Gabriel Peri Square – Management of a public space to ensure sustainable social integration

Lyon, France

The City of Lyon has instituted action to secure the public space at Gabriel Peri Square using uniformed mediators to facilitate long-term social cohesion.

Public spaces are places for meeting and co-existence for individuals and groups. Most often city administrations have the responsibility to ensure conciliatory use of these spaces, which belong to the community. Gabriel Péri Square is a public space where intervention by the Lyon city council has been required to ensure a secure and peaceful environment for all citizens. The area where the square is situated is known as a landing place for new arrivals to the city, where shelters for homeless people and asylum seekers are located. It is also the location for a daily informal market run by migrants living in the neighbourhood. 

Previous interventions by Lyon council included the removal of furniture for seating or shelter, the installation of surveillance cameras and police operations seizing goods, issuing fines and making arrests did not produce satisfactory results. Subsequently the council decided to adopt a more integrated approach and the security and prevention department initiated a pilot project to place uniformed social mediators in the Square for prevention, mediation and assistance to persons in difficulties. The project aims to ensure the security of the space so that no person or group feels excluded or threatened.

This case study was contributed from the UCLG Learning Team (


City information

Size and population development
Lyon is the third largest city in France, after Paris and Marseilles. In 2014, the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) reported that the population of Lyon was 514,707 people with a density of 9,921 inhabitants per square kilometer. Population in Lyon increase at a moderate rate of 0.7% per year.

Population composition
The population of Lyon is characterized by more young adults and less children and residents aged 60 and over than other cities in France. Nearly one in two households is composed by a single person.

Main functions
Lyon is the capital of the Metropolis of Lyon and the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and is a center of political, economic and cultural importance. The historical center of the city has been classified by UNESCO as a world heritage.

Main industries / business
Lyon is the city with the second highest GDP in France after Paris. High-tech industries (biotechnology, software development, video game, etc.) are important in the city which is home to the seat of many large companies and intergouvernemental agencies. Tourism is also an important source of revenues for the city.

Political structure
Municipal elections, during which residents vote for city council members, take place every six years in France. In turn, these city councilors elect the mayor and deputy mayors.

Administrative structure
Lyon has two main rivers (the Saône and the Rhône) which divide the city into two parts. Lyon has nine arrondissements (districts).

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Background and objectives

Gabriel Péri Square is located at the crossroads of several major automobile routes and is a transport hub for commuters as buses, trams and trains intersect there. For decades, it has been an entry point and meeting place for new arrivals from the left bank of the Rhône, Italy or the nearby Dauphiné area. More recently, migrants from Eastern Europe and Mediterranean countries have come together in the Square to sell produce and goods as a form of economic survival. Specific problems related to this informal (and sometimes illegal) economy have arisen and combined with social tensions at the shelters for asylum seekers and homeless people, has led to an atmosphere of insecurity for residents and shopkeepers in the neighbourhood.

Objectives of the pilot project:

  • Create awareness among people who sell on the Square around the prohibition of this practice and the correct use of public space
  • Reassure shop keepers, traders and citizens who frequent the space
  • Ease tensions
  • Ensure that pedestrians can walk unheeded

Lyon City Council is committed to an integrated approach for the management of Gabriel Peri Square. The security and prevention department of the Lyon City Council is coordinating this pilot project under the deputy Mayor delegate to security and peace, together with all stakeholders involved in the project.

In addition to police actions, the city has entrusted mediation work to the “Agence Lyon Tranquillité Médiation (ALTM)”. This agency was set up on the initiative of the Lyon municipality in partnership with the State, the Lyon Metropolis, public bodies that provide social housing (Grand Lyon Habitat, OPAC du Rhône, ALLIADE Habitat, SACVL, Immobilière Rhône-Alpes and Lyon Métropole Habitat), public transport companies (SNCF, KEOLIS Lyon) and public utility companies (ERDF-GRDF, Eau du grand Lyon and La poste).

The project principle is one of shared intervention among the partners and stakeholders. This takes the form of the presence of community social mediators who can be identified by their uniform. Two social mediation professionals are positioned in the Square from Monday to Friday during business hours. Their role is one of prevention, conflict management, guidance on the needs of the population and support and assistance to vulnerable people.

Financing and resources

The project is funded by the three public administrations. The on-going running costs are estimated to require an annual allocation of 100.000€, including human resources, and services.

The Lyon ‘Tranquillité Médiation”’ Agency (ALTM) is supported by financial contributions from various partners (local authorities / social housing companies / transporters / private stakeholders) on the basis of territorial projects. The average cost of human resources for the ALTM is around 40.000€ annual (26€/hour). 

Results and impacts
  • After 3 weeks of the pilot project’s operation, the situation generally returned to normal and the Square became regulated again.
  • The combined mediation/police approach in a public space has led to a reduction in tensions between individuals, groups, traders and residents.
  • The local residents and traders have a greater feeling of security, reinforced by the presence of people wearing uniform, and are less hesitant to utilize the square.
  • The project has created a dialogue about the better use of the public space, which gives all interested parties a role to play in this common area. 
Barriers and challenges
  • The aim is to ‘heal’ the public space in a sustainable manner and best facilitate demands on the ground. In this sense, it is necessary to work on structures and orientation with partners (associative and institutional) and evaluation plan measures (e.g. cohort follow-up).
  • The social situations found in the Square are complex and the responses to them are difficult and often need to be resolved with emergency services and other professional organisations that provide assistance to vulnerable people. 
Lessons learned and transferability
  • Intervention and management of conflicts in public spaces requires the mobilization of public agencies, stake holders and the community.
  • Specialized external interventions are necessary to ensure mediation and dialogue between the stakeholders, to the extent that the position of the municipality can be ambiguous in this context, as it simultaneously participates in the social dialogue regardless of its management, decision-making and representation authority, while also being an operator.

External links / documents