The second phase of Paris Plage, a groundbreaking waterfront experiment started in 2006, is the best part of the ongoing story of how Paris created the best waterfront in the world.

Following the success in activating waterfront spaces along the Seine, which became known as the Paris Plage, similar activity was introduced to Bassin de la Villette in the Northeast of the city. Here, some of the most creative and inventive of all the activations took place in a collection of neighborhoods around the artificial lake, which are home to a number of diverse communities, including many residents with migration backgrounds. This vibrant area hosts a set of programs, pop-ups, and other activations and has created in a very short span of time what is, undoubtedly, one of the best neighborhood waterfronts in the world.

It's the best and most valuable part of the waterfront expansion so far, especially because of how it manages to connect people from various backgrounds and cultures to create, in the center of a very remote part of Paris, a large public destination that ties it all together.

For some quick background facts, Bassin de la Villette was filled with water in 1808 as part of a large Parisian canal system. It is 2,600 feet long and 230 feet wide and it is the largest artificial lake in Paris.

Southeast Side View 

Bassin de la Villette

The waterfront has something for people of every age and energy level, from opportunities to play on the banks or in the water, to pleasant spots in the shade where one can just lounge and chat with friends. All visitors feel welcome because everyone can find a place where they feel comfortable. There is a great abundance of ways to take part in and enjoy the social life in Bassin de la Villette.

The Bassin de la Villette is also the site of many exhibitions and installations by local cultural institutions.

For example, the many libraries and museums of Paris, including the Louvre, have created pockets of activities along a section on the west side of the Bassin.

Meanwhile, active programming brings energy to the space, with boating and swimming in large pools playing the role of a central feature along the canal. The variety of water activities is a large part of what makes the Bassin so popular.

Water features of all types abound along the Bassin, from pools to splash pads, cooling off visitors in the summertime.

Complementing all this activity, pop-ups along both sides of the Bassin de la Villette offer food and games in colorful settings.

The Bassin even has its own beach nearby, a novelty in the middle of Paris.

A key feature that applies throughout the areas around the Bassin is seating – it is present in many different shapes and forms all along the canal.

One of our favorite examples of seating is this great bench with a built-out top for wheelchair access.

Dancing is a special activity in this area, made possible by wide stretches of flooring and lighting.

Another common thread is that games of all kinds can be found along both sides of the artificial lake.

An iconic carousel also adds to the charm and unique image of the Bassin's waterfront.

Many areas also become a stage for various types of performances – a sure sign of a great public space.

One element that has improved on formerly staid buildings alongside the Bassin are the addition of porches and other features that help these buildings to "spill out" and reach people strolling along the waterfront. This Architecture of Place adds a significant dimension to the types of activities that the waterfront can support.

In another example, a second building offers a unique set of uses in front of a cultural facility, creating a larger footprint that can support seating and exhibits.

An experimental bamboo structure spilled out from the existing building in what was intended as a temporary addition in 2017, but to this day it continues to change yearly.

In 2018 and 2019, different experiments were carried out for activities and activations, with the addition of new structures as one visible example.

Another appealing attraction is the Lifting Bridge, which bookends and connects the left and right banks of the Seine.


Paris Plage has created a great example for other cities to follow. More specifically, Bassin de la Villette is a wonderful demonstration of how a special gathering place, open to all and designed with fun and interesting experiences in mind, appeals in unique ways to everybody in a diverse neighborhood, thereby helping to unify a community.

What exactly makes this waterfront so effective and popular with so many people?

  • The interventions in Bassin de la Villette challenge the belief that iconic design is the most important thing. Instead, focusing on the creation of iconic experiences is a key strategy that brings together and binds a diverse group of people into one large neighborhood within the broader city.
  • This area shows how thoughtful, people-centered programming can elicit a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone. These activations can be done quickly, cheaply and flexibly so that they can be adapted over time to achieve the best results in the space.
  • Improvisation is a key part of each area because it leads to results that uniquely suit each segment of the waterfront.
  • People of all ages and backgrounds are visibly comfortable and engage with one another in these spaces because there is something for everyone, so everyone feels welcome.
  • Because the surrounding neighborhood is well-connected to the Bassin de la Villette, the activity on nearby bridges and streets adds to and supports the social life happening along the waterfront.

The Bassin de la Villette waterfront feels as though it has become a fundamental part of Paris life. It is another great example showing how, for the last 20 years, Paris has been determined to create a fulfilling social life for all its residents and visitors. After creating the Paris Plage and seeing its success, the city has continued developing places that its people love and frequent. We can't wait to see what they will do next.


Paris, the World’s Best Waterfront
Paris Plage challenges the idea of iconic design as a way for cities to show off. Instead centering the creation of iconic places, Paris Plage sets a high standard for other cities to emulate.
Capitalizing on the Appeal of Waterfronts: 11 of the Best
Of all the types of public spaces that exist, waterfronts are among the most strongly linked to the identity and history of a city. There could be no Stockholm without the harbor; no San Francisco away from the Bay; no Rio without its beaches.
Three Iconic Waterfronts—Two of World’s Best, and One that Fails Miserably
What Brooklyn (and everywhere else) can learn from Paris and Porto, Portugal

For more information on the Paris Plages:

Paris Plages - Paris tourist office
Paris Plages - Over the summer, Paris becomes a seaside resort with the Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) event.

The Foundation and Future of the Placemaking Movement

Build Back Better, Together: 11 Transformative Agendas to Restore Social Life in Your Community
These transformative agendas can be a foundation for the future and a roadmap for communities to improve the “places” and after COVID, Build Back Better that can help us with ideas to shape our communities for the future.
Next Steps for the Global Placemaking Movement
Imagine if the places where we live were shaped for, and from, our social lives, re-imagined to make it easy for us to gather, shop, have fun, eat together, and be around people different from us. we would collectively have an impact on the health of our planet.
The mission of the Social Life Project is to incite a renaissance of community connection in public spaces around the globe. Through our online publication, presentations, campaigns, and catalytic projects, we can create transformative impact on communities everywhere. Our work grows out of more than 50 years devoted to building the global placemaking movement. It is an initiative of the Placemaking Fund, along with PlacemakingX — a global network of leaders who together accelerate placemaking as a way to create healthy, inclusive, and beloved communities.

If you are interested in collaborating (articles, presentations, exhibits, projects, and more) or supporting the cause contact us.
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