Thursday, December 28, 2017

Imagining a meeting between Pugh and Macron

Catherine Pugh and Emmanuel Macron never met. And if they would, they may be intrigued about the similarity of some of their views and problems.  The French President would have to use his pretty good English to mask the Mayor's lack of French.
Macron in Clichy sur Bois

Macron lives in the Palais de l'Elysee, for which construction began before Baltimore was even founded. But Pugh's City Hall isn't shabby either, splendid from the outside and in some places inside, even though the Mayor's office on the second floor suffers from a mezzanine that has been jammed in to create more space. Paris is the tourist capital of the world, but Baltimore is "the greatest city in America" as everyone knows, who can read and has seen Baltimore's bus stops.

An imaginary discussion about how to deal with poor neighborhoods would be instructive, if for nothing more than to illustrate that Baltimore is not unique in having unrest, police brutality and large numbers of young people of color who feel left out, disenfranchised and once in a while take things in their own hand.

Macron has made big waves in Europe thanks to his youth and an unconventional approach that can't be pegged in the traditional left right categories. Pugh is hard to peg in traditional political categories as well. During the unrest she was in the streets hugging the revolting youth but she also voted against the $15 minimum wage, and on friendly terms with a Governor who doesn't understand Baltimore, maybe hoping for the upper hand through flattery, just as Macron does with Trump.
Pugh meeting homeless (Baltimore SUN)

Both leaders preside over a seeming intractable problem: Violent, crime ridden and neglected minority neighborhoods. The difference: In France these poor communities are located in far flung suburbs outside the core cities  in the so-called banlieue making them even more invisible than America's "inner city neighborhoods" which typically are the forgotten communities here.

Macron recently conceded that the French State has contributed to the radicalization of some youths in the French Banlieue.
"In these neighborhoods we have closed schools, cut aid for the oldest and youngest, and other groups have arrived touting solutions for all of that. Radicalization took root because the state checked out." (President Macron)
One has to understand that in France the President feels responsible for Paris in that way of thinking that gave DC its limited autonomy. Former President Mitterand littered his capital with his grands projects, no matter that Paris has a mayor as well. In fact, a comparison between mayor Pugh and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo may be illuminating as well. Hidalgo has become known the world over for her anti-car transportation policies banning diesel vehicles and trying to eliminate all combustion engine automobiles by 2030. But Hidalgo isn't in charge outside the peripherique, Paris' version of the beltway where the banlieue is located. In a way she is the mayor of the "white L" without "the black butterfly".
Mayor Hidaldo celebrates car free day on the Champs Elysees 

So it is Macron who plans to tackle the root cause of social and economic isolation in those suburbs and wants to overhaul funding for public housing, expand child care, improve public transport links and offer subsidies to companies that hire youth from targeted areas.

He is not the first President to make big announcements about lifting the banlieue just like Pugh isn't the first Mayor trying to address the issues of East and West Baltimore. Many French presidents have dabbled with subsidies, half-hearted job programs and housing projects, and then forgotten about the banlieue until more violence erupted leaving a real solution to the next president.
“No social policy can sustain itself unless there is also a parallel economic success story at hand, which can carry it, and pay for it.” (President Macron)
That is also Pugh's view who put support of Port Covington first in her list of priority transportation projects she wants to see in Baltimore enumerated in her "priority letter" to the State Department of Transportation.  Pugh is also a fervent supporter of Amazon's HQ2 coming to Baltimore. She routinely turns to the private sector to fund her initiatives to combat the dearth of opportunity in disenfranchised neighborhoods. Macron, a former banker says about his job training program:
Pugh as Senator hugging youth during the unrest (NBC)
“It’s not a policy of subsidies, it’s a policy of investment in people.”
Pugh, a business major and small business owner would like to see her initiatives the same way.
“Half the workforce will be Millennials by 2020 and it is important for business to hire youth to shape the future workforce. In Baltimore City, our young people have proven a desire to work and contribute to our growth and it is incumbent upon all of us – government, businesses, and foundations – to provide meaningful summer jobs for them. We are committed to making YouthWorks a stepping stone to create career opportunities as well as positive learning environments". Mayor Pugh.
Naming discrimination and racial inequality as part of systemic oppression is relatively new in both countries, especially in France.
“fight against discrimination in hiring,”[...] “most efficient response is a toe-to-toe fight, penalize discrimination. Naming them is very efficient. Stigmatize companies that act this way.” (President Macron)
Macron in the Paris banlieu 
Pugh removed statues that were symbols of oppression. On the practical level she extended night and weekend hours of Baltimore recreation centers, initiated a teen business challenge that encourages youth to start businesses, and held a youth summit. Macron equally oscillates between symbolism and pragmatism.

American mayors have long claimed that trash and snow removal doesn't know a Republican or Democrat agenda and seen themselves as CEOs of a service oriented business. The French President has taken this approach to an ever higher level. Addressing the forgotten parts of society languishing in disinvested areas as an inefficiency or as a security problem is certainly not entirely off the mark. Yet it falls short of the ethical and moral mandates that political leaders must be held to as well.
The view of a city or a country as a corporation and its leader as a CEO is problematic for its unrealistic claim of being politically or ideologically "neutral", for its transactional nature and for its false equivalency between a business and government.

Macron is known for pairing his business approach by addressing vision and values with soaring rhetoric which has carried him into the Presidency in a surprisingly clear victory. He managed to layg out a path for the European Union to move on which has saved the ailing confederation from total despair for the time being. Pugh, in our imaginary conversation, could take a few hints from Macron when it comes to vision and values so she can more clearly illuminate where she thinks her path will take us.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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