Under the pressure of new lifestyles and usage patterns, urban areas are returning to the mixed uses and diversity that disappeared under the zoning and functional specialisation of the 1980s. At a local, neighbourhood level, they are reconnecting with their original purpose: to bring together individuals, cultures and urban amenities. This can be seen in the new communal places that are springing up every day all over France, based on this simple idea: doing things together. The report commissioned by the government from Patrick Levy-Waitz identified 1,800 “third places” (this term denotes places that are neither home nor workplaces) in France in 2018; this figure was 2,500 in 2021 and there will doubtless be more than 3,000 in 2022. Third places are necessarily anchored in the local community, and forge links at a microneighbourhood level. These 21st century Youth and Culture Centres (MJCs(1)) effectively revitalise their area, creating immediate and fertile bridges between a very diverse range of players – associations, businesses, elected officials, residents, students and retired people.
Third places first emerged in major cities and are now also appearing on the outskirts, in small towns and in rural areas. They are set to become a fully-fledged and recognised sector, creating jobs that boost economic activity through co-working, project incubation and support. They are therefore arousing great interest among elected officials, as demonstrated by the success of the spot afforded to third places at the last Mayors’ Congress. Originally inspired by citizen initiatives, will these new hybrid entities, which often feature the coexistence of paid service activities and public interest initiatives, be the catalyst for a more peaceful society?
(1) Maisons des jeunes et de la culture.
The Belliard bus depot occupies an area of 4 hectares in the heart of the very dense 18th arrondissement in Paris. With an open-air garage of 1.8 hectares where 230 vehicles park every night and a maintenance workshop, it is the largest open-air bus garage in the capital. This isolated site is about to enter a new phase in its history when it will be effectively opened up to the neighbourhood as part of a programme developed by RATP Group in agreement with Ile-de-France Mobilités and the City of Paris. This facility is set to be converted to accommodate electric buses, and a mixed urban project, developed by a consortium of promoters formed by Linkcity and Brownfields, will be set up above it, with delivery planned for 2026. The project includes family housing units, a co-living residence, a social residence, workspaces, shops, a room for associations and even a climbing gym! A photovoltaic farm of nearly 2,000 m2 will produce local renewable energy and nearly 500 m2 will be set aside for bicycle parking.
“Le Quai has established itself as a landmark”
How did Le Quai des possibles come about?
L.B. : Located in a former station in the heart of a new eco-district, it was a communal project built jointly with its future users right from the start. We were lucky to have access to the premises six days a week throughout 2017 before the building was opened. We used this time to listen to the various needs of users and to try out different event formats, such as a thank-you lunch for 80 guests organised by a Syrian family hosted in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The name of the place was also chosen by those taking part in the initiatives. And when we opened we already had co-workers who had applied for a space in the Hive several months prior, which is a collaborative facility for committed entrepreneurs*.
* National network that provides local support to people who want to start or develop their business in a sustainable and responsible way.
What do you offer?
L.B. : People say to us, “I want to get involved but I don’t know how.” When they enter the ground floor of Le Quai they receive a warm welcome and are given information. Others wish to launch a project and we support them within the Hive or through incubation programmes.
Is the physical location the key to your success?
L.B. : In just three years, Le Quai has established itself as a landmark. It is essential to bring people together, as is diversity. We support both people with a solid background – some of our staff of 45 are young graduates looking for their path, others are veteran executives – and people from groups that are under-represented in entrepreneurship, like women, unemployed people, refugees and those from rural areas. You can sit down at lunch here and won’t know who around the table is a paying co-worker and who is someone who is being supported free of charge in the incubator.
How can we deal with changes in work and jobs, connect new business hubs and ensure that everyone is included in this changing landscape? This is one of the major challenges facing cities and regions. Long neglected, the areas around train stations are now turning into upmarket districts. We used to see them as “non-places”, to use the expression coined by sociologist Marc Augé. Nevertheless, 19 neighborhoods around future Grand Paris Express stations featured in the “Inventing the Greater Paris Metropolis” competition launched by Société du Grand Paris in 2017. Renovated and redeveloped stations are now establishing themselves as new urban centres; attractive inter-modal hubs that can act as a catalyst for the renewal of a district and connect the city to a powerful network consisting of a multitude of sustainable transport modes.
Stations in Lyon, Toulouse and Marseille have been the subject of ambitious urban projects in recent years, and mid-sized towns are now adopting this concept, as demonstrated by the announced extension of the “Action coeur de ville” programme to include station areas. These new hubs are no longer mere transit points, but destinations in their own right, providing shops and services similar to Saint-Lazare station in Paris. Some have closed their doors to rail traffic to be transformed into workplaces, such as Saint-Omer station, which has become La Station, a co-working facility. Like airports, stadiums and libraries, stations are drawing on the experience of the thousands of users who pass through them every day to write a new page in their history.
“Large groups can act as catalysts for local projects”
What relationship do large groups have with the region in which they are located?
R.D. : While some want nothing to do with local projects, others are obliged to engage if only to meet their recruitment needs. Others discover them when there is a decline in business which they have to manage with local players. The approaches are very diverse, with no standardised model. Everyone builds and invents their own projects, but what is interesting is the horizontal approach, which is alien to these players. Taking the example of training and trades, they have to jointly define needs with other local players, because this affects the entire economic fabric, including that of SMEs-SMIs when training apprentices or future employees.
You talk about an intangible regional heritage. What does this mean?
R.D. : There is a history, a culture and a geography specific to each region. This can sometimes be one of the reasons for selecting a location for a specific activity, e.g. when PSA and Herm s set up in the Ardennes, a region with no tradition of the car or luxury goods industries, but with a long-standing reputation for high-quality workmanship. Revealing and mobilizing this heritage feeds another form of economic development, and by acting as catalysts and bringing legitimacy to local projects, large companies can help regions leverage their assets to build for the future.