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Bloomberg reports that a legal and political battle is brewing in the city of Paris over the kinds of businesses that should be allowed to operate in the city center, with so-called "dark stores" - retail entities that only serve as delivery hubs, not allowing customers to enter - at the center of the controversy.

According to the story, "The French government in September said it intends to classify the stores as warehouses, which gave city officials the ammunition they needed to try to force them out of the heart of the capital. Warehouses are banned from operating out of residential zones. Then, a Paris court decision this month complicated matters by ruling that the sites were 'urban logistics spaces' and hence allowed to remain.

"The battle - which is far from over - is yet another example of how city governments across the world are struggling to deal with disruptive industries. Like ride-hailing apps and electric scooters before them, rapid-delivery startups are forcing Paris to grapple with regulating new services as they increasingly elbow their way into the city’s old economy."

Bloomberg notes that an administrative court in Paris has sided with the dark store companies - which include companies such as Getir, Flink, Frichti, Gorillas and Gopuff - saying that "the sites were 'of collective interest' because they provided last-kilometer services and helped to reduce truck traffic and the number of pick-up points. Such urban logistics spaces are allowed under Paris’s current zoning laws … For the startups, whose pledge to meet orders within 10 to 20 minutes depends on being able to operate in close proximity to customers, the court’s ruling marks a victory amid a post-pandemic slowdown in business."

KC's View:

There is a balance here that needs to be struck, and many cities, I suspect, are going to be grappling with the competing needs of consumers and delivery companies and trying to determine what makes sense in terms of good public policy and effective urban design.

Part of the problem is that we're trying to lay one kind of infrastructure on top of another kind of infrastructure.  Many cities - and it doesn't take much imagine to figure out that Paris is one of them - simply are not designed for this kind of pressure.

Urban neighborhoods won't be vital if local stores are being converted to mini warehouses.  But urban neighborhoods only won't be well served if storefronts are boarded up because populations have moved to locations better able to serve their needs.

Seems to me that this is part of a broader conversation and planning process that has to take place in cities (and suburbs, for that matter).  It has to do with creating an infrastructure that breathes in a way that supports new technologies and consumer demands, as well as adapting to things like climate change … the conversion to electric vehicles … and more sustainable public transportation.  And we have to be pro-active, not reactive, and certainly not trying to return our communities to "good old days," that weren't all that good and certainly are not up to 21st century challenges.