How Paris is betting on mixed-use development

Paris is ushering in a new era of mixed-use developments to rebuild local communities and improve quality of life.

At a time when many Parisians are choosing to relocate from the capital due to high housing costs, public authorities are turning to mixed-use developments to help boost the city’s appeal and improve the quality of life on offer.

Liveability is something that Paris doesn’t rank particularly well on compared to other cities. In the latest rankings from global consulting group Mercer, Paris came in 39th place, just ahead of London; the region’s two biggest metropolitan areas both lag behind smaller European counterparts such as Zurich and Vienna on a range of factors including transport, culture, education and security.

And this is where local authorities in Paris increasingly believe mixed-use developments, blending a mixture of residential, commercial, cultural and leisure facilities could help.

“By mixed-use, we’re referring to a building comprising at least three different uses - and where the most important use doesn’t account for more than 60 percent of the development,” explains Virginie Houzé, director of research at JLL France.

Rebuilding local communities

Mixed use buildings are gaining ground in the French capital. As part of its Grand Paris by JLL report, analysis of 88 innovative projects found that around half are designed as mixed-use.

The main aim of these new developments is to reinvigorate urban living in a way that caters for modern Parisian lifestyles. “Over time, rising house prices have led to the departure of working people to the suburbs and created longer commutes into work,” says Houzé. “The quality of life for urban dwellers has therefore gradually deteriorated and Paris has lost its appeal to the professional people it wants to target.”

Combining living, working and leisure spaces is an important way to create communities that draw people back in, she adds.

For example, the project associated with Ardoines station in Vitry-sur-Seine (Val-de-Marne) combines areas designed for new ways of working with a social and sharing space, as well as zones for cultural use and events, restaurants and gardens.

A new way of living

The growth of mixed-use developments now means that buildings are no longer ‘cut-off’ from the surrounding area and instead perform a broader role for the local area, creating a positive impact on communities.

The Morland Mixité Capitale in Paris’ fourth district, for example, will include an internal, publicly accessible road to allow access to the Quais de Seine. Meanwhile, Ilot Fertile in the 19th district, will bring together housing, hotels, youth hostels, shops and nurseries and Les Lumières Pleyel in Saint-Denis will host co-working spaces and fab-labs.

Other projects focus on a common theme, such as Réalimenter Masséna, which is refashioning a former station as working and living spaces with strong ties to food and the environment. Collectif Coulanges, in the 4th district, plays up its fashion and design credentials with co-working spaces, an incubator, shops and events.

“These new mixed-use projects are key to developing the attractiveness of Grand Paris as it competes with regional metropolitan areas for employees and with world cities for investors,” explains Houzé. “The city must have a high quality of life, good infrastructure and easy access to services to attract international investment and large companies and the talent they need to succeed.”

Working within boundaries

However, when it comes to designing mixed-use buildings in Paris, developers nevertheless face a number of constraints. The city has some of the strictest building regulations in Europe and designing innovative projects can be a complicated task.

“In renovations, in order to work within architectural standards, developers sometimes keep the facades of buildings and rebuild everything behind them,” notes Houzé. “But since the constraint of the existing structure persists, we end up with buildings that are not really optimised in terms of use.”

She believes it’s time for change. “If Paris wants to stick with the architecture it’s had for centuries, it risks being seen as a bit antiquated,” Houzé says. “It would be good to bring in a certain amount of flexibility, like London has managed to combine the old and the new.”

Indeed, while mixed-use developments are undoubtedly becoming part of the Parisian urban landscape and helping rejuvenate city living, the design of future buildings is still very much up for debate.