Rennes. That said, looking at the names of our streets, the statues in our squares, and the paintings on our walls, I can see just how much more needs to be done to restore the rightful place of women in our collective memory. Like Femmes dans l’histoire en Bretagne, dedicating a World Mayor Award to women will help bring about this much-needed change.

By Florence R., Rennes:
In France, we live in troubled political times with a mistrust against state authority expressed with violence. At the local level, a large number of mayors and elected representatives resign. As mayor of a big city, how do you cope with the pressure and expectations?

Mayor Appéré replies: Our country is experiencing a profound social and democratic crisis. The ‘yellow vest’ movement is a fresh reminder of the weakening of representative democracy, not only in that it has emerged in opposition to a government elected just eighteen months ago, but also in that it has struggled to appoint its own spokespersons.

In a city the size of Rennes, our responsibility is to experiment, innovate, and blaze new trails to enable all citizens – especially those who have lost faith in the political process – to express themselves, offer their opinion, and get involved.
Cities are laboratories in which solutions to the major challenges facing us in democracy, the climate, the economy, and society can be developed. Several ingredients are vital if we are to overcome this crisis: a willingness to trust citizens, decentralise – and listen to elected representatives, too.

By Yvettes J., Geneva, Switzerland:
Do you sympathise with the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ (yellow vests)?

Mayor Appéré replies: The ‘yellow vests’ movement has revealed deep-rooted suffering. Women and men – many of whom had never taken to the streets before – have expressed their exasperation at being worse off, and their sense of injustice in the face of a system in which much is being demanded of the least well-off, in particular when it comes to paying for the ecological transition that we so desperately need to achieve.

This suffering must be acknowledged, and it calls for far-reaching answers. I hope that the ‘great national debate’ proposed by our President will be an opportunity to re-examine the government’s tax and benefits policy.

It is the role of elected officials and political leaders to listen – as well as to put forward ways of emerging from a crisis, and more especially staving off violent excesses.

By François R., Rennes:
With individualism on the rise, what should and can mayors do encourage young people to engage in politics and serve their communities?

Mayor Appéré replies: Rennes is a very young city, not least because it is home to nearly 70,000 students. Young people play a leading role in the 6,000 non-profit associations registered in Rennes. We strongly encourage this type of engagement, offering subsidies and premises for non-profits, grants to support young people’s projects, civic service opportunities, and more. Much still remains to be done, however, if we are to see this type of grassroots commitment lead to involvement in local policymaking. We have worked hard to include children in our consultation initiatives. Children have plenty to say to us about the City in which they live – and learning about democracy from a young age will help ensure this civic skill is not easily forgotten.

By Oscar D. L., Paris, France:
Last summer the Rennes municipality allowed the wearing of so-called ‘burkinis’ in public swimming pools, a decision that caused considerable controversy. Must you and the city do more to increase tolerance and understanding between the various communities in Rennes?

Mayor Appéré replies: France does not police how people dress, and imposes no obligation of neutrality on its citizens: we apply the law, the whole law, and nothing but the law. As a city, we benefit from a level of direct contact with our inhabitants that undoubtedly makes us well-placed, in practical terms, to seek to improve tolerance and mutual understanding. This is vital in a multicultural city open to the world – as Rennes is.

Each year, we hold the Rennes au Pluriel festival, a celebration organised by a large number of non-profit associations, featuring dozens of events that promote our cultural diversity. Social cohesion is also nurtured through policies that aim to allow everyone access to housing, high-quality public services, culture, and leisure activities – in short, equal access to the city.

By Claus H., Cologne, Germany:
In recent years the ‘refugee crisis’ has dominated politics and divided society. Has Rennes accepted refugees and how does your administration promote integration between groups of different cultural and religious backgrounds?

Mayor Appéré replies: The City of Rennes has a longstanding tradition of welcome and cultural interaction. Historically, Brittany has been a place people emigrated from; for my part, I’ve sought to see Rennes assert itself as a city open to the world. 8.5% of our inhabitants are foreign nationals; every year, over 7,000 international students pursue their education in our universities. This culture of hospitality, humanism, and tolerance is part and parcel of our identity.

Over the past few years, thousands of women and men have fled from armed conflict in their home countries, seeing Europe as their last hope. We have both a duty of solidarity and a basic human obligation to address this humanitarian disaster. In addition to the emergency accommodation for which national government is responsible, we provide shelter for almost 450 people every night. We work with migrant families to help them integrate, providing support for them as they complete administrative formalities, as well as special rates for school meals and other council-run facilities.

By Bernard, F., Rennes:
Were you disappointed by the outcome of the 2018 UN climate change conference COP24 in Katowice, Poland?

Mayor Appéré replies: Like everyone else, my hope for each of these summits is that it will be a wake-up call and result in a step change; the fact is, though, that climate conferences inevitably run into the problems inherent in coordinating two hundred different nations. While the COP24 conference did not result in additional efforts on the part of States, it has at least produced the Katowice agreement, despite an unpromising global context; this defines rules of application for the Paris agreement.

Overall, this agreement has remained on course, and sets out operational guidelines. However, the fact remains that time is running out if disaster is to be averted; we may well feel that combating climate change will never be implemented fast enough, or be far-reaching enough.

Nevertheless, I’m well aware that many of us at the local level are working hard to build post-carbon territories. I’m sure that our cities raise environmental issues; I’m equally sure that they hold answers that can address those issues. They relate directly to all areas of our remit: planning, mobility, housing, health, and more. We’re taking practical steps to intervene in each of these areas so that a new development model can emerge. The current generation of local councillors needs to be engaged in laying new foundations; it’s our foremost responsibility to future generations. They will judge us, not on our words or our messages, but on the extent to which we prove ourselves capable of avoiding the threat of disaster; and for their part, our citizens are calling on us to implement ecological transformation at the day-to-day level.

By Mauricette S.-D., Rennes:
What measures have you taken and/or will you take to make Rennes an even greener, less polluted city in years to come?

Mayor Appéré replies: Rennes has been at the forefront of the battle for the environment since the 1990s. We were among the pioneers in good stewardship of land resources; our ‘archipelago city‘ model has slowed the pace at which natural land is built over. We’ve taken bold steps to address the challenges of mobility, for instance by building a metro. A second line is now under construction, and we’re looking at a further dedicated-corridor transportation solution. We were also forerunners in implementing differentiated management of green spaces, and have won a French Capital of Biodiversity award.

In March 2019, we’ll be adopting a new planning document for the city that is the fruit of a wide-ranging consultative process involving local residents, planning professionals, and non-profit bodies, not least our local biodiversity council. The new planning document will serve as a benchmark for how nature is integrated into our city. By 2025, the amount of public green space in Rennes will have increased by 15%. We already have more trees than many other European cities, and by then we will have planted 3,000 more.

We’ll also have laid out a 30-hectare natural park in the city centre – where the temperature will be 2°C lower than in the rest of Rennes. To further mitigate the building over of natural land, all buildable plots will include non-buildable areas. With these initiatives, we’ll be helping to build a quieter city, with more pedestrianised squares and more cycle paths, whose citizens are encouraged to use green mobility.

And we’ll have made up for lost time by rolling out renewable energy solutions, leading by example, starting with our municipal properties: as of January 1st this year, all our public buildings are powered by sustainable electricity. We’re launching requests for proposals to cover our municipal facilities’ extensive amounts of roof space with solar panels. In addition, we’re continuing with the energy renovation of all our built heritage, connecting our buildings to urban heating networks whenever it is possible to do so. Each renovation project cuts energy use by some 50% on average.

By Karen W., Plougoulm, Brittany, France:
In some cities elected leaders and municipal employees find it difficult to work together, to the point of paralysis. How do you work as a team?

Mayor Appéré replies: 4,500 council employees work on a daily basis to serve our local inhabitants : that's a huge team. For this team to work well, it’s vital for everyone involved to agree to implement the course mapped out by our council majority. I seek to be fully in line with longstanding practice in Rennes by ensuring that public policies devised by myself and my deputies are co-built with our officers. I have every confidence in them, and the greatest respect for each of our employees, from those working at grassroots level right through to department heads. While rare, labour disputes may of course arise from time to time, as is only natural in any human organisation. For our part, improving working conditions has been one of our HR policy priorities, in constant dialogue with our employees and their respective trade unions.

By Agam C., Rennes:
Rennes is a growing city with a good quality of life but has like any large city its social problems. What do you regard as the biggest challenges that Rennes is facing today?

Mayor Appéré replies: Rennes is an attractive and dynamic city. We regularly feature as one of the top three best cities in France to live in, due to our quality of life, the high quality of our research and higher education establishments, and our low unemployment rate – well below average for French cities. We’re developing our infrastructure: in the space of just a few years, we will have opened a new Conference Centre, rebuilt our station, and built a new metro line. This dynamic makes no sense if it leaves anybody behind. I believe this is the greatest challenge Rennes faces: ensuring that every member of society, especially the most disadvantaged, can benefit from this vitality. To help achieve that, we offer the least well-off families special rates for leisure and cultural activities; we’ve implemented solidarity-based fares for public transport; and we’re experimenting with equal rents for all social housing wherever it’s located on our territory.

By Alice D.H., Rennes:
Large cities like Paris, London, New York and Berlin often co-operate on issues such as environment, security and culture. Does Rennes consult with cities of similar size in France or elsewhere in Europe?

Mayor Appéré replies: Cities all over the world are facing similar challenges: combating climate change; preserving biodiversity; the social and economic inclusion of the most vulnerable; grassroots engagement, and so on. Cooperation between cities is essential as we seek common solutions to the challenges we all face. The national ‘France Urbaine‘ association is an opportunity for me to be in regular contact with the mayors of France’s largest cities to discuss these issues.

International cooperation is also important; it allows us to take a step back and gain fresh perspective. Rennes City Council is committed to partnerships with fifteen other local authorities – in Europe, as well as in Asia, the USA, and Africa. For instance, we’re working on urban ecology with Santa Fe, Argentina; tourism with Cork, Ireland; and local public services and planning with Hue, Vietnam.

By Mauricette S.-D., Rennes:
What are your plans to increase affordable housing in Rennes?

Mayor Appéré replies: The right to housing is a fundamental one. My goal is to develop a city that remains affordable, and where no-one is excluded. This requires an appropriate number of homes to be built, whilst at the same time ensuring a diverse offering that provides access to housing for all. Doing so entails imposing stringent requirements when it comes to building new homes, so as to keep rising property prices in check and allow everyone who wishes to live in the city to do so. Practically speaking, for every 100 new homes built, we require 25 of them to be social housing, and 35 more to be sold under help-to-buy schemes or at mid-range prices. This means that for a new development with 100 homes, half of them must be made available at lower-than-market prices. This equation forms the cornerstone of the ‘Rennes housing model’, acclaimed throughout France. I’m keen to consolidate this model still further, not only by investing €500 million in Rennes’ more deprived neighbourhoods, but also by implementing innovations that are virtually without precedent in France: a single rent structure for social housing, so as to prevent the poorest households from being concentrated in low-rent districts, and a new type of solidarity-based leaseholding that will allow Rennes residents to become homeowners without owning the land itself, thus making homes even more affordable.

By Jasmine O., London, UK:
Will Brexit have a negative impact on the local economy of Rennes?

Mayor Appéré replies: The Bretagne region exports twice as much to the UK as it imports. Half of the fish caught by the 4,500 fishermen in our region come from UK waters. Moreover, a ‘No Deal’ outcome would also be likely to have a huge impact on our ports, with the need to reintroduce customs and sanitary controls.

For Rennes itself, we could see a decline in the numbers of tourists from the UK, and our universities could face fresh difficulties in their cooperation agreements. That said, everything depends on what kind of post-Brexit arrangements the UK agrees with the EU; in any event, I’m keen to strengthen the partnerships we have with local authorities in the UK. But at the end of the day, it’s the UK that has the most to lose from Brexit.

Two and a half years on from the referendum and the disinformation that accompanied it, the situation is now deadlocked; despite this, those championing the idea of retreating behind national borders have not let their guard down – anything but. It is vital that convinced Europeans – of which I am one – seek to restore the appeal of the European community. Whatever Brexiters may claim, Europe is not the problem – on the contrary, it is the right level at which to address all the fundamental issues we face.

By Roger A. & Julia M, Rennes:
What do you regard as your greatest achievements of your first term as mayor and what do you want to achieve in a possible second term?

Mayor Appéré replies: I’m not best placed to assess the achievements or shortcomings of my term of office. Be that as it may, the decision in which I take the most pride is the launching of urban renewal projects for the deprived neighbourhoods of Le Blosne and Maurepas. Over the next ten years, more than €500 million will be invested there to improve the day-to-day lives of local residents and break down barriers to social inclusion. In practical terms, we’re improving housing conditions; making public space greener; encouraging companies and shops to set up in these neighbourhoods; and building new public facilities, including a new Conservatory of Music and Dance, complete with striking architecture. It’s a conscious decision with a clear social aim: promoting a city that is fairer and does more for those who have less; a confident city that is keen to give each of its inhabitants the scope for fulfilment.

The next major project in the coming years is without a doubt the renovation and restructuring of our university teaching hospital – we’ve already been working on this for two years. It too has a budget of €500 million, so that excellence in research and state-of-the-art healthcare for all patients can be brought together, in the city, in a fully-fledged ‘health cluster’. I see this project as the epitome of development ‘the Rennes way’, reconciling as it does attractiveness, the fight against inequality, innovation, and social cohesion.