The ground floor is of public interest
Paris is a ground-floor city, from Haussmann to the 21st century «ZAC» through the large collective residences of the 1970s. A variety of typologies, mostly aligned with the street, have allowed to maintain a diversified occupation of the ground floor and to make it an active space of the city.
The ground floor, and the economic activities that it houses, are as much public as private. Indeed, although it consists of rather closed and protected blocks, it generates only few private uses,. Unlike cities such as Berlin or Copenhagen, where there is a culture of shared private spaces, the Parisian ground floor is rarely occupied this way. There is a real separation between the upper levels, occupied by individuals, and the street level, which belongs to the city. For Paris, the ground floor is therefore a question of “public interest” and the 260,000 or so activity spaces who occupy it must contribute to add value to the urban environment.
Beyond the economic interest that it represents, sheltering a significant part of the general Parisian floor area, the ground floor combines multiple stakes. At the crossroads of all the complexities of the contemporary city, it is a space of permanent negotiation between public and private actors, in search of an urban balance which is sometimes difficult to reach, as evidenced by certain newly built neighborhoods in which the question of the commercial ground floor remains a difficult question for all those who build or practice it.
The potential of this built space directly linked to the street is considerable. Many public and private actions prove it on a daily basis. On the one hand, the rules of the Local Urban Plan (PLU), intended to protect and consolidate the activity along shopping streets, as well as the interventions of SEMAEST for the maintenance and development of local shops, show the added value that commercial strategies bring to the urban environment and daily comfort. On the other hand, many private initiatives are transforming the way we use the ground floor, thus reinventing new relationships to the public space. Their isolated interventions are interesting because they have the capacity to trigger urban phenomena on a larger scale. If these private initiatives can have some questionable consequences – the gentrification of entire neighborhoods from private commercial logic is one – they confirm that the ground floor is the place that brings together architecture and urbanism.
The Parisian ground floor is a living organism that evolves permanently. Because it concerns everyone, living or simply passing by, it contributes to the social and cultural identity of the city. It conveys a certain image of Paris, the one well known to tourists, and allows to act on the everyday life of the inhabitants: high commercial density, small shop sizes, as well as street alignment are Parisian specificities that strongly influence the organization of urban life. Like cities such as Tokyo or Stockholm, where specific commercial strategies have helped to build an urban identity, the Parisian commercial ground floor bears this identity.
The vitality of Paris depends on its ability to constantly renew the way we occupy the ground floor, to develop the interactions between commercial premises and public space. If the actions carried out by SEMAEST constitutes a fundamental stage of this process and the construction of a Parisian cultural identity, we now propose to identify spontaneous urban phenomena as generators of new possible models. Their implementation probably lies first and foremost in a dialogue between public and private actors, between urban logics and individual aspirations.
It is here, in this space, that the potential of architecture emerges. Able to articulate everyone’s interests and the different scales of intervention that they suppose, we have elaborated six projects for Paris, which take a new look on the ground floor, operating a change in its thickness for a common culture. The 650 red dots in this book are the first step.
Anthony Jammes, Susanne Eliasson
published in «Rez-de-Ville, Rez-de-Vie», 2013