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Old Posted May 20, 2019, 4:53 PM
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From Bleak To Bustling: How One French Town Solved It's High Street Crisis

From Bleak To Bustling: How One French Town Solved It's High Street Crisis


20 May 2019

By Angelique Chrisafis

Read More: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2...blues-mulhouse

Quote:
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Just over a decade ago, Mulhouse, a town of 110,000 people near the German and Swiss borders, was a symbol of the death of the European high street. One of the poorest towns of its size in France, this former hub of the textile industry had long ago been clobbered by factory closures and industrial decline. It had high rates of poverty and youth unemployment, a shrinking population, and more than 100 shops empty or boarded up. The centre had become associated with gangs.

- Today, Mulhouse is known for the staggering transformation of its thriving centre, bucking the national trend for high street closures. In the past eight years, more than 470 shops and businesses have opened here. Mulhouse is unique in that 75% of new openings are independents, from comic book stores to microbreweries and organic grocers. It is one of the only places in France with as many independents as franchises. And it is one of very few places in France where more shops are opening than closing. --- The town’s blue-collar history, its old factory buildings, the 136 nationalities living here and its very young population are now seen as desirable. Once overshadowed by its more famous Alsace neighbours, the city of Strasbourg or chocolate-box pretty Colmar, Mulhouse is now sought after by brands seeking retail premises.

- French political powers woke up late to the problem of dying town centres. Outside the Paris region, an average of 11% of high street premises lie empty, similar to the UK. But France, which has a powerful hypermarket industry and lobby, has for decades hastened town centre decline by allowing out-of-town superstores to mushroom over kilometres of dull grey hangars on the outskirts of towns. --- Leaders only recently turned to the issue, fearing boarded up shopfronts and vanishing services could help usher in Donald Trump-style populists. Polls showed that in small French towns, the fewer the services on offer – notably post offices – the higher the vote for the far right.

- Mulhouse set out to rebalance the housing mix. Generous subsidies for the renovation of building fronts expedited a facelift of more than 170 buildings. Security and community policing were stepped up. Transport was key – with a new tram system, bike schemes, shuttle buses and cheap parking. --- But making the town’s public spaces attractive was just as important, with wider pavements, dozens of benches, and what officials deemed a “colossal budget” for tree planting and maintenance, gardening and green space. Local associations, community groups and residents’ committees were crucial to the efforts. A town centre manager was appointed to support independents and high-street franchises setting up.

- Geography played a key role. While the town itself was poor, the surrounding area, close to Switzerland and Germany, had cross-border workers on an income far higher than the French average. Offering original shops that didn’t exist elsewhere was seen as a way of drawing them in. --- In her town hall office, the mayor, Michèle Lutz, who once ran a hair salon in Mulhouse, says the town must now move into a second phase where the vibrancy of the centre extends to the surrounding neighbourhoods. “The town centre is buzzing now, but we can’t just concentrate on the small central perimeter, nor simply on shops – there has to be a vision of the town as a whole,” she says. She feels greenery and nature are key “to making people feel good and at ease in the town”.

- Mulhouse was once known as a “little Manchester” for its canals used by the textile industry, but many were later concreted over. Lutz is leading a drive to renovate neglected canalsides that run through various neighbourhoods. The focus is on the fine detail, including improved lighting – important in a town where winter nights come early. --- Frédéric Marquet, the town centre manager, is examining his database of empty premises to match them to new businesses. “Mulhouse currently has two shop openings for every closure,” he says. “No other town in France can say all these brands have opened premises in the last five years.”

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Old Posted May 23, 2019, 2:06 PM
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Interesting article. The Guardian is certainly a serious piece of British press, and a much needed alternative to the gross right-wing tabloids over there.

Now regarding the content itself, I think their note about the Swiss and German geographical proximity is significant. It probably helps the region indeed.
Over here, we sometimes hear the French left wing bashing the Germans for their so-called "mini-jobs", like part-time jobs poorly paid, and for the fact that over 15% of the German workforce would actually live below the poverty line because of their own Conservative labor policy.
But I think this mostly still affects "länder" (German for federated states) of former East Germany. Of course their regions neighboring France and the Netherlands are far better off, so they must be a good deal for the French living on the border.
That is quite obviously the case of Switzerland where wages are super comfortable, no doubt about that.

As far as retail and street life go, it's a strange thing that for instance, even clothing shops would struggle in town centers.
Would you buy any suit, shirt or pair of jeans online without touching and trying the product for yourself? A lot of people do so, but it's a bit silly, or at least risky.
It's better and safer to stroll and shop the streets to buy one's clothes, just like most women love to do, I guess.
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