“Reinvent commercial zones”: this is the objective set by the government, which launched a call for projects on Monday September 11 to achieve this. The idea, which has already been the subject of several works since November 2022 under the aegis of the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Bercy, is to “define the commercial zones of tomorrow” with architects, town planners, elected officials. locals, traders, lawyers and representatives of commercial real estate companies… It is also a question of identifying the obstacles to this transformation.
The stakes are high. The commercial zones extend over areas varying from a few hectares to several hundred, on which several stores, shopping centers and their parking lots are located, all connected by roads. France today has more than 1,500, which cover nearly 500 million square meters, or five times the surface area of Paris. They are more or less well placed, more or less well served and more or less dynamic.
This urban planning phenomenon – sometimes nicknamed “ugly France” – also reflects underlying trends in French society, marked by the erosion of agricultural land. Commercial areas concentrate more than 70% of household spending and go hand in hand with the model of economic and urban development of the last fifty years in France: multiplication of suburban houses, generalization of the car in every home and concomitant access to mass consumption.
Long dashing, this model is now in trouble. “In a world that is becoming aware of its limits, the commercial zone has reached its limits,” underlines Olivia Grégoire, Minister for Trade. “It turns out to be unsuitable (…) to accelerate the ecological transition of our society,” adds his colleague in ecological transition, Christophe Béchu. However, continues Olivia Grégoire, commercial zones “have become the local commerce of millions of us: eliminating them would be neither feasible nor desirable. We must therefore reinvent them. »
“This reinvention project crosses important issues on the environmental and economic levels”, analyzes for his part Emmanuel Desmaizières, member of the executive committee of Icade, real estate subsidiary of the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, which launched a program in March 2023 called “city in sight”, dedicated to the redevelopment of city entrances. “The objective is to diversify the activities and uses of buildings there in order to create housing in particular,” he emphasizes. Converting already artificialized areas makes it possible to be consistent with the objective of “zero net artificialization” (ZAN) of soils. We can even consider returning certain areas to nature, for example certain little-used car parks. »
This project involves cooperation between brands and other land owners, but also local elected officials, the only ones able to modify town planning rules, with the support of the State. “Building housing in these areas provides, among other things, a response to the crisis in the sector,” underlines Emmanuel Desmaizières, who urges us to move quickly “because these are large-scale operations, which take between five and ten years” .
The experiment launched by the government is aimed at local authorities, developers and other private actors, with a total budget of 24 million euros. The green industry bill, under discussion in Parliament, should also remove certain regulatory blockages, by making it possible, for example, to deviate from the local urban planning plan (PLU) or to reduce deadlines. However, there is no question of applying the same transformation model, each zone being different. Thus, a dynamic commercial area in an urban environment can be densified and make way for housing, while a derelict area can be “renatured”, or even accommodate an industrial activity when it is located in a sparsely populated area. .
The government had already announced in the fall of 2022 the extension to city entrances of act 2 of the “City heart action” program, which only concerns medium-sized towns. Two waves of winners will take place, in November 2023 and early 2024.