This article is from Management magazine
In 2015, the decision went completely unnoticed: after a twenty-year ban, bicycles were once again officially admitted to the slab of La Défense. In fact, cyclists had never stopped slaloming between pedestrians, but this return to favor of two-wheelers appears today as the harbinger of the small urban revolution precipitated by the Covid crisis, with the craze for soft mobility and the massive desertion of public transport. Like all cities in France, the largest business district in Europe had to deal, in an emergency, with a sudden increase in bicycle traffic of 63%. Signage on the ground has been created and a repair shop, Cyclofix, has been set up behind the Grande Arche.
But this is only one of the many aspects of the transformation of La Défense, which now looks beyond its famous slab, breaking the sacrosanct postulate of the 1960s which aimed to establish a “bubble in the city” , cut off from the rest of the world and its traditional landmarks. Under pressure from cyclists, but also from walkers, work is continuing in order to reconnect the site and its immediate environment, until then separated by an infernal motorway junction. In Nanterre, Courbevoie, Puteaux and La Garenne-Colombes, towns over which the district extends, urban designers are busy stitching up the urban fabric by creating green spaces and “soft” routes in concrete, intended to transform the places in depth over the next five years.
The redevelopment of the Paris Nanterre university campus, which now attracts some 45,000 students, and the opening, in 2017, of the Arena, the largest modular hall in Europe, have already started to shake the good old “metro” -boulot-dodo ”clinging to this universe of towers. A spirit of casualness and fun began to infuse the tide of white-collar workers, while also expanding the city’s slot occupancy.
Behind the scenes, too, things have changed, since the management of the district has been entrusted to the region and the department. Farewell, or almost, to the vertical and distant state, make way for local concerns and the improvement of the “life experience” of users. Led by Pierre-Yves Guice, from the Hauts-de-Seine administration, the new team brought in more trendy and more qualitative restaurants, cocktail bars and gyms, in order to offer a level of service comparable to that of the capital.
On the project side, new pedestrian and cycle paths are scheduled for next year in Puteaux, instead of neutralized road sections. This will be an opportunity to better showcase the rich collection of 70 outdoor works of art and the route of monumental sculptures offered each year during the Les Extatiques festival. Outdoor life, long reduced to cafes swallowed up on the terrace by busy executives, will thus resume its place in the neighborhood.
Under the slab, unoccupied spaces will gradually turn into cultural and commercial places. In particular, we can cross them by walking… on their roofs. Symbol of this metamorphosis: the move, scheduled for 2024, of the reserves of the National Contemporary Art Fund. Currently stored under the esplanade, they bring together the plastic and decorative heritage of the State intended to embellish the offices of ministers and prefects. Their displacement will allow the Defense to recover a space of 8,000 square meters. Inserted in a set connected to underground vegetated streets, it promises to be a vast playground for events of all kinds.
The Ampère, Opus 12 and other Newton towers, always firmly in place, will inevitably evolve in depth, too. Because if the way of occupying the offices will never be quite the same as before the Covid episode, that of managing the building stock either. For Vincent Gollain, head of economic development at the Institut Paris region, the advent of the flex office opens up several possibilities for reorganization, whether by reserving spaces for the rotation of project teams or by integrating employees from subsidiaries or strategic providers. “We can also imagine inter-company groupings around a club of restricted users, continues this specialist in territorial marketing, but that would require redoubling our efforts in terms of data protection.”
Vincent Gollain predicts in any case an unprecedented makeover of the reception areas of companies, destined to become the crossing points for a population of executives from various backgrounds. These areas will gain, according to him, to “re-enchant” and to serve the employer brand of companies via social networks, Instagram in particular.
These changes are already underway, confirms the Paris La Défense team, and companies are looking for alternatives to traditional rental and occupancy methods. In this regard, “our offer appears more relevant than ever,” boasts Pierre-Yves Guice. And to underline the very attractive value for money of the business district for an offer in the inner suburbs near the 8th arrondissement, reputed to remain the center of economic decisions, even though the rest of the capital suffers from a relative loss of attractiveness.
By the way, the general manager of the site insists on the new state of mind established with regard to companies: a more attentive reception, a better listening to the needs and a global service offer. The business district is now seen as a place of life, bringing together businesses, residents, traders, hotel and event professionals. To facilitate the coexistence of all these actors and facilitate exchanges, digital platforms have been set up.
The data processing will make it possible to analyze “user experiences”, in order to integrate them into reflections on future developments. For its leaders, this digital and algorithmic device is creating a real ecosystem, which is redrawing the contours of La Défense. It is this, for example, which makes it possible to take into account the diversity of the public and to resize the workspaces to make them (finally) accessible to the self-employed or self-employed on the 45,000 square meters of coworking open on the site.
Another concrete manifestation of this phenomenon: four new gardens have become places of sharing around vegetable gardens and small seasonal harvests. The project was piloted in the field by a facilitator, participation is open and free for all, the experience rather recreational. And this creates a point of contact with the inhabitants, these 20,000 people living in the historic district, whose composition could change, with the arrival of a population better integrated into local economic activity. In the future, in fact, rental offers will also be intended for transient employees, like what is already practiced in London and Amsterdam, where office towers are shared with a restaurant, a hotel, housing, etc. in the end, the whole social fabric will be modified. With the culmination of this new life, the transformation of the esplanade into a real urban park which should link, in five years, La Défense to the Pont de Neuilly. Without car or metro.
A neighborhood-wide climate plan
“To have 90% of the users of a district who move without a car is a chance!” Elected director general of Paris La Défense last September, Pierre-Yves Guice expects a lot from the arrival of Eole, from 2022: the RER E should decongest existing lines and improve the comfort and transport conditions of users. But the engineer also underlines his commitment to the fight against global warming. “Paris La Défense has started work on its“ raison d’être ”, within the meaning of the Pacte law, he reveals. The objective is to structure the many achievements already in place in terms of CSR and sustainable development, and to provide the establishment with a real action plan: energy savings, optimization of water management. , fight against heat islands, carbon footprint of the territory… So many axes and indicators that will allow us to monitor and manage the ecological transition of the neighborhood. ”
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