Conscious City Centres

10/04/2019
  • Magazine

To kick off summer, the 14th annual conference on city centres was held in the southwestern French city of Pau. Here’s what was on the docket. 

This annual gathering allows elected officials and various actors affected by, and interested in, how downtowns tick to come together for serious talks on the particular problems they’ve been facing. One big agenda item: sharing solutions and best practices with one another to inspire improvements.

There was a lot to cover; mobility, accessibility, and parking were among the major issues tackled here, seeing as they play a huge role in making downtowns everywhere friendlier places to be. But newer concerns were also on the table, including data management and information security, smart cities, as well as climate change. Rest assured, residents got a lot of air time too, with the conversation often turning to living environments, creating consonance where people come together, their participation in direct democracy, and more.

Before delving into the discussions and debates, it was worthwhile to attend the unveiling of the results from the barometer for downtown and commerce (Baromètre du Centre-Ville et du Commerce). This national survey is carried out by Clear Channel. It’s in its fourth year, meaning we now have a window onto the French people’s evolving opinions on city centres.

The survey’s most salient point: the French are attached to the downtown core, especially young people (77%). That said, 44% of French residents believe that city centres are on the decline. The survey also revealed what the French want most for their downtowns: more convenience stores, especially ones that sell food, and for culinary craftspeople to return (butchers, bakers, pastry makers, cheese mongers, etc.) Surprisingly, downtown visits were up by 28% in 2018, while markets saw a 35% bump in the same year.

Supporting new stores

No, France is not Canada. But there’s interesting information that can be applied to Quebec City and Montreal, especially regarding the drawing power of convenience stores and markets. That could be something worth exploring to give new life to struggling shopping streets here. To get them back on track, we would have to dream up awareness, assistance, and support programs. Opening a new store is an entrepreneurial endeavour, one that’s similar to launching a startup. Whatever their wares, these start-up projects will require a concerted effort if we want to improve our commercial offer, and thereby our neighbourhoods of the future.

Another hotly debated topic at the 14th annual city centre conference: goods transportation, and more generally all the logistics required for downtowns to run smoothly. In several French cities, many experiments have been attempted in recent years to alleviate traffic congestion stemming from freight. We in Montreal stand to gain a lot from what they’ve learned across the Atlantic.

Texte de : André Poulin

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