Quality of cities, the magazine of the RATP group that shows THE CITY DIFFERENTLY.

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Double interview

Interview with Hélène Binet and Patrick Bernard

Hélène Binet is the communications director of Makesense, an association founded in 2010 which deploys collective mobilisation tools and programmes for all citizens so that everyone can act to serve a sustainable and inclusive society.
Former journalist Patrick Bernard is the founder of the Hyper Voisins neighbourhood association which he set up in 2017 while trialling his concept in part of the 14th arrondissement of Paris.

What role does your organisation play in encouraging social inclusion and living together?
H.B. : At Makesense, our aim is to enable everyone to contribute to a more inclusive and more sustainable society. We bring together people who essentially stand apart, and give them the right tools to take action together on issues that are close to their hearts. A very practical example: at the start of lockdown, our network alerted us to several critical situations – homeless people, senior citizens suffering from extreme loneliness, etc. Within 48 hours we had set up re_action, two-week programmes to guide our many volunteers towards actions that could be carried out near their homes.

P.B. : The original idea behind Hyper Voisins was to boost the potential for friendly interactions in a specific region. We built the organisation around activities for people who were willing to engage in issues relating to community life. It is organized through WhatsApp: we have the RepairVoisins group, a babysitting group, one for dog walkers and many others. The participants have created strong bonds through projects including greening the streets and organizing collection points for organic waste. I often hear people joking: ‘It now takes me an hour to run an errand, because I chat with everyone I meet.’

How can you get citizens to take action?
P.B. : The first stage is to inspire people to want to do something! To engage people in a very positive way to do things. You also have to be very methodical and take things slowly to make it easier for people to get involved. It also requires agility to get things moving quickly and in a satisfying way. Cities also play a role in creating bonds by supporting these initiatives. Solidarity is a result of people interacting, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. By opening up the opportunities for action, by listening to people’s hopes and desires, we improve their ability to live well together and to then be more resilient.

H.B. : 9 out of 10 French people think that taking action is important. But the point is to break down the barriers like the lack of time, lack of support, the fear of acting alone. We operate on three levels to get everyone on board: the head, by providing training; the heart, by showing the emotional side of collective action; and the body, by setting up collective action programmes. By taking things step by step and having faith in people’s hopes and desires, we see that people can be bold.

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“Friendliness has a value; it is an economic asset. If you want to build the city of tomorrow, it makes more sense to rely on people than on things.”

Patrick Bernard
Founder of the Hyper Voisins neighbourhood association

How can you bring people closer to each other in the city, not just physically?
P.B. : I think it is essential to apply social engineering to the city. This is what we are proposing with the creation of the “neighbourhood friend” scheme, which would bring residents together and make it easier for them to set up their public interest projects.

H.B. : There are many existing initiatives to encourage people to meet up! The Kabubu association, which offers to bring together local people and refugees around sport. Or the “Paris en compagnie” app, which puts isolated older people in touch with other local residents so that they can take a walk together. And let’s not forget that schools, leisure centres and public spaces are also tailor-made for this: to create bonds!

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