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.
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.
For more information on the Paris Plages:
The Foundation and Future of the Placemaking Movement
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