Mayors&Heritage: Strasbourg, France
Roland Ries has been the mayor of Strasbourg since March 2008.
World Heritage City Mayor
August 2009. Born in 1945 in Niederlauterbach (Alsace), he was an associate professor of modern letters. He engaged in politics in 1974, within the Socialist Party.
Member of the City Council since 1983, he was, at the beginning of the 1990s, the leading force behind the return of the streetcar in the city of Strasbourg, which made it possible to completely renovate the public spaces of the city. His expertise in urban transportation is recognized on the international level, in particular within the Groupement des Autorités Responsables des Transports (Grouping of the Authorities responsible for transport) of which he has been the President since 2008.
He has been Senator of Bas-Rhin since February 2005.
A man of culture and dialogue, Roland Ries places at the core of his commitments the humanist values brought on by the history of Strasbourg, the parliamentary capital of Europe.
He is very attached to the participating democracy initiatives that allow citizens to get involved in the choices of their municipality. Since March 2008, under his leadership, the municipality of Strasbourg has implemented a number of innovating tools for citizen participation.
Roland Ries has worked hard toward the French-German reconciliation, the very foundation of the European construction. He initiated a boundary district project with the German cities adjacent to Strasbourg and promotes a vision of Europe backed up by the citizens, that brings Europeans together around the values of democracy and human rights.
For him, Strasbourg must embody these ideas, in a city that is open to the world, conscious of the identities and the diversities that build it.
1. The city of Strasbourg was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988. What changes has your city undergone since then?
When, in 1988, Grande-Île was inscribed on the World Heritage List, the urban setting had already been widely restored. A protected sector created in 1972 has made it possible to carry out several real estate restoration operations.
At the beginning of the 1990s, we engaged in the return of the streetcar in the greater Strasbourg area. This choice was crucial for the evolution of our city center, as it allowed the urban renewal of Grande Île, the decline of vehicular traffic, a larger place for the pedestrian areas and an important gain in the quality of the public space for the citizens. The new traffic plan that prohibits going across Grande Île by car initiated and allowed this renovation, which, in the next few years, will be continued.
2. What is your role in the management of heritage as the Mayor of a World Heritage city?
The Municipality plays an important role in the conservation of heritage, both through its legal instruments regulating construction and urban planning and also through its direct interventions on the preservation of the monuments. Thus, in Strasbourg, we have the Fondation de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame, which has done an outstanding job for our cathedral and other prestigious monuments, while ensuring the sustainability of the know-how and the restoration trades.
However, beyond these interventions that seek to preserve our heritage, we also use more classical instruments to find the balance between the preservation of the traces of our history and the need to revitalize the economic, social and cultural life of the city center. The historic core of Strasbourg is actually beautiful and attracts many visitors. It is also the tourism and commercial centre of our city. But, at the same time, it is increasingly expensive and difficult to live in it. We must then make sure that the heart of Strasbourg will remain livable and accessible to the most modest means. Our ambition is not to transform Strasbourg into a museum, but to reconcile the past, the present, and the future.
3. What are the major enhancement projects of your city related to heritage (present and future)?
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the inscription of Grande Île on the World Heritage List, we reflected upon our objectives for the future. We will continue our efforts to maintain and preserve the outstanding elements of our heritage. Also, the dynamism of urban renovation, initiated 20 years ago, must be maintained. We have discovered a few secondary spaces in Grande Île, further from the streetcar, that now deserve our attention.
Our efforts will also continue concerning the decline in vehicular traffic in public spaces, for the benefit of soft and active modes of transportation. Thus, the parking lot will disappear from the Place du Château, located at the Cathedral. A few first meeting zones, where all the methods of transportation are on an equal footing, are already being experimented in Grande Île.
Another major issue will be that of the vitality of the downtown area. We will have to use our regulatory tools or property to promote the diversity of functions and uses in Grande Île.
Finally, Grande Île must not remain an island! The dynamics initiated in the downtown area must be better linked with the neighborhood sectors, some of which contain as much of the history of Strasbourg as Grande Île. This will certainly mean that our heritage project must be reviewed as part of the recognition as World Heritage, to include therein the “Imperial Strasbourg”, a urban heritage inherited from the time when Strasbourg was German. In a perspective where history must inspire the future, to enhance our French-German history and what it has made possible to attain in Europe is for us a duty.
4. Could you talk about the urban transport policy and transportation in your city?
Our orientation is clear: try to reduce the place of automobiles, which take up space and pollute. Since the 1990s and the return of the streetcar, it is no longer possible to go across Grande Île by car. The parking lots on the outskirts are located at the Grande Île entrance and exit loops. The use of methods of transportation other than motor vehicles is preferred and parking equipment for bicycles have increased in numbers. Some sectors of Grande Île have been made available to pedestrians, while we are initiating the experiment of the “meeting zones”, where transportation methods balance. From this viewpoint, Grande Île serves as a model, whose teachings will inspire our choices in other districts of the city.
Although it has a prominent role in our transportation policy, the streetcar is not the only solution to the stakes of a modern policy of urban mobility. It is a very costly investment and cannot obviously meet all the needs. It is appropriate in certain cases, as are other methods of transportation in other situations.
This is why we are working on the diversification of the methods of transportation, giving preference to soft and active methods, but also to their intermodality, that is, the way in which the users will be able to go from one to the other to complete his itinerary.
We are aware of the fact that only one diversified and interconnected offer will propose a real alternative to an individual car. This action must include, of course, offers of transportation that go beyond the city, such as train lines and intercity transportation.
In any case, the experience of Grande Île shows us that the enhancement of heritage, its protection and its discovery necessarily imply a reflection on urban planning and transportation. Nobody in Strasbourg today is questioning the fact that Grande Île is gradually getting rid of cars!