Despite its cathedral listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chartres does not escape, like most cities, the presence of a prominent commercial area at its eastern entrance, adjoined by warehouses and bars interspersed with car parks .

“With the cathedral, this entrance to the city, we cannot dirty it”, proclaims the mayor Jean-Pierre Gorges (DVD) who plans to move 200 m further the supermarkets, furniture stores and other shops on a former military base. whose soils must be depolluted.

Objective? Make it “more beautiful” with buildings that are more respectful of the environment of the cathedral, less asphalt, more green spaces and probably thinner commercial surfaces.

In place of the current commercial area, 3,000 homes are to grow. “It sounds simple but it’s more than ten years of work and again, we own the land,” observes Mr. Gorges.

Appearing during the Glorious Thirties, the peripheral commercial zones were initially the symbol of the access of the middle classes to mass consumption. Fifty years later, here they are the emblem of the most spectacular urban sprawl in Europe.

In 1982, the decentralization laws entrusted municipalities with the task of drawing up their development plans. “Each then embarks on the creation of a ZAC (concerted development zone) without necessarily a project, thinking that it will bring employment and taxation”, recalls Christophe Demazière, professor of urban planning at the university. of Tours.

– “Flight forward” –

Against all expectations, the phenomenon accelerated in the 2000s, when consumption stagnated and the Internet nibbled away at market share.

“France has seen as many commercial areas emerge over the past twenty years as in the previous forty”, underlines Pascal Madry, director of the Institute for the city and commerce (IVC), which lists 1,500.

In question according to him, the competition between communities, “each mayor wanting his Decathlon”, and the “flight forward of the signs which accelerated their openings to compensate for their losses thanks to economies of scale”.

If the trade of periphery still concentrates 70% of the expenses of the French, the vacancy increases to reach 15 million m2, according to the IVC, with a risk of “enrichement”.

Aware of the situation, developers are now more inclined to redevelop these areas, which are also overtaken by the climate challenge. The objective of “zero net artificialisation” by 2050, which now makes uncontrolled extension impossible, also makes them strategic land reserves.

“These spaces which generate significant environmental imbalances and competition with city center businesses must now be reintegrated into the city”, pleads Nicolas Gillio, project manager at Cerema, a public establishment dedicated to development and transportation.

The accent so far has mainly been on the revitalization of the centers of medium-sized towns, with the program “Action coeur de ville” (ACV). The Minister of Territorial Communities Caroline Cayeux confirmed on Friday that the city entries would appear in version II of this device.

– “Possible recycling” –

“We want to demonstrate that recycling city entrances is possible. There are commercial areas but also wastelands, scrap yards, scattered suburbs. We have put the city a lot in the countryside and today we have to do the reverse”, insists Rollon Mouchel-Blaisot, prefect director of ACV.

In Montigny-les-Cormeilles (Val-d’Oise), 21,000 inhabitants, the row of commercial surfaces on the “furniture route” is thus getting a facelift.

“The boulevard dehumanized the city and cut it in two, with lots of traffic jams and a huge vacancy rate,” says Mayor Jean-Noël Carpentier (MDP). This 1.5 km portion should accommodate a thousand homes, with shops, a school, a doctor’s surgery and offices.

The land companies are also changing their tune. “We are working to re-enchant commercial areas where the city is catching up with them, by installing nurseries, services, in a more urban neighborhood spirit”, assures Eric Grimonpon, general manager of the Etixia property company.

Among the brakes, the length of the operations, which often exceeds the duration of a mandate, and the complicated financial balance in the cities in decline.

In addition, chasing a sign requires compensation, “which can represent 2.5 million euros for a standard surface of 1,000 m2”, warns Pascal Madry.