Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Decline of city centres

France also is suffering a serious decline of its city centres, in much the same way as Britain and other developed western countries.

Having just moved from an apartment on the Mediterranian coat to a third-floor mini-loft right in the centre of my  nearest town (pop. 125 000) I was interested to read of the disappearance of over 25% of the restaurants - a drop from 258 to 190 establishments, of which 70 classed as 'town centre'. In terms of potential diners ('covers') this represents a reduction  of 158 covers to 10 640 since 2010.

What the town centre has lost the periphery has gained, along with the development of four major out-of-town shopping centres catering for every need. Here the gain has been in the order of 80% in four years, and overall comprises 72 establishments or 11 601 covers. At the four principal sites the number of restaurants has risen from 14 to 34 (148% increase) during the last four years.

It is clear from the figures that people are still eating-out and combining this with a one-stop shopping trip. I have already noted in the few days I have been established in my new apartment that, now that the summer season has passed, the town centre is busy only on Saturdays, totally dead on Sundays (when people tend to go to the coast), very quiet on Mondays (many establishments use this as their obligatory day off) and relatively quiet for the rest of the week.

The report on restaurant closures follows earlier concerns about the closure of town-centre shops and boutiques - over 50 in recent months, including some of the principal high street giants as well as smaller specialist boutiques.

Who is to blame? It is clear that many areas of the town centre are in decline and the local Council has done little to re-build and re-furbish some parts of the historic centre. Some of the nice buildings stand cheek by jowl with with neglected buildings. Structural collapses are not uncommon in the poorest areas.

There are the usual arguments with lack of parking compared with pedestrianistion and happily an ugly mutli-storey car parking in the principal square has been destroyed and the resultant Place de la République brought  back to life, with literally hundreds of people eating and drinking outdoors on the many cafés and restaurants.

The local authority has also noted the effect of having the local university (10 000 students) located out of town and there are plans to develop classrooms and other facilities in the centre for some 500 students, in an attempt to 'diversify' the population mix. All this is good news.

Source/ L'Indépendant, 25 September 2014.