“I didn’t plan to become the mayor of Lyon”

“I didn’t plan to become the mayor of Lyon”

Georges Kepenekian

Mayor of Lyon, France, Georges Képénékian was in Yerevan with official visit: the two cities have had “sister” relations since 1992. Regional Post exclusively talked to the French mayor of Armenian descent about the advantages of cooperation between the two cities, challenges of modern day urbanism, and similarities between being a mayor and a surgeon.

Interview: Arshak Tovmasyan

 

Mr Mayor, you are in Armenia today to sign the protocol of cooperation between Lyon and Yerevan, the sister-cities. What are the benefits for both cities from such partnership? What is the added value?

It’s up to the cities to do with it what they can. Lyon has similar agreements with Frankfurt, Leipzig, Montreal, Turin… But the institute of sister-cities is not relevant anymore. It made sense some time ago, but now, especially for the smaller cities this type of cooperation is consisted of two visits in both locations, official speeches and a buffet. That’s it. The city sisterhood or the pact of friendship, that’s what we have with Yerevan, has the value both parties attribute to. This pact was first signed in 1992. Since then we had a lot of projects, visits and meetings. This time we also inaugurated the garden of Lyon created in Yerevan by the initiative of the Yerevan municipality. We also suggested to think about urbanism, but it’s complicated as our approaches are quite different. So, in brief, we suggested our delegation to be a little different this time – we do not need to have 15 Armenians on the delegation to show that the mayor of Lyon likes this country. There is no doubt over my attachment to Armenia, so we decided to go in another direction than before, we decided to bring people who can have a real impact – the president of the Lyon University, CEOs of some of the major businesses of our Metropolis, the head of the Lyon library, our vice-president who is in charge for digital and innovation, our directors responsible for the “Fete de Lumieres”.

I can see the added value for Yerevan, but what about Lyon?

Lyon does not participate in such partnerships just for pleasure. In return we have an opportunity for mobilization, for new projects. So, when for example we go to Japan, where we have a similar partnership with the city of Yokohama, we benefit from exchanging our experiences, from creating partnership opportunities for entrepreneurs, universities, and cultural establishments. This is an opportunity for our metropolis to open itself to the world and to also support our businesses to find new markets.

 

Today Yerevan is at the Eurasian Union. As President Hollande said, we are not offended that you are on the other side, on the contrary, we tell our businesses, if you are interested in the Eurasian market you should pass by Armenia.

You talked about the digital. In general, what are the challenges of the city management in the 21st century?

The digital is just one of the tools available. The challenge is the new way of thinking. The smart cities start to reflect on new modes of decision-making, citizen relationship, transparency, interactivity… Just as in hospitals we can no more just heal the patients without explaining what they have and what we do, so they can check if they want to be sure our decisions are not wrong. We need to think about the metropolis as a place where the negative sides of the urbanism balance out with a lot of positive ones such as universities, clean environment, sustainable development, but also the economic power. You know today the 300 top cities in the world produce 48% of the world GDP. The metropolis is the place where the wealth is created and distributed, often better than anywhere else, but it’s also a place where the inequality and the social injustice can form very quickly. That’s why some people think the metropolis is the devil, but it’s not about the devil or the paradise, we simply need to find a balance. The concept of the smart city is to think of the city in its totality – from education to transportation, water quality or clean environment.

Lyon is an exceptional city when we consider the reflection behind its solutions in urbanism, sustainable development, recycling. Did you plan any workshops or knowledge transfer programs with Yerevan for such topics?

This is the content of the program we are trying to prepare. We need to try. The mayor of Yerevan announced that Yerevan is qualified as a smart city. Very good. But for me it is a suitcase term, too general. For example, we collaborate very closely with the city of Montreal for a long time. We can see what kind of cooperation we need to have to really benefit each other. This type of cooperation is what we want to start with Yerevan.

Armenian Genocide memorial in Lyon

You are medical doctor by your first specialty. Do you think it is something that helps you in city management? After all, we may apply the concepts of healing or prescribing meds.

This is a good question! For many an illness is also an injustice. I became aware of the injustice from which the Armenian people suffered throughout their history many years ago. This same feeling of injustice pushed me to become a surgeon. And from being a surgeon to be involved in the social injustice is only one step. Of course, it’s not the same and you have to be careful, but the surgical profession teaches you to manage a dossier, forge an opinion, diagnose an illness and then apply a remedy. This is a method I find indispensable in my engagements as a politician and as a mayor. The politician often thinks that he makes a diagnosis, but he doesn’t, or sometimes he does it but under the pressure of his environment. What is important is to stay lucid. In the beginning of my carrier as a politician I liked going to hospital from time to time to leave an open window towards the real life, as a politician can quite quickly lock himself in a beautiful tower where the perception of reality may start to escape him.

You are going to finish your mandate one day: what’s next?

I didn’t plan to become the mayor of Lyon, so you see I don’t really know, but I believe Armenia can be part of my future.

Become a mayor of Yerevan, maybe?

Haha! There is a small problem of my age. I also believe we need to help the new generations taking responsibility, so probably I will be one of those who will help them going forward.