5 challenges to take up to (well) live together the streets of tomorrow

5 challenges to take up to (well) live together the streets of tomorrow


Social cohesion, ecological and energy transition, evolution of the development of urban territories…. The street is a space that crystallizes a series of issues that can be addressed via several levers: from the increase of nature in the city to the encouragement of citizen participation through soft mobility. Recap of interviews with experts carried out for Rue Commune with existing good practices to be developed for peaceful streets that benefit everyone.


The street is the place where we meet: the inhabitant, the passer-by, the merchant, on foot, by car, by bicycle, in one direction or the other, for various purposes. A place where we feel the presence of neighbors without necessarily knowing them and which occupies part of our daily lives. However, it is customary to think that this space does not belong to us, serving only as a springboard to go from one point to another. That we just touch without really feeling it. What if we reclaimed our streets, together?

Here are what we have identified as the essential steps for the street to become a place of shared life, a key player in the transformation of the cities of tomorrow.


Soft mobility for peaceful axes


More and more municipalities around the world are gradually abandoning the prioritization of the car to move towards hybrid mobility models, based on the coexistence of all parties. The principle ? Pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and others find their place on the road and can thus share it smoothly. This is the case, for example, in the district of Sant Antoni in Barcelona , where everyone learns to mingle, which is made possible in particular by limiting the speed of all vehicles to 10 km/h.

However, it is also not a question of adding modes of transport without thinking ahead, which risks “damaging all uses” according to Alphonse Coulot, project manager at the Fabrique de la Cité. An illuminating example is that of the Good Move plan in Brussels , which wishes to experiment with the specialization of streets rather than juxtaposing mobility on a single lane and thus risking conflicts for lack of space or good organization. Certain axes of the capital will therefore be dedicated to pedestrians, others to cars, others to bicycles. Proof that the possibilities are multiple and that there is not just one way to rethink mobility on a city scale.

The interest of soft mobility is multiple: to limit the polluting emissions of motorized vehicles in the urban space, but also to ensure the safety of all by delimiting more balanced and distinct zones. Several cities have notably chosen to pedestrianize the streets passing in front of schools to avoid any danger for children. This is the case in Bolzano, Italy, which established a “school street” in 1989 and is thus a pioneer in this area. Also in Italy, several municipalities have set up ZTLs (limited traffic zones). In the lanes concerned, a toll is imposed on certain time slots of the day for the most polluting vehicles, which are even sometimes banned from circulation.

Thanks to this type of initiative, the rebalancing of available spaces is taking place. In Sant Antoni, the "superblock" created in 2017 has allowed the pedestrian area to expand by almost 135% . As a direct consequence, the presence of pedestrians has also increased, reaching up to +44% in certain areas.

To accompany this decline of the car in the city, alternatives exist. Jérémie Almosni, Regional Director of ADEME Ile de France, also underlines that "the service economy" including in particular the principle of carpooling "will become one of the solutions" in the face of the current energy price crisis. . This orientation nevertheless requires real political will (the government's energy sobriety plan announced on October 6, 2022 provides for the payment of a bonus for anyone subscribing to a carpooling service from 2023), but also awareness and support targeted at citizens.


A watchword: resilience

For Perrine Prigent, municipal councilor in charge of promoting urban architectural heritage, improving public spaces and the place of water in Marseille (France), resilience is the city's ability to "adapt to major developments to come so as not to suffer the negative consequences” . In short, predict today the transformations of tomorrow, between climatic and human upheavals.

For a city to be resilient in the face of these major challenges, major principles exist and can be put in place now. One thinks in particular of the desimpermeabilisation of the soil , in urban spaces such as parks or schoolyards for example, or better water management to counter the inexorable scarcity of this resource. So many absolutely essential actions in the knowledge of global warming and the major droughts to come in the world, and which can also be implemented at street level.

To take the example of Marseille, in the district of Noailles, several experts went to measure the temperature of the ground before the heat waves of 2017, to raise no less than 60°C. Based on the median scenario of the first IPCC report, without working to make the city more resilient, this temperature could reach 90°C in 2050. In other words, "in 2017, we could already cook an egg on the ground, and in 2050, we will be able to boil water in it”, image Perrine Prigent.

To avoid this, the objective is to make the streets of tomorrow more permeable , by integrating rainwater and installing swales or infiltrating ponds, for example. Michel Bernard, Chairman and CEO of Infra Services, talks about Les Mureaux in the Paris region, where each new building built keeps its water on the roof for its green spaces: "what drives us is storage and the leak rate by infiltration over a long period of time so that the soil has time to drink”. The situation of Les Mureaux leads us to mention another possible room for improvement to make the city resilient: that of the development of nature in urban areas.

Greening the city

For Emeline Bailly, Researcher in urban planning at the CSTB on issues of urban quality of life and nature in the city, andLionel d'Allard, Director of Equo Vivo and Urbalia, there are 3 main challenges for renaturalizing the streets : firstly, enhancing the already existing nature (parks, gardens, etc.) that is sometimes neglected, secondly, designing nature in any development of urban projects and thirdly, to renature public and private urban spaces, and thus “create a new alliance between the city and nature”.


More concretely, several remedies are possible to achieve these three objectives. Among them, Emeline Bailly and Lionel d'Allard cite the use of materials that let the earth breathe and do not capture heat, such as paving, or even designing vegetated alleys to connect the different streets of a city.

It is therefore a question here of putting the fauna and flora back in the heart of the streets and encouraging biodiversity. This orientation not only presents an ecological interest, but also direct benefits for the inhabitants. Luc Chrétien is responsible for the Biodiversity, planning and nature in the city group at Cerema-est in Metz (France). He insists on the many benefits that trees can bring to the city . Among them, a local cooling effect of the climate, but also the regulation of the water regime, the provision of shade and natural freshness for passers-by, the significant aesthetic appeal... Urban spaces therefore have every interest in provide the right essences in the right place !

Putting citizens at the heart of their habitat


To make people want to live in their streets as inhabitants and no longer as mere passengers, the issues of citizen participation and consultation are crucial. Also, in many examples of cities in France and around the world, the transformation of streets was not based on unilateral decisions by elected officials, but was the result of open discussions with residents. "Integrating the future recipients into the design" makes it possible to ensure the "acceptability" of the projects inherent in a street to be certain that the changes will be well experienced by the greatest number, as indicated by Emma Vilarem, doctor in cognitive neuroscience and psychologist, director and founder of [S]CITY.

There are several inspiring examples of citizen participation in the evolution of streets in Italy in particular. In Milan (Italy), thanks to the SharingMi mobile application, launched in February 2019, residents can participate via their smartphone in the development of their neighborhood, by proposing ideas, but also by responding to online challenges to carry out virtuous actions for the environment. environment in the streets. In Turin (Italy), the ToNite project aimed to secure citizens in certain neighborhoods at night, by questioning them directly via online questionnaires about their expectations and fears about specific routes.

Sometimes, citizen involvement can even go further and some places become common property where the municipality leaves the management in the hands of the inhabitants. This is the case of the Asilo in Naples (Italy), originally a building inthe abandonment doomed to be destroyed, which has become a cultural place co-managed by several volunteer communities. For Emeline Bailly of the CSTB, this notion of the commons makes it possible to go from the “road” where users only circulate to the “street” where they stop and interact with each other. Also, "the commons allow a form of emancipation of the public actor and the administration" as indicated by Roddy Laroche, Project Manager at La 27e Région.

Creating new uses through art and furniture

The foundations, decorations and other urban activities have an important role to play in the way the inhabitants experience their places of passage as their place of life. Emma Vilarem speaks in particular of this need for a “sensory city” , because we all have common reference points in terms of feelings and sensations — for example, the sight of art or nature which is beneficial to us —, and “ it is a dimension of the urban experience that is often overlooked”.


To increase the experience of citizens in their streets, nothing beats decorating them with inclusive furniture or participatory works of art! In the Sant Antoni district in Barcelona, for example, temporary furniture has been installed, easily modular and movable by anyone who wishes. A way to involve the inhabitants in the life of the roads on which they pass, and to give them more desire to stop there, to take a break there. In Settimo Torinese, a district of Turin, the Graphic Days organized in 2020 allowed all passers-by to color their streets as they pleased or to admire artistic installations in order to challenge them and make them interact with each other.

In the same vein, for Marc Aurel, Artistic Director of Studio Aurel Design Urbain, works of art in the urban space are intended to “create new sensory, visual and physical experiences” . He takes the example of Buren's columns in the gardens of the Palais Royal in Paris, which can be photographed, but where one can also climb on them or hide behind, which "illustrate for [him] perfectly what should be our relationship to art in the city”. Thierry Marsick, Director of Urban Lighting for the City of Lyon, takes the example of the festival of lights which takes place every year in this municipality, which “provokes tenfold wonder, […] and goes beyond beyond the enhancement of heritage elements by working on the public space with a sensitive experience. »

Soft mobility, resilience, revegetation, citizen consultation, new uses: to create the streets of tomorrow, we will have to rely on these 5 pillars.

Article written by Amandine Martinet for Construction21

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Amandine Martinet - Construction21