Cities and Immigration

There are various observations I would like to make about the urban geography of immigrants: where immigrants often land, what neighborhoods they prefer, how they differ both from the preference of natives, and how they differ from the policies that governments, run by enfranchised voters, implement. Many of the points I’m about to make I’ve made in comments before, on the Urbanophile and other urbanist blogs. I was compelled to write this by the news stories of the migration wave of Syrian refugees into Europe, but I would like to stress that I am writing about both labor migration and humanitarian migration, and that this post has been on my to-do list for years. The points here are often true of nearly all classes of immigrants: refugees, low-skill work migrants, high-skill work migrants; only family reunification is outside the scope of this post, but even family reunification usually consists of the family of a migrant immigrating as well.

The dominance of rich regions

Eurostat has regional per capita income figures for most of Europe. After subtracting rent and interest payments, incomes in London are 46% higher than in the United Kingdom as a whole, and twice as high as in depressed regions such as Birmingham and Sheffield. In Ile-de-France, the incomes are 38% higher than in France as a whole and 65% higher than in depressed regions such as Nord-Pas-de-Calais. In Northern Italy, the incomes are 80% higher than in Southern Italy, while if we compare the richer parts of the North (e.g. Lombardy) with the poorer parts of the South (e.g. Sicily and Naples), the gap grows to a factor of two, as in the UK. In all three countries, the rich regions have far more immigrants per capita than the poor regions. As of the 2011 census, 13.4% of the population of England and Wales is foreign-born, but in London, this rises to 36.7%. In France, 8% of the population consists of immigrants, but in Ile-de-France it rises to 17%: see PDF-p. 24 of an INSEE factsheet, and note also the table at the top of the page, showing far fewer immigrants live in rural areas than natives. In Italy, a breakdown per region shows 8-11% of the people in the Northern and Central regions are immigrants compared with 2-4% in the Southern ones.

Let us go over the reasons why. After all, in principle, both immigrants and natives are more interested in earning high incomes than in earning low incomes. So to see this, let us look at the situation from the point of view of someone who grew up in a poor region of such a country. The Brummie, the Sheffielder, and the Liverpudlian know that the Londoner makes more money than they do. But they can’t just move to London and expect to earn the same income a native Londoner earns. Their local social networks are precisely the ones they can rely on for job search tips, and after they’ve begun working they acquire local bosses who can give them reference letters, and neither group lives in London; this means that they’d make far less money than an equally qualified Londoner if they moved. This is on top of the personal disutility one suffers when moving, independently of the wage. This is less true of highly educated workers, who move in national and even international networks, whence the brain drain problem in rural and depressed areas.

Of course, immigrants short-circuit this, because immigrants usually come into the country without a social network in either its rich core or its depressed periphery. Logically, they go to where there are jobs, and to where the jobs pay more.

Immigrant networks

The situation I described above is true for first entrants. Once a community establishes itself in a city, the situation for the new immigrant changes. An Indian who wishes to emigrate to Canada can often rely on networks of Indian-Canadians, both first- and second-generation. This Indian’s situation is the exact opposite of that of the native of a depressed region: the native of Atlantic Canada, the poorest region of English Canada, has a social and professional network in their home area but not in Toronto or the other major cities; the Indian has a social network in Toronto and Vancouver but not in Atlantic Canada. This means that even when the income advantage of the traditionally rich cities disappears, immigrants will keep moving to them.

For three examples of this principle, let us look at the UK, Canada, and finally the US. In the UK, look at the table above again, and observe that, after London and the Southeast, the part of Britain with the highest foreign-born percentage is the West Midlands (the region, not the county), with 11.2%. This is because Birmingham used to be a rich city: Jane Jacobs compares it favorably with Manchester in The Economy of Cities, published in 1970. It declined in the 1970s, but by then the South Asian migration wave to Britain was already well underway. In Canada, Vancouver and Toronto remain rich, but Calgary has far surpassed them in incomes due to the oil boom, and is only now receiving comparable numbers of immigrants; 26% of its population is foreign-born, versus 40% of Metro Vancouver and 46% of the Greater Toronto Area (see data here). Finally, in the US, Los Angeles has remained one of the top destinations for immigrants, even though its incomes have slipped far below those of not only New York and San Francisco, but also Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, and other cities that are only beginning to see the same immigration numbers Los Angeles has had for decades. In general, the states bordering Mexico have long had elevated numbers of Mexican immigrants, going back to the braceros and even before, ultimately tracing to the large Mexican presence in those states after the US conquered them in the Mexican War.

Once there is an established community of immigrants from a particular country or ethnic group, they of course encourage further migration, in addition to shaping the migration to reach the same regions and city neighborhoods. This can take the form of social networks for community support and for finding work, but also the form of knowledge of migration routes. See, for example, a Guardian article from yesterday explaining the Syrian migration wave as a result of years of social learning in Syria of the best routes for trekking into Western Europe. Conceivably this could also include legal knowledge of how to apply to asylum and which countries have the most favorable policies.

At the same time, as the national or ethnic community in the target country gets larger, it begins to exhibit domestic ethnic dynamics more than immigrant dynamics. Part of it is that the immigrants eventually naturalize and acquire voting rights and enough informal political power to have some influence over how their city is run. Part of it is that after a few decades there’s a rising cadre of well-assimilated second-generation immigrants. Part of it is that between the presence of a community and a natural trend of drift in which the relative incomes of cities in the target country change, immigrants eventually behave more like native Brummies and Sheffielders. As a result, most of what I say is true largely of recent immigrants, and gradually becomes less true of people who immigrated decades ago.

The primacy of work

Nearly all immigrants intend to work for a living. This is obviously true of work migrants, of all classes, but it’s also true of refugees, which leads many nativists to mock them for not really seeking asylum but taking jobs from natives. One particularly cruel article that appeared in my Twitter feed from multiple sources, proposing to detain asylum seekers and confine those who meet the criteria for refugees to restricted areas far from the job-rich core, makes the point that people who try to move to where there are jobs are (illegal) work migrants.

The reality is that one of people’s basic needs is work. Idleness is not a normal state of affairs for a person; when as many as a quarter of the people in the workforce are unemployed, it’s a depression and a national crisis. In developing countries there is a lot of covert unemployment, in the sense that (especially in rural areas) a large majority of workers may be redundant if first-world technology is imported, but people still work for a living and earn a wage. In India, to take an example of a third-world country in a state of peace, the unemployment rate was 2.7% as of 2013. To say that a migrant who wants work is necessarily a work migrant is equivalent to saying that a migrant who wants shelter is moving to the first world for its higher housing quality and that a migrant who wants their children to be able to go to school is moving to the first world for its better schools. This need for work drives everything: immigrants from poor countries will work under the table, take jobs far below their skill level, and scab, and they’ll make sure they stay employed, as they would at home, except that these compromises wouldn’t really be necessary, since the third world has much more unskilled work to do.

That said, the need to work in an environment where the migrant has no local social network is the primary determinant of where the migrant lives. Given free choice, immigrants tend to cluster where there is easy access to jobs, ideally on foot in order to avoid paying exorbitant sums of money for a car. A rapid transit network makes it easier for people to disperse; in its absence, as in Tel Aviv, the migrants will cluster in a few cheap central neighborhoods, but even when it exists, migrants will try living where they can get to work easily. The greatest concentration of immigrants in Ile-de-France is in Seine-Saint-Denis, an inner-suburban department that in most other countries would be an outer neighborhood of Paris.

Finally, I wish I didn’t have to explain this, but given that it’s a politically charged issue right now, we see a lot of nativist complaints that immigrants are not seeking work, but welfare. The above article is one example of the genre, ultimately defining every social service immigrants use, such as schools, as welfare. Another example is a report by the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, which finds that under a definition of welfare that excludes programs used by retirees (i.e. a large majority of US social spending), immigrants to the US use welfare more than native-born Americans.

The “work or welfare?” question can be answered directly by looking at where immigrants go when they get the chance. And the answer is decisively work. Welfare is to a first-order approximation the same throughout England or France; and yet, immigrants don’t choose to live in cheap areas of those countries to stretch the pounds and euros longer, but instead cluster in the cities where the jobs are. Scotland has a more generous welfare state than England, but it actually has fewer immigrants, about 6.5%. Singapore, with no welfare state whatsoever, tops the list of countries that people in a global Gallup poll expressed a desire to move to relative to its population; it’s followed by Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia (all five have already taken in many immigrants, making this a global version of the point I made about established communities). New York and San Francisco, whose biggest government interventions in the market, their rent control and public housing schemes, only benefit natives and people who immigrated decades ago, keep getting new immigrants of all social classes who are willing to pay exorbitant rents to have access to their strong local job markets. In contrast, rich suburban school districts in the Northeastern US only get upwardly-mobile professional immigrants.

In the rest of this post, I will expound on what the primacy of work means for housing policy.

Housing choice, overcrowding, and prejudice

Within a given city, immigrants do not choose where to live on the same criteria as natives. First, and this applies to immigrants of all categories and even to some domestic migrants, they lack the prejudices of locals. New Yorkers know which neighborhoods of the city are good and which are bad, whatever good and bad mean. New York is globally famous due to the influence of American media; in Israel, all that’s penetrated the cultural barrier is that Manhattan is the center, Brooklyn exists and has a lot of Jews (I remember being puzzled at why Super Mario isn’t Jewish when I was 10), and Harlem is a poor black neighborhood. In 2006, a few weeks after I moved to New York, I was in Bedford-Stuyvesant for an event, and nothing about the neighborhood looked poor to me. With my American cultural knowledge today I’d be able to tell that project towers, certain kinds of bodegas, and large concentrations of black people in that part of Brooklyn all correlate with poverty, but at the time, I couldn’t. I’m not the only one: a white Canadian blogger I know who moved to New York a few years before I did walked around Bed-Stuy looking for an apartment and found it nice, and when they reported where they were on a forum, people’s reactions were a mix of horror and outrage: “you’re crazy, you could have been killed” and “you evil gentrifier.”

Second, as a subset of the principle that new immigrants are more likely to move to the rich core cities than to poorer peripheral cities, new immigrants tend to be in the center of the city than in the suburbs (and again, this also somewhat applies to domestic migrants). Suburban jobs often pay less – the highest-earners in the favored-quarter suburbs in the US commute to the primary CBD, whence for example Daniel Kay Hertz’s observation that in suburban Chicago and Philadelphia, transit riders (CBD-bound commuter rail riders) outearn drivers. Here, there is a split between skilled and unskilled migrants. Skilled migrants often move to a city because, in the specialized global economy, their skills are a good fit for its primary industry; this means that if they’re moving to the Bay Area, it’s usually to work in the software industry or at one of the universities, rather than to be lawyers or accountants, which means their housing choice is disproportionately oriented toward where those industries cluster. Unskilled migrants have to consider transportation costs, making it hard to live in the suburbs, and on top of that, unless they’ve already been matched to a suburban employer to get a work visa (for example, to work as a maid in a particular house), it’s easier for them to find work in the central city.

For migrants from developing countries, there is one more consideration, which leads to the most glaring feature of low-income immigrant neighborhoods: people in the third world make more compromises on housing space to have access to jobs, leading to overcrowding. It’s often a step up from where they’re from anyway. New York has a profile of each of its community boards, based on the most recent census; before the move from the long-form 2000 census to the short-form 2010 census, there was detailed data about income, education, and crowding in each census tract, and the most overcrowding in Manhattan was not in the poorest neighborhood (East Harlem) but in Chinatown.

The basic issue here is that low-income immigrants from developing countries are unlikely to make enough money to cover rent at what first-world natives consider a respectable living standard. There’s a certain minimum housing quality in the developed world: minimum unit size, insulation, indoor plumbing, electricity, construction materials. It’s hard to violate these regulations, because buildings are conspicuous – for the same reason, there’s no equivalent of Uber or Airbnb for housing that bypasses zoning laws. But as the Airbnb example shows, it’s easy enough to subvert or outright ignore regulations about who occupies a residential unit. Hence, immigrants economize on space, either living multiple unrelated adults to a room (as black refugees do in South Tel Aviv) or housing a large extended family in a suburban house meant for a nuclear family (as Hispanics do in various American suburbs, raising the ire of the local natives).


Many immigrants return to their countries of origin, or move elsewhere, after a few years. This fact is deemphasized in the public discourse, shaped by the US narrative of people from all over the world coming to live the American dream. But in reality, migration is often seasonal, and a significant fraction of immigrants return; see, for example, a write-up of Italian-American history. More recently, we see this with illegal Mexican workers in the US, who would move back and forth across the borders seasonally, until the tighter border controls built after 1986 made this so difficult they moved to the US permanently (this is the work of Douglas Massey, Jorge Durand, and Nolan Malone, summarized here and here). Many refugees return to their home countries after the war or crisis ends. Skilled migrants often move between countries, as I do.

This creates a situation in which many recent immigrants do not know where they will live in five years, not even on what continent, even excluding the possibility of deportation. This does not mean immigrants do not care about the areas they live in. On the contrary. But they lack the deep social ties that local neighborhood activists have, and this makes it harder to engage politically on a level that appeals to the local notables. It takes years just to learn who the local notables are!

Hence, the immigrant really is a transient. “Transient” is just a dysphemism for someone who does not have enough social capital in an area to know definitively that they’re going to stay there permanently. Unsurprisingly, since community decisions are made by people who know the local notables and their networks, those decisions do not have recent migrants in mind. Even domestic migrants, who unlike international ones have the right to vote, are excluded. This is where community hostility to more housing comes from: why worry about how high the rent is for people you look down on as transients?

As far as housing goes, YIMBY groups have begun to build a national US network for more construction, with some international reach, so that recent domestic migrants to New York, San Francisco, and other expensive cities can rely on their national social capital to compensate for their lack of local social capital. But this is necessarily going to address primarily the needs of the people who participate in YIMBY networks, who tend to be white, educated, and American. I happen to think more housing in a region will benefit all recent and prospective immigrants to it, but there’s a wealth of other local political issues that are not covered in the YIMBY umbrella (for example, policing), and there, the community’s ability to abuse residents who got here more recently than it would like is not limited.

Public housing

Finally, let me discuss the difference between how immigrants think and how governments elected by natives think immigrants ought to think. As I’ve established above, immigrants’ decisions are driven largely by the need for a job, even when the original purpose for the move was not work-related. This means that they will make compromises and live in a way that the native public deems substandard, as in various outrages of immigrant overcrowding.

The question is what to do about it. In capitalist countries (i.e. pretty much everywhere, except Cuba and a few other communist holdouts), the government professes to believe that people are economically rational. There are large sectors in which this is not true – for examples, health and education are mostly public in most developed countries – but in housing, most first-world countries use a free-market approach. Central cities often do provide extensive public housing, and zone tightly to prevent new construction that offends community sensibilities, but people can still buy and sell houses and move, and advocate for themselves politically so that they wouldn’t be stuck with housing that is by regional standards deficient.

Except, well, that people who lack voting rights can’t act politically except through their ties to enfranchised voters, and new migration waves lack these ties. The worst example of this is in Sweden, which provides refugees with public housing, but only where it’s cheap. Thus, instead of having a liberalized enough urban housing market so that refugees could live in overcrowded conditions in Stockholm, it either disperses them to peripheral towns where they know nobody and can’t work, or concentrates them in low-income ghettos. Malmö, which like Birmingham used to be a bustling city but deindustrialized and has high unemployment, is one of the prime locations for immigrants to Sweden; so is Södertälje, a Stockholm suburb infamous for its high unemployment.

One of the most salient features of being an immigrant is being a social problem. Every difference between the immigrant and the native will be used politically, in either direction, even if it is the result of normal variation between groups and economic sectors. And here, governments that refuse to consider immigrants’ own housing decisions are creating social problems for the future by creating new ghettos from scratch. For its own working class, Sweden built the Million Program; for immigrants, not a chance. Between overcrowding and joblessness, immigrants choose overcrowding, when they can. When they can’t, the government is choosing joblessness for them.


  1. michael.r.james

    The worst example of this is in Sweden, which provides refugees with public housing, but only where it’s cheap. Thus, instead of having a liberalized enough urban housing market so that refugees could live in overcrowded conditions in Stockholm, it either disperses them to peripheral towns where they know nobody and can’t work, or concentrates them in low-income ghettos. Malmö, which like Birmingham used to be a bustling city but deindustrialized and has high unemployment, is one of the prime locations for immigrants to Sweden; so is Södertälje, a Stockholm suburb infamous for its high unemployment.

    I haven’t been following this blog for very long, but I hope Alon, you are not one of those neo-liberal types (economists-urbanists like Matthew Yglesias?) who advocate “liberalizing” the centres of some of the world’s most beautiful cities–Paris and Stockholm are favourites but also Washington DC with its height limits–to allow hi-rise apartment buildings without limit, on the premise that it allows more low-SES residents access? In fact the core of these old cities already have among the highest densities in the developed world. Paris is actually the highest and at 21,000 per sqkm it rivals many Asian cities. I can’t agree with this approach. And in any case, given their existing density, it is doubtful that increasing it even further would pass existing regulations on various criteria such as health & light etc issues. I will admit that part of this argument is selfish: I don’t want these special cities to evolve into the identikit hi-rise modern city we find all over the world, and which will be even more common as the rest of the world’s population urbanizes.

    But also I think the concept inverts logic. The reason why the great waves of immigrants, from the 19th century on, were established in the old inner cores of target cities was that at that time these were undesirable areas and were also proximal to the industries that needed them. That has all reversed, with the inner cores being prime residential areas for the well-educated/well-paid because, partly they can afford it, and because their kind of jobs are located there while the lower-skilled jobs have moved to the periphery or somewhere else entirely.

    Which brings me to Malmö. Isn’t it supposed to be in transition? In addition to creating a fixed link between Sweden and the rest of Europe, with the completion of the Malmö City Tunnel, the Øresund Bridge makes the city the northern terminus, and is designated as a special “transnational development area”, the Copenhagen-Malmö Metropolitan Area, with 3.9m residents. Apparently plenty of Danes are choosing to live on the northern side while commuting back to Copenhagen for work. The bridge (and its railway) also means this part of Sweden is now very close to the international airport of Copenhagen. The problems of Stockholm housing are difficult but it seems that this new area may not be a bad place to be if the plans live up to expectation.

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, Paris is very dense. The problem in Paris is not the residential density, but the job density – the buildings in Les Halles are not tall enough to support a CBD for such a large city, so a lot of jobs have suburbanized toward La Defense, in the favored quarter. The Arab immigrants and their children can’t afford rent in the favored quarter (and certainly don’t get public housing there), so instead they live in Seine-Saint-Denis and endure long commutes, since the transit system is oriented toward efficiently getting people to the Paris core and not to the suburban job centers. Grand Paris Express is supposed to make that better, but even that won’t change the basic inequality of commutes. Paris’s residential density is clearly not enough – due to tenant protection laws that make it hard for landlords to evict, landlords demand all sorts of guarantees, including for example requiring parental co-signers of 40-year-old renters – but given its size, the commute from the low-income projects in Seine-Saint-Denis to Les Halles would not be outrageous.

      Stockholm is a different beast. First, it’s not all that dense. There are some individual neighborhoods in the 20,000/km^2 area (and my own neighborhood is a few blocks at 30,000), but the city overall is at 5,000. Like Paris, it has had suburbanization of jobs into a high-rise district, Kista, and, far more so than nearly any other city, it has a CBD-centric rail network; Kista lengthens everyone’s commutes, not just those of the poor. Second, Södertälje is just about pessimally located for job access. It’s on the Stockholm commuter rail system – Sweden does integrate its housing and transportation planning – but at the end of one branch, with long commutes just station to station, never mind door to door.

      As for Malmö, you’re overestimating how much infrastructure megaprojects can help a region (for example, compare the “Lille is a TGV-oriented development success story” meme with the reality of Nord-Pas-de-Calais’s poverty and unemployment; even Lille proper is poor). The Öresund Bridge has been around for 15 years, and Malmö is still deindustrialized, which is why it’s cheaper to live in than Copenhagen. Some people commute, but not enough to improve the situation – bridge tolls and train fares are too high to make it possible for most people.

      Ultimately, ask yourself what is more important: aesthetics, or making sure everyone can afford housing near their workplaces and not just the herrenvolk. In Sweden, the decision was resoundingly job access in the 1960s and 70s, when the government built ugly modernist housing for the white Swedish working class. But when the people who would get the housing are immigrants, the decision is flipped. Government officials and society as a whole don’t really have to listen to refugees – after all, even Södertälje is overall a step up from Homs and Aleppo, so the refugees can’t respond to policy failure by exit (besides which, for many Swedes, if the refugees stopped coming it would be a positive thing); nor are refugees either enfranchised or organized enough to have a voice. On top of that, Sweden has a culture of white saviorism, which on the one hand means the government takes in more refugees per capita than any other developed countries because We Must Support Human Rights, but on the other hand once they come in society ignores them, because We Know Better Than You. The result is that none of the decisions Sweden makes is based on any attempt to ask refugees what they want. On the contrary, when refugees ask not to be sent to small towns in Norrland, they’re mocked on anti-immigration forums for being spoiled and for being illegal work migrants and what not.

      I don’t really identify as neo-liberal, except in certain restricted cases of international development economics, none of which is relevant here. But I do think that if you allocate housing by market pricing, the person who gets it can be an immigrant, or a bunch of immigrants pooling resources. Under any sort of state control – rent control, public housing, tenant protections – the political system will make sure this doesn’t happen, and the prime areas go to voters, ideally native-born ones.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Like jobs suburbanized to Midtown Manhattan? Big cities won’t have a CBD that can be served by one or two subway stops.

      • michael.r.james

        I’m not too sure of your points about Paris. The decision to create a new business district at La Defense was the best planning decision for maybe the past century. As you know Pompidou wanted to redevelop large slaps of Montparnasse into a business district and the Tour Montparnasse was the beginning of that. Luckily that was enough to mobilize public opinion, and then Pompidou died. La Defense is extremely well connected with Metro LIne 1, T2 Tramway and two RER lines, one of which is Line A (300m pax pa) which not only goes far out west to the ritzy stockbroker belt of Vesinet & St Germain, but all the way out east too; probably about 2m people, maybe more have single line (no changes) access. I think La Defense is planned to get its own TGV station. At any rate it is now claimed to be the biggest business district in Europe, so certainly a success.
        In fact Seine-Saint-Denis is closer to La Defense than most of Paris, though I am not sure that was your point in that not too many would be working there. Seine-Saint-Denis is quite close to Paris and well connected with Metro, Tramway and RERs. It is an historic industrial area though it is transforming (eg. Luc Besson’s Cité du Cinéma which occupies old industrial structure) and the area is designated as a redevelopment zone.

        ask yourself what is more important: aesthetics, or making sure everyone can afford housing near their workplaces and not just the herrenvolk

        That is easy: aesthetics. That is because there is no reason not to have both. The fact that awful Stalinist blocks were built in the 60s & 70s is merely reflecting an error that occurred all over the world, and that no one wishes to repeat (except perhaps the neo-libs). It was the main error with Paris too and is partly what Grand Paris Metropole is about, as these shoddy and failed hi-rise blocks in the banlieu get demolished to be replaced with lower more-human scale buildings around TODs. (Incidentally surely the most significant feature of the transport plans for Grand Paris are the circumferential lines (Metro Line 15 and RER G1 & G2, plus more Tramways) that will make it easier to get around the many employment regions without passing thru central Paris.)
        I’m not sure the interpretation w.r.t. immigrants is valid. Most of the world has these accommodation problems and I don’t see that the laissez-faire route would solve it and it would not be worth destroying one’s historic cities for a short-term problem (or experiment). Also wherever there has been such unregulated development, eg. London and Sydney, you will find some of the highest rents in the world, so no solution for the immigrant poor there. Or Hong Kong which had one of the world’s most successful public housing programs but it stopped dead at the ’97 handover, and now they have some of the most expensive and awful ghetto-ized rental market for the poor end of the market; super crowded small apartments and illegal (but not corrected) division of apartments etc.

        Under any sort of state control – rent control, public housing, tenant protections – the political system will make sure this doesn’t happen, and the prime areas go to voters, ideally native-born ones.

        No. The main problem in Sweden is that their right-wing governments have stopped building public housing for more than a decade and a Thatcherite policy of selling off public housing to tenants has taken a lot of rentable stock out of the market. (just like with Thatcher the money from these sales was not recycled back into the public housing stock; this is a perfect recipe for the problem they have. There is something similar in Australia. No accident that rents go thru the roof.) Also in Sweden it has been compounded by the depopulation of rural towns as people move to the cities; as I understand they have even demolished lots of empty, abandoned housing in these areas, and I suppose that is why immigrants might have been moved there, to use that empty property.

        There are no easy solutions and I take your point about the slow development of Malmö, though the City Tunnel was only completed in 2011. I am not familiar enough with Sweden but I wonder if it is not a problem that while they are willing to build very expensive roads, they are not spending (enough) on other infrastructure to establish it as a growth zone etc. to take pressure off Stockholm. A zone that includes Copenhagen sounds good in principle but it is true these things can be more difficult to bring to reality (and further, new immigrants who are not EU-citizens cannot travel freely across the bridge; I read that somewhere though don’t really understand it).

        We know the problems that rent control can cause but wouldn’t you say that it has some reasonable achievements in NYC? There is much discussion of it for Sydney because it is clear as day that the market has failed: the apartment boom in the centre has not caused reduced rents or improved affordability for buyers, the opposite, and the developers are not building the type of apartment many want to buy. Instead there is a dominance of small apartments for Asian buyers (many of whom leave them empty, using them as bank substitutes) and Asian students. Certainly I believe that strong regulation is required on several fronts to make this market serve the people and nation, not just the developers.

        • Adirondacker12800

          There are a few dozen landlords in New York who bought their building before rent control. The rest of them bought the building knowing that it had rent controlled apartments in it. When the tenant dies it gets de-controlled. Yes one of the sports of a few native New Yorkers is moving the grandchild into a controlled apartment when granny gets frail so their name goes on the lease but it’s not a big problem. Stabilized apartment get de-stabilized when they are vacated. Or the stabilized rent, IIRC, goes over $2,000.
          There were neighborhoods where the stabilized rent was HIGHER than the market rent. May not be today but it did happen.

          • michael.r.james

            Right but it still works to some extent? Didn’t the company who bought Stuyvesant or Cooper Village go bust because they bought it at the peak and needed huge rent increases to pay the debt, but then lost their attempt to jack up rents?
            I know that if I had wanted to work at any of the major universities they would have provided subsidized accommodation (because our feeble scientific salaries are inadequate). A friend of mine is a professor at Columbia medical school (up at 168th street) and has lived in one of their apartment buildings (on Haven avenue with views over the river and bridge) for about 25 years now. He says he pays about half market rent.

            Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo has a €10bn program to build housing in (inner) Paris for lower-SES households. Part of it is a €1bn program to purchase ten thousand apartments in designated buildings at market prices which it will then rent at normal or subsidize rents to the same lower-SES group. This is partly to keep Paris a mixed population and avoid it turning into a rich ghetto. There are huge new housing developments on the railway yards in the 17th and 18th arrondissements (google Martin Luther Park in Batignolles). This is in contrast to London which is becoming a rich ghetto. Indeed whole streets of decaying mansions worth millions left empty by their non-resident non-citizen owners. I don’t understand how newcomers with ordinary jobs can survive in London.

            Paris Wants to Keep Central Neighborhoods From Becoming ‘Ghettos for the Rich’
            The French capital has announced a plan to stop housing displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods. It might be the most radical proposal Europe has seen.
            FEARGUS O’SULLIVAN Dec 19, 2014

          • Alon Levy

            Paris already is a rich ghetto, much more so than London, which had the good sense to annex its suburbs. Paris refused to do that after WW2 because those suburbs were working-class and the elites were afraid they’d elect a communist mayor.

            Columbia grad students and postdocs can get university housing, but the rents don’t seem to be any lower than the market rents in the area.

          • Alon Levy

            In New York, vacancy decontrol for rent stabilization only applies after the rent hits a threshold, which by now is $2,500. At the same threshold there’s also luxury decontrol, in case your income is more than a high threshold, which used to be $175,000 five years ago and has probably gone up since.

            Rent control is different, but it’s a much more restricted program than rent stabilization, mainly affecting the Village, the Upper West Side, and a few other select neighborhoods. It’s not like in San Francisco, where the majority of renters are on a below-inflation rent control program.

        • Alon Levy

          Oh, as a business district, La Defense is a success. The failure is that the working class has to commute 20 minutes longer than necessary to get there, all so that Paris can keep patting itself on the back for preserving its late-19c/early-20c urban form. The word you should look up is “museumification.”

          Seine-Saint-Denis is not on the RER A. It’s on the RER B and D, in the direction where the transfer to La Defense at Chatelet-Les Halles is not cross-platform. On the Metro the transfer at Chatelet-Les Halles is “have the people who complain about Penn Station ever traveled here?” horrendous. The Parisians I talk to do not hold the RER in as high esteem as foreign transit advocates; the academics I know who have had to use the RER B to get to the Polytechnique say that the RER is quite bad.

          London? Unregulated development? Lol. There’s no as-of-right zoning there at all – any new development requires special approval, and if the building is so tall that it offends Prince Charles’s architectural sensibility, then it will not be approved (yes, really). Overall, London’s housing growth is faster than Paris and New York’s, but much slower than that of Tokyo, or Toronto, or Vancouver, or Miami. Tokyo doesn’t really get immigrants, but Toronto, Vancouver, and Miami do, and they’ve all managed to restrain the growth in market rents.

          I’m less familiar with Toronto and Miami, but Vancouver has also largely avoided ghettoization. There are definite ethnic neighborhoods and cities (Chinese in Richmond, South Asian in Surrey), and poorer people do have pretty bad commutes to UBC, but the chief employment centers are reasonable to get to from anywhere; the transit-oriented edge city most similar to La Defense or Kista, Metrotown, is actually easier to get to from Surrey than Downtown is. Vancouverites complain about high housing prices all the time, because of those stereotyped Asian buyers and a general housing bubble, but the rents are shockingly low, in buildings that, with my learned New York sensibility that modern-looking = expensive condo, I expected to be luxury developments.

          I don’t know where the meme that Sweden stopped building housing because of right-wing governments comes from (I’ve seen it elsewhere, e.g. from Robert Cruickshank). Already by the mid-1970s, public housing growth slowed to a near-halt, as the Million Program came to an end. Multiple administrations of both Social Democratic and Alliance governments haven’t built any public housing, because why ugly up Stockholm for the benefit of some hicks from Norrland, let alone Iraq or Syria? There’s a very good reason why Satmar Williamsburg is unique in the developed world in that the community pushes for more housing growth and more upzoning: it’s for the community’s own children, and not for either immigrants or domestic migrants.

          Taking pressure off of Stockholm is exactly the sort of bad government thinking that makes public involvement in housing such a disaster. A private developer would see that Stockholm is expensive and conclude that this signals that the demand for housing is there, and not in Malmö or Norrland or any random rural area. (Similarly, a private developer in Israel would see that the demand for housing is in Tel Aviv and environs and not in whatever peripheral town in the South that the government tries to force people to move to.) The politicians instead conclude that people should be removed from Stockholm (or Tel Aviv) and move to the less desirable areas. Now, of course they can’t literally cleanse people from Stockholm – it’s not a communist state – so instead they prevent outsiders from moving in.

          As always, this impacts the least politically powerful people, who are often also the poorest: in Israel, the state sent groups of Jewish immigrants to various peripheral towns for national goals such as Judaizing the Galilee and the Negev, and in Sweden, the state sends refugees to where housing is cheap. In both cases, the result is a gross mismatch between where people live and where people can find work, leading to unemployment, which the state and the elites then blame on the immigrants and their culture. Ultimately, political decisions on housing really are made for the benefit of the nation, to the detriment of new arrivals, who live in the country under the state’s authority but are not yet members of the nation.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Or 20 minutes less if they are coming from the other side. That happens when you have a CBD that is more than two subway stops wide.

          • Alon Levy

            Yes, but the people coming in from the other side are rich, whereas the ones coming in from the wrong side are poor.

            But it’s not even about the width of the CBD. It’s not as if there’s organic growth of the Paris CBD westward, so that people end up taking the Metro a few stops west of Chatelet, or the RER to Auber. No: it hopped. You can compare it to Midtown vs. Lower Manhattan, but that would be wrong, because Midtown is easier to get to than Lower Manhattan for people from Uptown Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx, which are collectively a majority of New York, to say nothing of suburban commuters. In contrast, for most of the Paris region, Les Halles is closer than La Defense, in terms of straight-line distance but especially in terms of transit travel time. La Defense is not a big transit hub, unlike Midtown; it’s more like Jamaica or Newark – a secondary commuter rail hub and the outer end of the subway system.

          • Adirondacker12800

            , is actually easier to get to from Surrey than Downtown is

            …well when the metro area is one fifth as big your chances of being closer to someplace are better….

            It’s still quite easy to get from Forest Hills Gardens to Midtown or Wall Street as it was when the farmland was plowed under to build Forest Hills Gardens.

          • Alon Levy

            Right, but I’m not comparing Vancouver to Paris; I’m comparing it to Stockholm. Stockholm is a richer city, but it has immigrant ghettos, which Vancouver simply doesn’t have.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Ghettos come and go. The L almost got shuttered for lack of interest back in the day. Now hipsters who are too stupid to move down the platform away from the turnstiles whine that the center cars of the trains are crowded.
            Greenwich Village was teetering on the edge of becoming a slum until the beatniks figured out it had low rent. I can remember when the cars parked on Avenue A were burnt out hulks. My grandparents lived in Little Helsinki. Up in Harlem. When the tenements were new. My grandmother loved it. Like Trotsky in the Bronx, she was astounded to have running hot water and electric lights. And a nice man came and delivered coal so she could fire the stove that heated the water. A flush toilet out in the hall! They decided to move out to the rich suburban neighborhood of Weequahic in Newark. My father’s family landed in Newark directly. The housing my paternal grandmother loved so much, running hot water, electricity and delivered coal, got torn down as substandard. The projects were on it.

          • Alon Levy

            Ghettos come and go, yes, but the ghettos coming out of suburbanized poverty are not the same as those coming out of inner-urban poverty. In Harlem, the South Bronx, and Eastern Brooklyn, there’s decent access to jobs, and until the 1960s and the initial round of suburbanization of jobs, there was very good access to jobs. People in those areas had shorter commutes than the people of the North Shore and the suburbs served by what is now called Metro-North. They had to stand on the subway rather than getting a seat on a commuter train with a bar car, but they could get to work reasonably quickly. This began to change with job suburbanization, but even today, if you live in a low-income neighborhood in the inner two thirds of New York, you can get to most jobs that are relevant to you.

            The problem is that when people are displaced to low-income suburbs, the situation changes. They have to get cars, which they can’t afford because they’re poor. They can’t even pool resources effectively. If four Chinese immigrants live in a two-bedroom in Chinatown, each can work anywhere in the city. If they live in a small house in Westchester and own one car between the four of them, they have to carpool to about the same area, which means they have to work in about the same area. Can’t have one driving to Sleepy Hollow, one to Rye, one to Stamford, and one to Morningside Heights.

          • Adirondacker12800

            They move to Flusihng or Suinset Park. Compared to Lower East Side tenements, suburban.

          • Alon Levy

            Or they move to Yonkers, Mount Vernon, and Port Chester from the Bronx, or to the South Shore from Jamaica.

          • Adirondacker12800

            And since they don’t have a car they don’t look for the 14 jobs they are qualified to fill in Sleepy Hollow. They pick from the hundreds of thousands closer to home.

          • michael.r.james

            Seine-Saint-Denis is not on the RER A. …. The Parisians I talk to do not hold the RER in as high esteem as foreign transit advocates; the academics I know who have had to use the RER B to get to the Polytechnique say that the RER is quite bad.

            I didn’t say it was on RER-A.
            Parisians complain for two main reasons: 1. they haven’t used other comparable cities’ Metros at peak hour; 2. the RER is a victim of its own success (I suppose the hope is that the Grand Paris new lines will avoid (or slow the growth) of need to go into the centre or crossing the centre.) Incidentally this ten-year Parisian also does hold the RER in high esteem, however to be fair I never had to use it for commuting from the suburbs.

            Also you seem to be saying that a big chunk of inner Paris (Montparnasse) should have been demolished and turned into Canary Wharf so it saved some minutes on people’s commute. I wonder if it would have even been true given that RER-A has a catchment of 110 km across a huge swathe of inner and outer Paris (hence 300m pax pa), and ditto the busiest Metro line (#1 now faster, driverless and with platform doors) serves 120m pax pa. Also you mention Harlem and the Bronx, yet those are far further from Wall Street (in distance and in my limited experience in subway time) than Seine-Saint-Denis or in fact a big chunk of Paris is from La Defense. And sure it is a secondary hub (and will develop more as Grand Paris advances) but there is nothing wrong with that.

            On “museumification” I disagree. This city manages to be the fifth largest economic Metro area on the planet with the largest business district in Europe, so the complaints seem odd. Paris intra-muros supports a huge number of relatively lower-skills jobs in those 20,000 restaurants, brasseries, tabacs, boulangeries, food markets etc etc that IMO make it one of the most alive big cities in the world. Not to mention servicing the 45 million visitors which you may claim proves your point but which I say helps keep all this alive. The raze and redevelop plan would kill it dead, and the loss of a big chunk of those visitors would remove an awful lot of jobs.

            London’s “regulation” is mostly sham, and to imagine that Prince Charles can stop any development is a joke. The complaints about London all concern development that is guided by the developers who don’t have Londoner’s interest in mind at all. Look at the proposed new pedestrian bridge to be built with private funds and access to which will be highly regulated by its private owners. It is just one highly visible (and risible) pointer for what is happening to London. And this is really the heart of the problem of the neo-cons laissez-faire development: from London to NYC to Sydney it doesn’t serve the people, it doesn’t make any housing less expensive (to rent or buy), and I can’t believe you are promoting a kind of reversion to 19th century overcrowded slum-dwelling (to “overcome” the expense). And no, absolutely not, Paris is considerably less a rich-ghetto than London (especially inner London). Ask any Londoner who has moved to live in Paris where your rent will get something in an area you could only dream of in London.

            that makes public involvement in housing such a disaster

            Surely you can’t believe that? Post-war history shows the opposite, even if it was hideous Stalinist project housing, it did actually fulfil its function: quickly rehouse the poor out of shocking conditions. This was as true of Paris as it grew at frightening rates, as it was of the UK, the USA and Hong Kong and Singapore (where the majority of housing is built by the state). You and I may not have wanted to live in it but as Adironacker says, plenty of people were grateful for it. (Though he was talking about older housing, I presume more comparable to the low-rise (max 7-8 floors) HLMs built in Paris pre-war that is modest housing but perfectly fine and sustainable; those housing projects will be around long after the post-war hi-rises have been demolished.

            Re Sweden, the Right get most of the blame because they have been in power when the housing problem has got so much worse and they have done nothing about it. It obviously needs another Million Program (perhaps a lot in Malmö …). As to car-dependency that is because neo-libs hate public transport especially rail, whereas it clearly is a big part of the solution to these problems. Also TOD which can generate local jobs too.

          • Alon Levy

            [I fixed a blockquote tag.]

            The Parisians I’ve talked to are international academics. Yes, they’ve ridden other cities’ public transit systems, not to mention their own Metro, which they regard as superior to the RER. Again, this is specific to people who use a branch of the RER B, and the RER A trunk really is better (I say this having ridden only the RER A, but I’ve ridden both the older single-level trains, which are also used on the RER B, and the newer bilevels, and the bilevels are massively better).

            The hope with Grand Paris Express is to make crosstown commutes easier, yes. As you know, they’re also extending the RER E west as a relief line for the RER A, but there’s this sentiment that more radial lines only reinforce the geographic inequality between the Hauts-de-Seine and Yvelines favored quarter and the Seine-Saint-Denis ill-favored quarter. Grand Paris Express is supposed to solve that by making it easier to get between suburbs. Maybe it could also encourage the growth of business districts at the intersection points with radial Metro and RER lines, I’m not sure.

            Re Canary Wharf, I actually don’t view it as a good model – it is a new business district, like La Defense but closer-in, but still not really at the center of the Underground network. What I would have liked to see is for Paris to have turned Les Halles into a high-rise business district when it tore it down and rebuilt it. In Stockholm, similarly, I would say the same of the Sergels Torg area. In both cities, these downtown areas underwent extensive urban renewal, sometimes successfully (Sergels Torg/Hötorget) and sometimes disastrously (Slussen), but the resulting construction is mid-rise, whereas in North American and East Asian cities, the same urban renewal yielded skyscrapers.

            The fact that Paris is a thriving city doesn’t make it less museumified. After all, let’s consider what the other top urban economies of the world are: Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London. Practically the entire range of urban forms found in the developed world exists in one of those six cities, as long as we make sure to consider that they’re large cities. If we look at per capita income, the richest cities are, very roughly, Calgary, San Francisco/San Jose, Munich, the major Swiss cities, Washington, Boston, Oslo, New York, Houston, Paris, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, London, Denver, and Seattle. Now even the size aspect doesn’t come in, and literally every urban form is represented. When we criticize Houston for its car-dependence and high energy use, do we imply it’s somehow not a rich, vital city? Of course not. All we’re saying is that it consumes too much energy, imposes a high cost of living on the poor that translates into high inequality, etc. Similarly, one can criticize a city for how it handles crime, or education, or health, or water, without denying that it is overall rich and successful.

            My specific complaint is that the sort of urban geography that Paris and Stockholm’s housing policies promote increases inequality, especially between natives and immigrants, and ossifies into ethnic inequality, which reduces income mobility. This is independent of other factors that could either raise or reduce income mobility (e.g. in Scandinavia, several unrelated factors increase income mobility, such as the education system, or the expectation that political leaders on the left come from union backgrounds).

            Developers complain everywhere, but you can look at housing growth to see how reasonable they are. Developers complain about NIMBYism in Vancouver (which indeed is full of single-family NIMBYs), but we can see that the housing growth in the region is very fast, and that a lot of it happens in already-developed areas, including Vancouver itself, rather than on the fringes of the built-up area. In London, this is simply not the case: housing growth is on the order of 1% a year, vs. 2% in Tokyo, and 0.5% in New York and Paris. Metro Vancouver is about 2.5%, as I recall. The issue with London is that as in New York, there is a lot of conspicuous luxury development, complete with poor doors for whenever they have to include an affordable apartment or two. But relative to population, there’s not much development, whereas demand is very intensive, due to both immigration from former British colonies and domestic interregional inequality.

            Finally, re postwar housing projects, I should clarify that what I meant about public involvement in housing was public involvement today, in the 21st century. In the first two thirds of the 20th century, the domestic working class lived in conditions the middle class deemed squalid even in the richest countries, so the government built public housing to improve its situation. In Sweden, this was the Million Program, but there were similar programs all over, as you mention. But this was a one-time offer. Nowadays, nearly all enfranchised voters have respectable housing; working-class apartments may be on the smaller side, but they have kitchens families can cook and eat in, indoor plumbing, and usually a separate bedroom for every child. The demand for new housing comes from immigrants, who are literally disenfranchised, and domestic migrants, who are enfranchised but lack local social capital with which to push their agendas.

            As I said in my post, the strongest YIMBY voices I have seen in the US are educated domestic migrants who use their national social capital to form networks to compensate for their lack of local social capital. This is why San Francisco NIMBYs can point out that the voices most supportive of upzoning in San Francisco are usually white and middle-class, whereas the NIMBYs are of all racial backgrounds: first, the low-income nonwhites who have the most to gain from upzoning in San Francisco can’t afford to live there (even the white yuppies live in microapartments), and second, all of the victims of NIMBYism lack local social capital, but those who are middle class have national social capital to compensate and thus can show up at meetings and know what to say to push its agenda.

          • michael.r.james

            (Tx for fixing my formatting error. Incidentally making this reply pointed up another small defect in the commenting system–I had to backtrack quite a bit to find where I could “reply”. In fact I’m not clear if your system has changed at all? I thought you were upgrading?)

            Maybe it could also encourage the growth of business districts at the intersection points with radial Metro and RER lines, I’m not sure.
            Re Canary Wharf, I actually don’t view it as a good model – it is a new business district, like La Defense but closer-in,

            I don’t understand what your “international” friends in Paris are complaining about RER-B. Possibly they work out at the universities/institutes at Orsay (but I think that is RER-C?) and I don’t think the RER serves INSEAD at Fontainbleu. As it happens RER-B was the line I used the most; my first year I lived at the Cite Universitaire whose only Metro stop was the RER-B in Parc Montsouris; plus of course to Roissy. If one uses it just within Paris like the Metro then what can possibly be the complaint (lower frequency than the Metro?), and for outside Paris I cannot see the problem. Are you sure your friends aren’t simply finding it “different” to whatever they were used to?

            Re Canary Wharf, I know what you mean but actually I think it was a good plan. But “closer in” seems odd to me: I don’t have maps with me (and don’t want to start using up bandwidth on GoogleMaps) but I think you’ll find it is farther than La Defense. Certainly by Underground (Jubilee line which takes forever) or Underground + DLR (ditto). La Defense is only a few stops on the RER from Chatelet; and while Metro-1 has a lot more stops I don’t recall it is a testing journey. Further if MetropoleGrandParis gets built then La Defense increasingly looks like a major node: the circular Metro-15 (which connects M-16 & M-17 serving Seine-StDenis at StDenis-Pleyel), the outer-circular Metro-18 that begins at Orly airport, intersects wtih RER-B at Massey-Palaiseau and RER-C at Versailles and passes thru Nanterre U. and terminates at LaD. What’s not to like? This Paris plan seems aimed at improving everyone’s mobility while focussing on taking pressure off the centre.

            But this was a one-time offer

            That is your comment on the successful public housing programs of the first half of the twentieth century. But isn’t it blindlingly obvious that the world continues to need something similar. Though not of as big a scale. The Thatcherite sell-off and removal of government from this social problem has in no way, shape or statistical fact made anything better. Homelessness and squalid housing has increased wherever it has been applied. I totally disagree with you about developers who you want to transform into benefactors. An extreme is Hong Kong which is has been in their stranglehold since ’97. Developers will be guided by markets and the law and inducements; it is when they are given free reign and where they get to exercise their undue and malign political influence that we see the worst. London, Sydney, Hong Kong are case studies. Some of the richest cities in the world but with some of the worst housing problems, where inequality of the type that matters most is increasing.

            As to your repeated mention of Paris & Stockholm policies increasing inequality especially to new immigrants: First I agree with electricangel:

            The “Herrenvolk” have a reason not to build more in their finest areas: they and their ancestors paid the taxes and construction costs that built the infrastructure that makes living in such an area possible, and surrendering them to newcomers means transferring that capital to a group that hasn’t earned it; unlike transferring it to their own children, there is no personal tie to make them want to. That developers want to facilitate this process of skimming public goods into private pockets doesn’t make it capitalist.

            Second, new immigrants do not expect to step right into first-worlder or long-term citizen’s lifestyles. They accept that they will have a tough life and it usually means the first generation will sacrifice for their children (but who will or should receive good healthcare and education in these firstworld places; not if Thatcher and her heirs have anything to do with it–they’ll have to pay market prices!). And funny, that is pretty much what my parents did for me, and they were native-born. So, really I don’t know what you are recommending. If it means living in Seine-Saint-Denis and commuting being a bit longer, that is hardly a deeply unjust social compact. Moreover, the Paris model of urban development has made it much less of an ordeal than, say, those sunbelt cities in the US where they will have to have at least one car and spend both a lot of money and time to get to their job, etc etc. London is a horror-show for any new immigrants because of cost of everytihng, especially rents and property and the cost of transport (cf. Paris or NYC or Berlin or most big cities).

            The fact that Paris is a thriving city doesn’t make it less museumified.

            Mentioning all those other “richer” cities is comparing apples with oranges, and really (truly) doesn’t prove anything to me. If you wanted to compare within the original top group, for me there is absolutely no shred of doubt about which city is both more desirable for myself, and, more subjective, better for the majority of its populace: Paris. When I worked briefly in Tokyo it appeared to be a daily nightmare for the others who worked in the lab, with some commuting 5 hours a day, and others choosing to sleep 3 weeknights in the lab rather than commute. London is plain awful unless you are rich and privileged. LA can be ok if you live and work nearby–I actually believe it might turn into an ok place if it keeps building its Metro network (and bike paths). Anyway, on the subject relevant here (but which that both of us are least qualified to comment on), I’d rather be in the low-SES in Paris or NYC because you have terrific cities made very accessible to everyone. All rich cities need to cater for the lower-SES by building (or inducing developers to) some provision even in rich or convenient areas. But that doesn’t mean they should demolish existing great housing to build generic and awful hi-rise on the false premise that the “free market” will automatically enable those low-SES to afford to live there (and as every comparison one makes on density versus low-to-hi-rise shows, it doesn’t necessarily provide higher density unless you throw out existing zoning regs to turn our cities into Asian-style ghettos).

          • Alon Levy

            The issue with the reply button is that the commenting system still doesn’t let you nest more than five comments. It could change, but at this point I don’t want to change it, partly because it would break older threads (at the very least, all of my comments would appear at the wrong place), and partly because I changed the layout specifically to avoid the three-words-per-line problem the older layout had.


            It could be Orsay and the RER C? But when I reciprocally ranted about the C, at least one specified that it was a B branch. It was not INSEAD; these are math people, not MBA people.

            Re public housing: the first world could use some more, but the governments will never engage in that kind of effort for immigrants. Not even for domestic migrants – politicians are in the business of talking about how they’ll decentralize the nation, not how they’ll make it easier for people to move to the core and give the Londoners, Parisians, and Tel Avivis provincial cooties. The core politicians are NIMBY, whereas those of the periphery are NITBY; if you’re a Liverpudlian politician, you have no vested interest in making it easier for your constituents to move to London. For foreign immigrants, it’s a miracle when the government doesn’t portray them as a social problem to solve.

            I have no idea why you portray either London or Hong Kong as free-market cases. In Hong Kong, half the housing is subsidized (and in Singapore, 85% of housing is public, which works great if you’re Singaporean and terribly if you’re a noncitizen immigrant, which around a fifth of the population is). In London, well, those free-rein developers magically don’t build the amount of housing they do in Vancouver or Toronto or Miami or Tokyo.

            Migrants, both foreign and domestic, make sacrifices, but the question is what they do given free choice, and there, we see they always opt for overcrowding rather than poor job access. East LA or Santa Ana, not the Inland Empire; South Tel Aviv, not Ashdod; Chinatown, not Staten Island; etc. As they get richer, either they or their children move away, as two first-generation Chinese-New Yorker families I know, who moved to Westchester once they could afford to do so. There’s continuous job access throughout this process. In the process we see in how Israel treated Jewish immigrants over the decades, or how Sweden treats refugees now, the migrants are instead shunted to places with housing of respectable quality but no work, and their children stay put or move to nearby peripheral towns that are not any better. In the US we even see this somewhat with black ghettoization, in cities where black inner-city neighborhoods have no job access, and many of the worst are surrounded by one or two rings of other ghettos, making it hard to move without being stuck in the same situation of the Brummie who moves to London.

            Paris is architectually nice. Yes. That’s its problem. Its elite wants to keep it nice, and if non-voters have high unemployment, that’s not even a price to pay – that’s almost a feature, in a country that’s one of the most hostile to immigration in Western Europe today. (Not that substantially less nice London’s elite will let developers build high-rises freely.)

            Tokyo is three times larger than Paris. Comparing its commutes to Paris’s is not much better than comparing Paris’s to Stockholm’s. But cities do respond to these commute issues: small cities almost universally have shorter commutes, but because 15-minute commutes are normal there, they might arrange their urban layout in a way that encourages you to make a lot of 10-to-15-minute trips in the middle of the day. (For example, take food. In Stockholm, you’re probably eating lunch at work, at a cafeteria or restaurant or cafe, which will set you back 90-100 kronor, give or take. The cheapest fast food places I’ve seen are about 75. If you can’t afford to spend that money on food, you can’t exactly go home for lunch break and get your own food unless you live nearby. In New York, you’ll get better food at some random Midtown deli for $6-7.)

            New York has the highest nominal income inequality in the US – it’s even worse than Singapore (its Gini is 0.5, vs. 0.47). Especially if you’ve just moved and can’t take advantage of rent stabilization, you’re piling into substandard housing, usually in faraway neighborhoods. Paris doesn’t have that inequality, but it has a huge amount of entrenched ghettoization: Seine-Saint-Denis is in a near-tie for poorest department in France, despite Ile-de-France’s top income. Nor are the poor in either country, France or the US, likely to be upwardly mobile. Scandinavia is good at that (but probably not for immigrants given how it’s creating ghettos from scratch). Canada and Australia are good at that (this despite Canada’s linguistic inequality). France, the UK, and the US are stratified societies, in which your parents’ income is a strong predictor of your own.

            Finally, re “our cities”: that’s the nutshell of this post. Your cities, not mine. I’m lucky when I can vote for county and city politicians who don’t have much power and who I haven’t ever heard of. Seriously, do you know how elated I was the one time I was even partially enfranchised? For the most part, those of us living in countries we weren’t born in and haven’t lived in for very long never get to decide when the government makes the decision. Give developers free rein and my money’s as good as yours. Let politicians decide, and who cares what someone who doesn’t have voting rights thinks?

          • michael.r.james

            (Alon post at 2015/09/07 – 12:09)

            Maybe it could also encourage the growth of business districts at the intersection points with radial Metro and RER lines, I’m not sure.

            I forgot to add that apparently this is what has been happening the past 20 years, and partly accounts for the stress on the RER system, ie. more people going in both directions to work/live at stations on the system. That is why I have repeatedly said the RER is a victim of its own success. So, people who complain about it should think of that. Most cities would love to have those problems. And again, it seems the RER has/is growing its own TODs. The MetropoleGrandParis plan simply takes these centres and builds on it, placing some nodes at the centre of the expanded system.

            These things seem to shift around on each new “future plan” one finds but it appears to include centres at Versailles, Nanterre (ie. both Nanterre ville/university and La Defense), Saclay (the new amalgamated university-research centre; served by transport at Massy-Palaiseau) and Bobigny and StDenis-Pleyel both in Seine-Saint-Denis.

            I rather like the idea that Grand Paris will develop these “new” centres, ideally each with their own flavour, and all connected to each other and the historic heart of Paris. This is vastly superior to any unrealistic concept of demolishing large swathes of inner Paris to build identikit hi-rise. I also object to your earlier point about the density of Paris being for residents not for business. I wonder if you compared the statistics of the 2.3m people in the ≈90 sqkm of Paris with any comparable area/population it would be unfavourable. There is a huge amount of “business” in Paris, especially when you include all the government offices (probably as much as Washington DC), the education sector and yes the museum/arts sector, plus all the service sector (the hotels, the grand magasins, the thousands of small shops, the brasseries & boulangeries on every corner etc., the doctors and dentists etc). What inner-Paris couldn’t do without widescale demolition was grow into a city of 12 million and actually cater to the entire nation of 60+m. As I have declared, I believe the La Defense plan (like Canary Wharf) was an excellent response to solving that problem; and how can you argue that it hasn’t solved it and been successful?

          • Alon Levy

            How can I argue La Defense wasn’t successful? Well, it reinforced a huge east-west geographic inequality. Edge cities always do that: they move in the direction of where the managers live, not in the direction of where the cleaners live. That’s why in New York, the edge cities are in Westchester and Connecticut, and not on the South Shore. In some cases, companies moved their headquarters to Westchester and Connecticut specifically because the CEO lived there, for example General Electric. That’s why in Washington, which like Paris thinks high-rises are evil but unlike Paris is single-family outside its downtown core, the jobs have suburbanized to Fairfax County and not PG County. That’s why in Stockholm, Kista is at literally the opposite end of the metro area from where most of the working class lives. (Kista itself is residentially working-class, and it’s not thaaaaaat close to the Danderyd favored quarter, but compare that with how hard it is to get to it from South Stockholm and Södertälje.) At least Canary Wharf is east of Central London… but that ignores centuries of suburbanization of jobs and central government functions to the West End, back when that was a suburb.

            As for demolishing parts of Paris, that’s already been done, multiple times. I don’t mean just by Haussmann, either. Les Halles is entirely urban-renewed, and the same is true of the entire Sergels Torg area in Stockholm. But after demolition, they were replaced by short buildings, not tall ones. High-rises are like immigrants and foreign imports: if they’re expensive it means they’re inherently expensive to build and shouldn’t be allowed, and if they’re cheap it means they’re undesirable and shouldn’t be allowed.

          • michael.r.james

            (Alon Levy at 2015/09/08 – 07:34)

            I have no idea why you portray either London or Hong Kong as free-market cases. In Hong Kong, half the housing is subsidized (and in Singapore, 85% of housing is public, which works great if you’re Singaporean and terribly if you’re a noncitizen immigrant, which around a fifth of the population is).

            I don't resile from the portrayal of London but perhaps my phrasing was wrong about HK as it was indeed from the 60s that they had a huge government-funded public housing push that transformed the place for the poor (and the flood of immigrants mostly from mainland China), and that since '97 this has been replaced with mostly private development and certainly the public scheme has been totally inadequate to the demand. Plenty of analyses put this down to pressure from the property developers who aren't interested in the lower profit public projects and are happy to have a big poorly housed sector pushing from the bottom that keeps the market "bouyant".
            I'm pretty sure I didn't imply Singapore was led by private developers, and indeed I always find it curious how some neo-conservatives laud Singapore when it is totally government controlled in everything (unless you are rich and don't step outside of certain red lines drawn by the government/ruling heirarchy).

            (Alon Levy at 2015/09/08 – 07:47)
            Interesting. "Give developers free rein and my money’s as good as yours." but is that really a justifiable reason? (Absolutely not. It would be incredibly selfish and narrow if it were true.) I too had no vote for my ten years in France (and missed out, right at the end, on getting awarded automatic permanent residency–it was ten years back then, now I see it is only 4 years!–due to the flare up of that bout of terrorism in the mid-90s). But amazingly I had the vote for my ten years in the UK because they allow Commonwealth citizens that right. (and was annoyed that Australia denied me that right after 3 years non-residency!)

            Anyway while I see what points you are making about Paris I think you are considerably overdoing it. Seine-Saint-Denis has 22% immigrants (4.4% ie. one fifth, are from EU), the highest in France and about one in three of its 1.5m people are Muslim, so both these things contribute to its underperformance. It is natural and will be seen in any similar high-immigrant section of any big city. One has to be a bit non-PC in any such discussion but another factor (or why these demographic characteristics are causative) is "56.7% of young people under 18 are of foreign origin"; in short, households are having large families which is a burden for non-immigrants in rich countries unless you begin wealthy. So, the real question is, what will it look like as this demographic turns into more native-born with French education etc. (I admit, currently things don't look good because there is high youth unemployment) and as the deindustrialization continues.

            Re NYC compared to LA: how do their median household incomes compare? Is the main difference that NYC (specifically Manhattan is the highest nominal income county in the US) have a small set of extremely high-net-worth individuals, which if you removed from the analysis would make the city look more normal w.r.t. Gini? (Incidentally "LA" does not include Orange County which is one of the richest enclaves in the US so that would change the calculation right there.) In NYC men and women had a median income of $37,435 and $32,949 with 21.2% of the population and 18.5% of families had incomes below the federal poverty line whereas LA a median household income of $49,497, with 22.0% of the population living below the federal poverty line.

            How can I argue La Defense wasn’t successful? Well, it reinforced a huge east-west geographic inequality. Edge cities always do that: they move in the direction of where the managers live, not in the direction of where the cleaners live.

            I’m not sure one could have called Nanterre privileged; Nanterre Univeritaire is a bit of a crummy Stalinist place and where the ’68 student revolts began. True, Neuilly on one side and Vesinet etc on the other side are pretty ritzy. But Canary Wharf is pure East London industrial and gritty working mens area. It’s taken 30 to 40 years to gentrify the region!

            As for demolishing parts of Paris, that’s already been done, multiple times. I don’t mean just by Haussmann, either.

            The thing about the Haussmann remodelling is that it was for the modern age: sewers, wide streets, building regulations that still make sense today re health & safety etc.

            Paris is architectually nice. Yes. That’s its problem. Its elite wants to keep it nice, and if non-voters have high unemployment, that’s not even a price to pay

            The thing is that you keep ignoring is that Paris is the densest city in the western world. It is almost a miracle that it hit the Goldilocks point on so many things. But not exactly accidental: that Haussmannian height-limit was partly technological tied to human limitations (without elevators) but it also turns out to be the right (maximum) height in that tight street format without being oppressive. That is why hi-rise rarely achieves the same density because you cannot put them so close together. The planners were not averse to experiments and that was done in the 13th arrondissement where a building height of 31 floors was allowed (probably in the late 60s or early 70s?) for its transition from light-industry to residential and other functions. But after about 2 decades (maybe less, I don’t think any of these hi-rise were built after I arrived in mid-80s) when the error was seen. The eastern half of the district was developed much later (around Bibliotheque Mitterand) and has only standard Parisian heights (but I think they have squeezed an extra one or two floors in the same height by lowering ceilings; certainly not my choice but if you want “new” and “modern” …). And the 13th has a density of 25,000/sqm so barely higher than the average, and less than the 15th at 27,000/sqkm (another big outer arrondissement which is mostly residential, though paradoxically it has the Tour Montparnasse). By the way, the 13th hosts the big Asian communities in Paris but I think that is accidental re the hi-rise, it was timing: this was when the Vietnamese refugees arrived.

            So you are proposing something (hi-rise) that 1. the aim is to exceed what is already the densest western city and 2. wouldn’t necessarily achieve that (because only in Asia does it do that, and I’m not sure if it does it very often even there). And it still manages to be a beautiful city that is fantastic to live in (or visit, including all those banlieusians). You would want to destroy this in a very dubious experiment?

          • Alon Levy

            I’m pretty sure I didn’t imply Singapore was led by private developers, and indeed I always find it curious how some neo-conservatives laud Singapore when it is totally government controlled in everything (unless you are rich and don’t step outside of certain red lines drawn by the government/ruling heirarchy).

            This is exactly why Western conservatives laud Singapore! More generally, despite its rhetoric about Asian values, Singapore is really the embodiment of British Tory values, unencumbered by waves of democratization and by the 1960s’ protests. In the 1950s, the British imperialists called Harry Lee the best Englishman east of the Suez, before he transformed into Lee Kwan Yew. The public housing is not something they notice much, or if they do, it’s not any more conspicuous to the tourist than in New York. They notice that the streets are clean and buy the government’s “we fine people $1,000 for littering” marketing.

            Anyway while I see what points you are making about Paris I think you are considerably overdoing it. Seine-Saint-Denis has 22% immigrants (4.4% ie. one fifth, are from EU), the highest in France and about one in three of its 1.5m people are Muslim, so both these things contribute to its underperformance. It is natural and will be seen in any similar high-immigrant section of any big city.

            …except that in the US, Hispanic unemployment is not especially higher than white unemployment. See one of my earlier comments in this post, I think the one to Electric Angel, about Santa Ana especially. Is it that Mexicans have better values than Arabs? It’s unlikely: in pre-9/11 America, Arabs and South Asian Muslims were part of the Asian Model Minority with whom whites unfavorably compared blacks and Hispanics. In Sweden, meanwhile, Iranians, who mostly came in as middle-class, are not particularly poor (they might even be richer than white natives, I’m not sure). The Iraqis and now the Syrians are very poor because they came in as refugees, but the question is what their children will be like. Under a policy of racial integration, it’s very likely there would be reversion to the Swedish mean. Except that, well, they live in suburban ghettos with poor job access, and their children will grow up in those ghettos, with about the same results that you see in France in Seine-Saint-Denis; it’s the second generation that riots, not the first generation.

            You don’t really need to posit any cultural specialness for Muslims any more than you need to posit this specialness for blacks. Every time you see a group that’s stuck in an area where there’s no work, you’ll see high unemployment, with all the resulting problems of social alienation. That’s what lets various stereotypes thrive: that blacks are lazy and criminal, that Muslims are terrorists, that gypsies are dirty and deceitful and can’t adjust to modern life, that Asians are uncreative.

            Re NYC compared to LA…

            All of my numbers are metro area-wide. LA is dragged down significantly by the Inland Empire, which a lot of people, including the OMB, pretend is not just an LA exurb of the drive-until-you-qualify variety.

            I’m not sure one could have called Nanterre privileged

            Hauts-de-Seine and Yvelines are. Edge cities don’t form in the exact spot of the richest suburbs; they form near them. In Westchester and Fairfield Counties too, the top job centers (White Plains and Stamford) are less rich than the surrounding towns, and their downtown areas are significantly poorer than the rest of the municipalities. But in terms of overall direction, or overall wealth of the department or county, edge cities do form in rich areas.

            The thing is that you keep ignoring is that Paris is the densest city in the western world.

            It is the densest municipality, which relates to France’s very tightly drawn municipal borders, which itself relates to the postwar political desire to avoid annexing working-class suburbs lest they elect a communist mayor. Neighborhood by neighborhood, New York is a bit denser: it has a less steep dropoff in density as you move out of Manhattan (Brooklyn is a lot denser than any petite couronne department), while its peak density, on the Upper East and Upper West Sides, is similar to that of the 11th, but with more floor space per person, as those neighborhoods are rich. I emphasize “a bit” here; the housing supply in New York isn’t sufficient to meet demand, either. But the denser (and less rich) parts of the Upper East Side, on and east of Third Avenue, achieve on the order of 80,000 per km^2, with buildings that are about 20-30 stories tall on the avenues and 5-12 stories tall on the streets.

            The other issue is spiky vs. flat demand. It’s very obvious if you look at Tokyo: none of Tokyo’s wards is as dense as Paris or Manhattan, because the settlement pattern is different. In Paris and New York, with their older buildings, most sections of a given neighborhood will be approximately the same density. They were both built around streetcars, horsecars, and subway systems that have the two shortest average interstations among the major metros of the world, so Paris, and most residential sections of inner New York, is uniformly mid-rise. Tokyo was built later, around a subway with interstations of 1.2 km rather than 600 meters, and around commuter rail lines, so the result is that each neighborhood has intense development right next to the train station, and low-rise and even single-family housing away from the station. The most intense demand is right on top of the train stations, so that’s where the tallest buildings are; in New York, something similar is expressed by the real estate maxim that you can’t charge avenue prices on streets, and so the tallest residential buildings are on avenues and two-way streets rather than narrower regular streets.

          • michael.r.james

            (Alon Levy at 2015/09/08 – 10:51)

            This is exactly why Western conservatives laud Singapore!

            Yeah but don’t get carried away. You have pointed out it has a terrible Gini. It does have all kind of societal stresses (some of which are not even allowed to be aired, like being gay and trying to get housing). There is increasing disquiet about its future. There is a feeling that the current politicians don’t know what to do, but I think it is really that it has reached a transition point that would have happened equally under LKY. Have you read what Paul Theroux says of Singapore? It is a chapter in his book on retracing his Asian train voyage. He lived in Singapore in the 60s but I wonder if they would let him (or arrest him) today! It is blistering and in his style, funny. (It is in: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar, 2009)

            parts of the Upper East Side, on and east of Third Avenue, achieve on the order of 80,000 per km^2

            That’s not exactly fair comparison. I also wonder at those figures. By comparison, most of HK is not as dense as Paris, including HK island. But if you take the narrow corridor of HK Central-thru-Kowloon it has 3.16m at 35,700/km². Paris-11 (spans Bastille to Republique) has 152,500 at 41,600/km2. Barcelona-Eixample: is 36,000/km2. I think those are about as high density as I would be happy with, and in fact as high as feasibly needed. And this is not just my personal preference but I think you will start producing undesirable affects above these densities.

            Goin’ to bed (I’m 15 hours ahead of you; it’s early Wednesday morning here.)

          • Alon Levy

            I have not read Theroux! Singapore doesn’t really have mainline rail anymore. The legacy line to Malaysia cycles between running (slowly) and not running, and I don’t know which it is; travel between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur is done by air, at least among the Singaporeans I know. They’re talking about high-speed rail, but so far it’s just talk.

            The Upper East Side comparison isn’t unfair at all. The UES overall has a bit more than 200,000 people, twice as many as the average arrondissement. Its eastern half still has more people than the average arrondissement. Hong Kong’s densest neighborhood has more than 500,000 people and 50,000/km^2. Yes, you can start talking about negative consequences, but it boils down to dismissing rich neighborhoods as unaffordable and poor neighborhoods as poor, and that you can do to any urban form.

            Either way, you really shouldn’t think (just) about the density of a neighborhood of multiple square kilometers. The demand for housing nowadays is often localized to just a few blocks, near a park or waterfront or train station. This is especially important in areas on the suburban tail of a transit system, in which there’s just one line heading downtown.

      • knott

        Refugees in Sweden are free to settle anywhere they want. Unsurprisingly they cannot afford the market prices of the very attractive areas. The result is that they either go where they are offered free housing or subsidies (which unsurprisingly is the very few areas of all of Sweden with empty housing), or they choose to go to the big cities, where they can only afford the areas no one else want.

        It is really hard to find a solution to this kind of problems. Sweden has a structural housing deficit (partly due to planning reasons, as in London for example), and if you bring in new individuals in such circumstances without economic or human capital they will get screwed. To ask the government to put up subsidized housing in the few unbuilt areas in the very inner cities for refugees is a little much to ask, when more than 75% of the current urban population would cut of an arm to live there, and they sell for $13000 sq ft.

        The eventual outcome, is in any case, pretty sad, and much as you describe in your post, but it is very hard to see any real solutions to the problem, short of giving the refugees a few hundred thousand dollars so they could afford to live where the ethnic Swedes live.

        • knott

          Perhaps needless to say you are also correct in the solution. Just allow more housing in central, and somewhat central, Stockholm, which will have a very large amount of positive effects. It will however do nearly nothing for refugees in Sweden that simply can’t afford the resulting prices. They would quickly be priced out by the countless Swedes (including immigrants that arrived decades ago) that would move towards the center of Stockholm.

        • Alon Levy

          Honestly, I’d prescribe legalization of private construction in Central Stockholm. Take my building. It looks nice from the outside, but on the inside, it’s a crap building from 1907, with an elevator that only reaches the (European) 5th floor even though there’s a 6th floor, and an auxiliary building behind it that has no elevator at all. I live in the auxiliary building. The floor area ratio looks like 3 or so. Knock it and the rest of my block down, and rebuild them at a floor area ratio of 10, as is routine in the denser parts of Manhattan (and even this means 20-25 floors, not 50-60). The prices are high enough that developers would do it even without the state giving them money. It’s especially useful in Roslagstull, since my block faces a park in one direction, and would be facing parks in two more if it were taller than the rest of the buildings in the city. Basically, based on the location, my area should have the tallest and most modern residential towers, rather than old buildings in the 7-8 floor range. Something similar is true of other good locations, such as along Odenplan and Sveavägen, plus high-rise office towers on Hamngatan (ideally ones that are prettier than the quintuple Hötorget disaster, but most skyscrapers are); Valhallavägen should definitely have taller buildings, just to frame the street better given how wide it is.

          The US and Europe find replacing urban buildings bizarre, but it happens all over high-income East Asia and in Canada. In Singapore and Japan, if a building is 30 years old, it’s practically obsolete. I’m deliberately not going to that extreme, and proposing to replace buildings that are a hundred years old – generally, if you’re planning to replace buildings every 30 years you need to add 3.3% of the base cost to the annual rent as a depreciation charge, whereas if you’re replacing them every 100 years you need to add just 1%.

          If the buildings sell for ~$13,000 per square meter, or $1,300 per ft^2, or what have you, then it’s easy for the private sector to provide them. Very very roughly, you need to add a multiplier equal to how much floor area you’re losing. So if you’re taking an FAR-3 building and replacing it with an FAR-10 building, you need to add 3/7 = 43% to the construction cost for it to be commercially justifiable. I don’t know the construction costs of residential towers in Sweden, but office towers in the 200-meter range are around $2,500 per square meter in a range of first-world cities, including Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, and Paris. New York’s skyscrapers are a bit more expensive, but are also much taller, in the 300 meter area. $2,500*10/7 = $3,600, which means that as long as prices are higher, developers will want to build this.

          (I’m sliding in maintenance costs, which are higher for high-rises, but not by enough to make this calculation wrong at the price range we’re talking about. It matters only for marginal decisions, e.g. if prices are down to around $4,000.)

          None of this is going to let refugees afford Central Stockholm in the short run, but it’d take pressure off the prices in Central Stockholm, which would then cascade to Southern and Western Stockholm, Solna, Sundbyberg, etc. Immigrants could live there or in similar suburbs rather than in Södertälje.

          • Adirondacker12800

            quintuple Hötorget

            All ir needs is an Egg. I betcha pictures of it got passed around when they were building Rockyhenge. Pity they didn’t submerge the streets like they did in Albany, it makes the plazas especially sterile.

            The US and Europe find replacing urban buildings bizarre

            When they created the Greenwich Village HIstoric District there was quite a controversy about whether or not to include the blocks between the elevated railroad and the elevated highway. They weren’t included. The Els got torn down and there’s very little left of the low rise commercial that was along West Street. It’s all glittering condos now. Except for the fancy smancy hotel over the High Line. Which had to be commercial because the Meat Market is zoned commercial. The fancy smancy hotel is a glory of 50s internationalism. Goes soooooooooooo very well with the cobbled streets and the Deco-ish railroad viaduct.

            There’s whole swaths of Chelsea that were three and four story walkups and are now 12 story condos with doormen.

            We don’t bulldoze a dozen blocks at a time like we did back in the 50s and 60s. People do consider tearing down skyscrapers so they can build even taller skyscrapers. Which gets the preservationists in a frenzy. Six or seven different ways. Including that putting skyscrapers near the Empire State Building would be awful.


            Stuff gets torn down out in the ‘burbs too.


            or not torn down because existing retailers don’t want competition


            No more cookie cutter capes or ranches on half acre lots either


          • michael.r.james

            None of this is going to let refugees afford Central Stockholm in the short run, but it’d take pressure off the prices in Central Stockholm,

            Not just in the short-run, unless of course these hi-rise “luxury” condos being built all around the world turn out to be like most earlier hi-rise and deteriorate over time. I have found most such “luxe” apartments to be pretty ordinary, especially as most of them still have the miserable low ceilings (minimum building standards) that make them seem like jails or cheap motels. All that glass is a mistake too. Have you been in any of the bunch of hi-rises (31 floors) built in the 70s in Paris-13? It was probably considered to be luxe too but its pretty miserable. When you see the wide spacing of the Italie complex I am not even convinced it is any higher density than standard Parisian buildings. I lived in one briefly. The group at BeauGrenelle looks similar though of course is even more “luxe” because of location. No thanks.

            In any case, not only have you agreed that knocking down stuff and building new hi-rise never brings affordability to these areas, but it is all built with short expiry dates. I never want to live in hi-rise; elevator-dependency might be worse than car-dependency! Though I see that Nicole Kidman has combined the two in that fancy 200 Eleventh Avenue with its sky-garages!
            I’m not sure about the 16th and 17th century stuff in Paris (though I suppose I lived in one on Ile Saint Louis) but the apartments built from mid- to late-19th century until about WW2 were a golden age for apartments; a kind of Goldilocks of 6 to 8 floors, solidly built, handsome facades, nice internal proportions, balcon filants or juliette balconies and internal courtyards and courettes (air-shafts). These can and will last forever. It would be criminal to demolish them for anything. If that makes me a bobo or BCBG then so be it.

          • Alon Levy

            I have not been to the new Paris buildings, no. But I lived in Singapore for five years, and the condos there are perfectly fine. They get replaced after 30 years because of a national obsession with newness. Even after 15 or 20 years, they’re in far better shape than the bedbug-infested prewar buildings of New York.

            My current apartment is in one of those buildings that you’d probably speak highly of. It’s on the top floor of the auxiliary building (European fifth, American sixth), and has a sloped ceiling. Low ceilings in modernist buildings? I can’t even stand up straight in a third of my apartment’s floor area! And I’m several centimeters shorter than the average man in Sweden. Urbanists like the euroblocks, and so do I, in principle, but in a city with as much housing demand as Stockholm, something has to give. As I keep saying, we know what decision the government would be making if it were Swedish citizens, because it made that decision fifty years ago; it didn’t demolish anything in Central Stockholm for the working class, God forbid, but it made sure to put the public housing developments where it was building the subway. (Stockholm has about the same per capita rail ridership as Paris and London, despite being smaller and having freeways that actually go into city center, in tunnels.)

          • michael.r.james

            (Alon at 2015/09/07 – 12:18)

            than the bedbug-infested prewar buildings of New York.

            Oh come on, that’s kind of silly. You can get bedbugs as much in new buildings as old if you don’t take precautions. Funny thing is that in all my travels and (when a lot younger) old decrepit lodging, I have never in all my life seen a bedbug, or been bitten by one to my knowledge. And that includes tens years in 17th century buildings on Ile St Louis and 19th century elsewhere in Paris and Brighton and Oxford.

            You have obviously chosen to live on the mansarde (top) floor under the roof! I would always be very wary of that–including or especially in Paris. Because not only do they have those odd structural impediments of sloping roofs and beams etc but they often suffer being too hot in summer and too cold in winter. Incidentally in France the “loi Carrez” stipulates that the floor area must only be measured where the clearance is 1.8m (I think) so for such apartments you will often see the description: Surface: 30 sqm (22 sqm loi Carrez). And as you say, the elevator will often stop at the penultimate floor (because regs don’t allow the mechanism to protrude above the roofline; turns out modern elevators can avoid that issue).

            Central Stockholm … made sure to put the public housing developments where it was building the subway.

            Then what is to complain about? Well, it is that recent (Rightwing!) governments have stopped doing that!!! They are leaving it to the “free market” and, surprise surprise, like all of history, the free market in housing is failing for the poor and new immigrants. Your (and Matt Yglesias) concept of demolishing our beautiful old city cores to build hi-rise doesn’t actually solve the problem for the poor new immigrant.

          • Alon Levy

            Sweden hasn’t been building public housing in large quantities since 1975. Yes, you can blame right-wing governments for it. You can also engage in the Robert Cruickshank strategy of calling the Social Democrats traitors to socialism (unlike, for example, the US Democrats, with their non-universal health care, soft climate change denialism, and mounting university tuition). But the reality is that governments beholden to the working class have not done anything about public housing any more than the Alliance has, because there was no longer any need to, as far as Aryan Swedes were concerned. In the last election, the Alliance did call for adding more housing, and so did the Greens, but this involved finding new places to put in buildings (the Greens want to close and redevelop Bromma Airport), and not replacing any precious walkups; neither side is likely to actually build anything.

            Nor is anyone leaving it to the free market to provide housing. Stockholm is strictly zoned. In a free market, you can buy a low-rise building, evict the tenants, and build a tower. Japan and Canada work like that (and have far lower rents than American and European cities of comparable income levels); there’s a regulatory process for that, as always, but you can expect to actually do that, whereas in the US and Europe, lol. It’s not a free market if you don’t permit developers to actually build where people want.

            Bedbugs and such are in a lot of places in North America (not so much Europe), but New York has some unusual infestations. The big problem is that due to New York’s strong tenant protection laws, landlords sometimes can’t come in and exterminate.

          • michael.r.james

            (Alon Levy aat 2015/09/08 – 08:01)

            Sweden hasn’t been building public housing in large quantities since 1975.

            Yes, but the need hasn’t arisen until the past ten years or more recently. In any case I agree that even so-called socialists or Labor/Labour parties (Australia, UK) have adopted essentially the same econo-rationalist policies–even as it is increasingly clear they are a failure re equity and sustainability. They are failing everywhere in terms of housing equity. As I explained in earlier posts Paris is at least trying if not being perfect.
            Does Vancouver really “have far lower rents than American and European cities of comparable income levels”?

            I think we both are misusing the term “free market” but I want to repeat that the market will not build housing for the poor end of the market (without inducements, subsidies, bullying & compulsion from government). On the other hand they would happily demolish the Place de Voges and put up hi-rise if they thought they could sell multi-million dollar apartments (to Russians and Arabs these days). Though it is the “marais” (swamp) and you can see one corner of the buildings of the Pl de Voges have sunk a bit!

            I never heard of any bedbug or rat infestations in Paris like we hear of periodically in NYC. But I also assume the state reserves the right to intervene if necessary (which assuredly is justified even if a resurgence of the peste may be unlikely–but actually if your, sorry the Americans, Randians and Libertarians get their way that could happen in the US. :-).

          • Alon Levy

            Vancouver is slightly poorer than Stockholm. Per capita income (net of rent and interest) here is US$31,600 as of 2011 (in PPP terms)*; in Vancouver, it was C$28,300 in 2006, and very generally converting from Canadian to American dollars and adding five years of nominal economic growth cancel out. Toronto’s per capita income was C$30,900. The highest rents in Canada are in Calgary, which is far and away the richest city, even richer than the Bay Area.

            I will note that Heartland American cities also tend to be cheaper than European ones at equivalent incomes; this is because nearly everyone lives in the suburbs and drives, where a) the zoning restrictions are lenient toward new subdivisions and in most cases those are enough to satisfy demand, and b) the extra cost of owning a car dampens the amount of money one can spend on housing. But if you look at coastal cities, say comparing Toronto and Philadelphia, Canada is much cheaper at equal neighborhood quality.

            About the free market and housing for the poor: who built the late-19th century tenements in New York and London?

            Bedbugs… well, there are woes I have never seen in Europe, and that’s one of them. There are also ones I’ve never seen in the US, e.g. the water heater shutting down in the middle of the night, leading to cold showers.

            *The figures are given in euros, but are already PPP-ified, except they seem to be PPP-ified to either the US dollar as of 2011 or to the EU average, which is dragged down by Eastern Europe. Whatever it is, comparing the nominal figures to national PPP accounts suggests that what Eurostat calls “purchasing power standard” is €1 = $1.30; I’m already Americanizing them.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Social benefits are a subsidy to rich people. If the low paid workers weren’t able to get rent subsidized and food stamps and medicaid they’d be agitating for higher pay. The rich people would be really uncomfortable encountering the beggars too. And the crime.

          • Alon Levy

            Nah, they’d just reduce their consumption, the way they do in countries without welfare (e.g. the US, Singapore, Hong Kong).

          • Adirondacker12800

            In the US they apply for and get food stamps and Medicaid. Their employer is able to get away with not gving them health insurance and they don’t starve. Starving people don’t make good employees.

          • michael.r.james

            (Adirondacker12800 at 2015/09/08 – 12:46)

            The rich people would be really uncomfortable encountering the beggars too.

            Or really, really uncomfortable encountering the beggars …. leavings: (In Paris it is dog-doo, in SF it is more human …)

            Francisco’s intractable homelessness
            Joanna Walters in San Francisco, Monday 7 September 2015
            A dozen men are slumped on the next block, awash in trash and scraps of pizza crust. … In the alley behind, flies are breakfasting on a patch of distinctly human-looking, half-dried feces. It’s 7.15am in downtown San Francisco.
            Five blocks away, Twitter’s elegant headquarters sits on the main drag, Market Street, next to a new glass tower where monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment starts at $4,600.

            That article mixes up two separate issues of the street people (who won’t stay in any housing provided) and the housing crisis. As many commenters point out (but the journo) none of this is helped by SF mayor who is a bigtime property developer (and/or friends of).

          • knott

            I think most people In Stockholm would start to sacrifice pointless green areas, which Stockholm has in abundance (in particular the eastern part, but there is plenty of it everywhere except the absolute center), way before starting to tear down and replace pre-1920s city blocks. I also agree with that point, and think that would do the trick. If it is combined with no height-restrictions for all new buildings, and maybe replacing some central low rise (say below 3-stories) should bring the citywide FAR up by a lot.

  2. Aaron M. Renn

    What do you think accounts for the global immigrant preference for Anglophone counties and cities? In the global cities research we did last year, of the 14 global cities we found with greater than 25% foreign born population, 10 of them were in former British colonies (two of those, Singapore and Hong Kong, are not Anglo countries, but certainly have a heavy Anglo influence).

    The other four were Dubai and Abu Dhabi (#1 and #2), both with a limit number of citizens and huge numbers of guest workers and non-citizen residents who have no hope of real permanent status much less citizenship, and Brussels and Geneva.

    Some of these Anglo countries are quite high. While Australia gets a lot of pies in the face for its refugee policies, Sydney is 40% foreign born and Melbourne 37%. And Toronto is 46%.

    There are lots of other rich cities in the world with far fewer immigrants. In fact, most of the world’s cities seem to have virtually no material immigrant population as a percentage of total population, especially in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Some of it is historic, economic, legal, etc. But only the Anglo countries, Western Europe, and the Middle East seem to have many cities with significant immigrant levels.

    • Alon Levy

      Language skills. It becomes pretty obvious if you look at the breakdown outside the Anglosphere. Yes, we see a bunch of countries with very high nominal wages and liberal immigration policies, like the Scandinavian countries… but we also see France, which has tight rules about legal status verification (which is why the Calais Jungle exists – the UK’s a lot laxer about work), pull ahead of Germany in the polls despite a weaker economy. Similarly, Spain got very large numbers of immigrants before the financial crisis. If you’re in Spanish America and it’s 2007, you can emigrate to the US, or emigrate to Spain, where you speak the language, the government’s immigration policy encourages Hispanic immigration, and the wages aren’t too much lower than in the US. Of course in 2015 the situation is very different, but while the Spanish economy was strong, Spain had very high net migration rates.

      Current numbers of immigrants are also influenced by government policy a few decades ago. Canada and Australia are generally open to high-skill labor migration, and Singapore is open to all labor migration (just don’t try to seek asylum there). In the US and UK, overall immigration numbers aren’t particularly high, but immigrants are centered on a few cities, e.g. NY/SF/LA in the US, and London in the UK, which is a function of issues like entry ports (in Britain more than in the US) very high interregional inequality. Conversely, there’s very little legal immigration into Japan and South Korea, both of which seem to prefer aging and depopulation to diversity, so there are no networks of immigrants there encouraging further migration; hence the poor performance of Tokyo and Seoul even on stated preference surveys, let alone actual migration.

      Brussels and Geneva are weird. Brussels is the EU capital, so it imports eurocrats from all over. Geneva is the UN’s second biggest city as I recall, so similar dynamics hold there – and besides, it’s a Francophone city with very high wages, so I imagine a lot of French people move there (or even commute from France), in similar vein to Italians with Ticino.

      As for the big cities in the developing world: how good is the data in those cities? Supposedly there are a ton of Cambodian immigrants in Bangkok, Somali immigrants in Nairobi, and so on, but the censuses are fickle and miss a lot of people. (In Istanbul of 15 years ago, it was commonplace, at least in the business class, that the city had millions more people than it did officially, living in informal housing – probably domestic migrants and not immigrants, though. The same was true of Bangkok as far as I remember.)

      • Adirondacker12800

        Immigrants can’t find work in Tokyo. They also stop coming to the U.S. when they can’t find work.

      • Steven Harrell

        “In Istanbul of 15 years ago, it was commonplace, at least in the business class, that the city had millions more people than it did officially, living in informal housing – probably domestic migrants and not immigrants, though.”

        The same thing is happening in China. When I was living in Beijing (first in 2001, and then in 2006-2008) it was generally believed that the true population of the city/county was twice that of Beijing’s 22 million official residents. China uses an internal family registration–the hukou system–to distribute local resources, including education and housing (and formerly food, clothing, and gasoline); because they have the wrong hukou, Beijing’s massive population of domestic migrants can’t send their children to city schools, can’t officially rent or buy housing in the city, and have limited employment options. Because domestic migrants are essentially trafficked labour, migrants are often abused by their employers: it wasn’t (and probably still isn’t) uncommon to look inside the windows of restaurants at night and see the workers sleeping on the floor. Further, everyone in China inherits his or her hukou from their mother, creating a permanent, multigenerational divide between the urban rich and the officially-rural urban poor.

        That’s not to say that there aren’t international immigrants in Beijing as well. There was a fairly large population of African immigrants in Beijing that has probably expanded now that China has begun to colonize the continent (though the local police treat African immigrants like drug dealers… a very deadly profession in a country that treats drugs like a threat to national security–or worse–a threat to social cohesion). There was formerly a large Central Asian population in Beijing as well, particularly the Uyghurs (though a Uyghur neighborhood near my old home managed to get itself lost between 2001 and 2006). I’d say most of Beijing’s unofficial population is composed of undocumented domestic immigrants.

        Overall, China is a great place to be white or a latter day Mandarin; but it’s a pretty dangerous place to be dark skinned and/or undocumented.

    • michael.r.james

      virtually no material immigrant population as a percentage of total population, especially in Asia, Africa, and Latin America

      I’m not disagreeing but a few points: The entire country of Brazil is an amazing mix, and Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan (but it wouldn’t be counted as “immigrant” because it has been resident over many generations: sidebar to Adirondacker at 10.54: Japan had a specific program to entice some of these Brazilian Japanese back but then didn’t make them welcome, so most returned home.)

      It is quite true that Asians are pretty resistant to immigration but equally the examples of Singapore and Hong Kong show it can work if authorities support it. The British Empire actively promoted such mixing out of necessity and the fact that it has worked so well–as a kind of cultural hybrid vigour–has made some others think of emulating it. The reason the US, Canada and Australia are like that is also out of necessity–“populate or perish”, and Britain was too small to feed the colonials growth. Shanghai has the explicit policy of aiming for 5% foreign residents (probably to beat Hong Kong’s 3%) to become a true international city. Of course it began life as a international city with those British, French, American and others (Germans, Russians) but it is not clear if it can ever regain those glory days.

  3. electricangel

    What a great write-up, Alon. Of course, you also make clear that what advocates of increased non-elite immigration are advocating: the creation of more slums. By which we do NOT mean ethnic designation, but the term as Jane Jacobs defined it in her first book: a slum is an area where population density exceeds a certain number of residents per unit area. Jacobs talks about how Ed Logue, planning commissioner, uses his rubric to decide that the North End is a slum that must go (as was done to the West End, a white multiethnic area of the city.), even as she points out the facts about health, safety, and education, all being either better than the average or improving. The chapter called Unslumming and Slumming outlines the process by which slums (including Greenwich Village and the North End) become fashionable areas, so long as the residents are connected to the urban economy; East Harlem was becoming an unslummed slum when the planners knocked it down to freeze poverty in place by building public housing.

    The process of slumming is different. An area becomes undesireable and cannot gain the rents from the native population that can pay for housing, so the only alternative for landlords is to cut up glorious apartments Into hovels (as happened in Harlem to many townhouses), or to rent to immigrants who will overcrowd the apartments naturally. Of course, one reason for natives not living there IS the very presence of people with differing standards of cleanliness, respect for urban environments, and levels of violence. The “Herrenvolk” have a reason not to build more in their finest areas: they and their ancestors paid the taxes and construction costs that built the infrastructure that makes living in such an area possible, and surrendering them to newcomers means transferring that capital to a group that hasn’t earned it; unlike transferring it to their own children, there is no personal tie to make them want to. That developers want to facilitate this process of skimming public goods into private pockets doesn’t make it capitalist.

    Still, your overall point is good. 19th century slums included a lot of housing for the poor, built by the poor (row houses in Philadelphia, for example), and provided a chance for those immigrants and poor internal migrants to rise out of the urban ooze; public investments in clean drinking water were and remain the biggest subsidy to them, as they remove the endemic disease that weakens families and social networks. 21st century slums look to remain festering sores of hopelessness and unemployment, disconnected as they are from affordable transit (walkable being best) and employment. Given the number of unemployed, and underemployed, poor Americans, the policy prescription would seem obvious: stop importing poor, unskilled workers to immiserate our fellow citizens. But then, I don’t own a lot of land whose value will increase in proportion to that immiseration, nor do I make money blockbusting native neighborhoods and writing mortgages in new, sprawling suburbs that will be subjected to the same rinse-repeat cycle; the FIRE elite do. And that, it seems, is why the “Herrenvolk” and the “Volk” are constantly on the losing end of this.

    • Alon Levy

      The overcrowded conditions always happen in specific response to the need to be employed – otherwise, people would just move to Detroit and get free housing; so far the only people who think immigrants to the US should go to Detroit* are officials in Michigan who seem to not know either any immigrant or any Detroiter. The closest urban equivalent to the turn-of-the-century Lower East Side or even the postwar North End in the US today, New York’s Chinatown, has very good job access, and is an important secondary job center in itself. The main suburban example I know of, Santa Ana, is different, but it still has lower unemployment than the national average and is one of the safer large cities in the US. In the US, the policies of benign neglect of immigrants and relatively market-priced housing even in the big cities generally worked in favor of letting immigrants live where is convenient for them and not where is convenient for politicians.

      As for paying the historic taxes and construction costs… first, people who pay rent now are paying off past construction costs: developers pay to build rental housing with the expectation of making back the money through future rent payment, and the dollars or euros or pounds or kronor of a Syrian refugee work as well as those of a descendant of Gauls or Vikings.

      And second, it’s truer in Europe than in the US, but, often the immigrants are people whose ancestors did pay to build the country, as colonial subjects. It’s less true of immigration to Germany and Sweden, but in Britain, France, and to some extent the Netherlands, a huge fraction of immigration in the last decades has been people from former colonies: South Asia, Nigeria, and the Caribbean in Britain; the Maghreb, French Africa, and Indochina in France; and Indonesia (but also Morocco and Turkey) in the Netherlands. In the US and Canada, the top countries for immigrants have other historic ties: Chinese immigrants built the transcontinental railroads in both countries, but were subsequently not allowed to stay or receive citizenship; Mexicans have moved back and forth across the US-Mexico border since before it was a border, and many were deported in Operation Wetback even if they’d been born in the US and had no way to prove it. The maritime states of Europe have always had these sorts of relationships with Africa and Asia, and the US with Latin America; Germany, Sweden, etc. are different, but they benefited from exporting manufactured goods to the rest of Europe, which paid for their trade deficit with Germany et al by running a trade surplus with the colonies.

      *I’m distinguishing Detroit from its suburbs here. Just as with Birmingham and Los Angeles, the Detroit suburbs received considerable immigration back when the metro area had plenty of auto engineering jobs, even after the city had terminally declined. In the last fifteen years the metro area has been in freefall as well, but the Arabs in the area have lived there long enough that they have roots there, same as with the South Asians in Birmingham. Regardless, Snyder made some comments about inviting immigrants to live in Detroit proper.

        • Alon Levy

          Yes, that one. Turkey was never a European colony, but Indonesia was. The top non-Dutch national origin in the Netherlands is a five-way near-tie between Germany, Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, and Suriname. And the Turks were all invited there as guest workers during the postwar boom, same as with Germany. They just blithely assumed they’d all go away eventually.

  4. Eric

    Nice article.

    But I join the voices in favor of preserving central Paris, Stockholm, and similar cities. Culture has some value beyond economics, otherwise we would not protest when ISIS destroys ancient buildings in Palmyra. Destroying central Paris to build skyscrapers would be the same kind of loss. In general, the culturally significant areas are a small fraction of the city (1/6 of greater Paris’ population, probably less in Stockholm, and far less in North America or East Asia), so building around them will not cripple the region.

    For Paris, I recommend densifying the regions surrounding La Defense (really, the whole northern half of Hauts-de-Seine), to create a real second center of the region. This area is *not* historically significant, its buildings can be replaced by skyscrapers.

    • Alon Levy

      Les Halles is entirely postwar urban renewal, and the same is true of Sergels Torg. If we’re talking about preserving premodern cores – Ile de la Cite, Gamla Stan (never mind the 8-lane highway going through Gamla Stan!), Venice, Old Jerusalem, Old Jaffa, etc. – then this is different. History on that timescale should of course be preserved. But residential blocks from 1907, as mine is? Eh. A good rule of thumb is that it’s closer in time to Levittown (opened 1947) than Levittown is to the present, it doesn’t deserve special protections.

      Also, re ISIS and Palmyra, I’m both on team “why are people complaining about Palmyra more than about the massacres of the Kurds and Yazidis?” and on team “why are people complaining about massacres committed by ISIS more than about ones committed by Assad?”.

      • michael.r.james

        Yes Les Halles is a modern redevo but the Horloges residential area there is a good example of why retaining the old styles (if they exist, I presume in that area it was truly decrepit, maybe even bedbugs!) should be retained. Those are cruddy 70s/early-80s apartments with a kind of built-in shoddiness, and I would never willingly live in them (it actually makes the quartier a bit tacky too IMO). The Forum was also in that style (I think the 70s is the historical nadir of building style in human history!) but has finally been “freshened” (I haven’t seen it.) Although the Forum was not a total success the nearby Pompidou centre is, both architecturally and culturally (it is the most popular plaza in Europe, some 8m people p.a.). This fabulous hi-tech structure works brilliantly in the setting of Haussmannian buildings; it is not hi-rise but is a tad higher than most neighbouring buildings so you get a terrific view sur les toits de Paris from its rooftop cafe.

        Re Eric’s proposal to densify the regions surrounding La Defense, he would find they are already quite dense. Certainly a lot more dense than almost any region of any American city except perhaps parts of Manhattan (and the real contribution to density in Manhattan is not hi-rise but the extensive areas that are Parisian like Upper West Side). Hauts de Seine has 1.58m residents at 9,000/sqkm (interesting, 20% foreign-born). Any gain would hardly justify the demolition and disruption it would cause. Which is not to say that some densification won’t happen but it won’t involve hi-rise apartments (because it doesn’t need to). Again, I think they have the correct strategy of linking everything with good transit. Oh, and good luck with changing Neuilly, one of the wealthiest areas of France (and where the American Hospital and various embassies or ambassador residences are).

        • Alon Levy

          9,000 is really not a lot. The neighborhood of Tel Aviv where I grew up, where buildings are mostly capped at four floors and have 50% lot coverage, is at 15,000. The city is at 8,000 overall because the municipal limits include some suburban areas, undeveloped land, and the CBD, but the urban residential neighborhoods are all five-figure.

          Densification actually has to involve high-rise apartments, because it minimizes demolitions. Let’s say you have ten six-story buildings, with two apartments per floor, and would like to raise the number of apartments from 120 to 200. You can demolish all ten buildings and rebuild them as ten-story buildings, raising heights incrementally. Or you can demolish one of them, replace it with a 46-story tower, and keep the other nine buildings as they are. Demolitions are expensive, because you have to buy out the existing homeowners, which is especially costly in an area where prices are high. Under the incremental scenario, you’re building mid-rises still, but you’re building 200 apartments’ worth of them, whereas in the tower scenario, you’re only building 92 apartments, and current construction costs are such that the latter option is usually cheaper.

          This is especially true in the case of Paris, where, unlike in New York, the most desirable residential areas have buildings of 6 to 9 floors, rather than buildings of 20 to 30 floors.

          • michael.r.james

            (Alon Levy 2015/09/08 – 11:00)

            I haven’t been much into the residential parts of Hauts-de-Seine (other than Neuilly, oh and a lifetime ago to the Youth Hostel in Puteaux) and I expect there will be some densification but I’d be surprised if it is hi-rise or even medium-rise. I think Paris and France has learned of the downsides. There is always some dead-space or railway yards etc that allows brownfield development. Though quite a bit has been done over the years: with GoogleMaps you can see that (despite what I wrote earlier about Neuilly) the riverside precincts are all Haussmannian or even a bit more. Except perhaps directly part of the La Defense “island”.
            I think your examples show how little is gained by replacing Haussmannian with bits of medium-rise. And it brings down the entire neighbourhood.
            Also, there is a lot of residential development on the old industrial sites (Renault) in Boulogne-Billancourt, but again broadly in keeping with Haussmannian principles. With 112,000 residents at 18,000/km2 it is both one of the bigger districts and most dense, but it will get quite a bit denser as there is a lot of that brownfield development happening. The Ile-de-Sequin has a different and interesting development agenda (a leisure, hi-tech and international educational centre–I believe Stanford is going to build a mini-campus there, and maybe NYU? I forget precisely.) It is an easy Metro ride (needing one correspondance) or the T2 Tramway on the other side of the river leads directly to La Defense. It is also the richest district in France so perfect for those masters-of-the-universe types (at least the nouveau ones who weren’t around early enough to get into Visinet or Neuilly etc.)
            Incidentally every now and then I browse the ads (ok, religiously every week) and see some peniches along the Right side of the Seine (some of which even have a genuine Paris address, next to Bois de Boulogne!) which often have the line “within walking distance of La Defense”. Alas the prices are kinda silly even if you can get up to 200 sqm. (and look out on a green vista, both sides). There are much better value big peniches further down the river at Villeneuve-La-Garenne and Asnieres, but I have never been there to see what it is like (next visit); old industrial I’d guess. On that topic, have you seen how the London housing crisis has caused an explosion in the number of people living on houseboats (mostly on the canals and rivers to the east) but causing aggravation. Maybe London, Paris & NYC will go the Dutch route and build floating apartment blocks?

          • Alon Levy

            What downsides of high-rises? I’ll buy that France, the US, the UK, and other countries with extensive histories of urban renewal failures dislike the idea of towers in a park. I hope that one day Israel understands that as well – did you know that Akirov Towers are surrounded by so much empty space that the floor area ratio of the entire compound is just 2.5? But what I’m talking about is not towers in a park. It’s not even the thin, tall buildings of Vancouver, which have more lot coverage than your average postwar high-rise housing project and less than turn-of-the-century euroblocks or New Law tenements. What the densest cities in the world do when they build up is something that in New York zoning terminology is called tower on a base: the first few floors (I think 10 in New York zoning law) are built as if the building were a mid-rise, and above them there’s a thinner, taller structure. This is based on an older zoning code, from 1916, which required skyscrapers to be set back this way to allow more sunlight. The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building are two famous examples of skyscrapers built according to these rules.

            The difference between this kind of construction and postwar towers in a park is threefold. First, because it combines a mid-rise base and a high-rise tower, it has much higher floor area ratio. New York’s highest residential zoning permits a floor area ratio of 12 (10 plus a 20% bonus for including subsidized housing), and it’s routine for buildings to hit or even exceed that, if they get variances or if they are older than the zoning code. The skyscrapers, too, have very high commercial floor area ratios – the Empire State Building is at 33, vs. 10 for the original World Trade Center compound.

            Second, unlike towers in a park, towers on a base retain a street wall, framing the street. This is generally more pleasant to walk along, and I think figures prominently into urbanist critiques of postwar skyscrapers.

            And third, depending on what construction techniques are used, it’s possible to build the base first and the tower later. If you can just add floors to buildings, then new construction inconveniences existing tenants but does not require demolition or eviction, and this reduces both cost and social disruption. An example of this is Century Tower in Tel Aviv, which was first built as a 3-story building, then got a fourth level for parking, and then got a high-rise on top and now has 21 floors.

          • michael.r.james

            (Alon Levy at 2015/09/09 – 12:26)

            What downsides of high-rises? …. did you know that Akirov Towers are surrounded by so much empty space that the floor area ratio of the entire compound is just 2.5?

            Precisely. But they are still doing it, and for some reason developers keep doing it, and city planners keep letting them because they are mostly in their pockets. I attribute this to the fact that developers are not the least interested in proper planning and are so culturally retrograde that they still like plans that show large splotches of green (that ideally the city is paying for but which their building looks out on, as a selling point). Even if that space ends up a people-unfriendly windy wasteland. In Melbourne Docklands (and the upcoming Fishermans Bend), absolute prime CBD extensions they will be lucky to achieve 6,000 residents/km2. And the spaced towers create wind tunnels (combined with Melbourne’s crappy changeable weather) to make those open space utterly hostile. (In Australia the podium level is 5 floors (ground inclusive) and these days will often have a partly-glass swimming pool on it.) These examples are exactly what has reinforced my notions of what works –which is different for business versus residential.

            Alon, you complain about living in your mansardé apartment but have you lived in hi-rise? All other things being equal (rent, convenience) would you choose modern hi-rise or the turn-of-century “Parisian” apartment blocks of the Upper West Side?

            Second, unlike towers in a park, towers on a base retain a street wall, framing the street. This is generally more pleasant to walk along, and I think figures prominently into urbanist critiques of postwar skyscrapers.

            These fads come and go, but some stick around like a bad smell. I saw just the other day, a piece lauding the Seagram building (some kind of anniversay?) particularly its trend-setting front plaza. (Was it MVDR’s anniversary, birth or death?) In reality that plaza is like those empty spaces in Melbourne Docklands: unloved and unused; a blank dead-zone that people are forced to walk across. Pictures still seem to show that it remains empty, not even any outdoor cafes and parasols over tables & chairs (because I suppose the MVDR style nazis prevent polluting his vision?). Incidentally I quite like the wide cloister concept–say like along rue de Rivoli (and many ancient Italian towns; last time I was in Ferrara I particularly noted it).

            My point about Paris-style development is that we don’t have to take those risks. We can see precisely what works and works fantastically well, and actually has done so wherever applied, like UpperWestside NYC*, Barcelona-Eixample, Berlin, Madrid etc. It allows for the highest average density of any western city, yet remains the “most beautiful (big) city in the world”. NYC has lots going for it but it ain’t ever going to get that accolade. (In fact I always find it both a bit oppressive and grotty–like any business-oriented place there is not much aesthetic pleasure around. Ditto La Defense and Canary Wharf.)

            *Your earlier claim of 80k/km2 density in a small selected bit of Upper East Side is quite improper to cite in any argument (and I still remain unconvinced it is real, perhaps it was per sq mile?). Parisian densities are lowered overall by the huge amount of non-residential building–all the huge governmental ministries, the museums and art palaces, big trains stations, the large number of educational institutes (including schools & universities), and churches. (Parks above a certain size, and rivers/lakes are normally removed from the calculations of density.) And again, to beat the same drum to shreds, it is why I consider this density close to “Goldilocks”. Because it allows an awful lot of other stuff to be mixed in, and still be beautiful. (NYC has similar–though not as much, after all Paris is the national capital–but not be beautiful.). And lots of small (pocket) parks and squares that actually get used unlike the more grandiose ones developers conceive.

          • Alon Levy

            Development in Tel Aviv is not free. Developers did not build these towers surrounded by emptiness because they freely thought that 2.5 FAR was enough; they did so in a context of a city planning process that thinks higher densities are bad. In Tel Aviv, certain kinds of density that are routine in Paris et al are associated with poverty, for example buildings that touch adjacent buildings; the city will not permit them. It’s governed by a thinking that prioritizes open space, and that’s enshrined into the law. If you want a variance, you’d better build something that’s at least sort of within what the city and national government want.

            I’ve had family members live in high-rises, and visited them a lot when they were there. Those buildings were fine. I don’t mind how big the building is. I mind how big the apartment is, and in area with the demand of the central cities in question, 6-7 floors means a combination of microapartments and displacement of people who want to live there. (Here, I mean displacement to include both older established residents being forced out by high rents, and potential newcomers not being able to afford market rent and ending up elsewhere.)

            The “this works” defense of Paris misses something important: for provincial French people who’d like to move to Ile-de-France but can’t afford the rent, and for immigrants who are shunted into slum suburbs, it doesn’t work. New York perhaps does not get as much critical accolade as Paris because it never had an Haussmann who kicked the working class into the suburbs, and thus the city proper is not as rich. Parisians can hand-wring that the social problems in the suburbs are all about Those People; New Yorkers do the same about the social problems of the poor sections of the city, but those sections are right there in the middle of the city, so they’re harder to ignore unless you move to the suburbs. And lo and behold, people in New York’s favored-quarter suburbs are sure that their areas work, too: great schools, low crime, all social problems outsourced to the towns where their maids and gardeners live.

            Finally, about densities being lowered by non-residential stuff: we’re talking about the 11th, and secondarily other residential arrondissements in the 30,000/km^2 area. We’re not talking about Les Halles or the Latin Quarter. If anything, the Upper West Side and Upper East Side have more non-residential stuff in them: highways, Riverside Park, Hunter College, Weill-Cornell, Columbus Circle and Lincoln Center, AMNH. This is why the Upper West Side has to be so tall to achieve its density – it’s not a purely residential neighborhood the way the outer arrondissements are. The Upper East Side also has to be tall, due to a combination of non-residential stuff and very large amounts of space per person in the rich areas west of Lex, occasionally involving single-family five-story townhouses.

          • michael.r.james

            (Alon Levy at 2015/09/10 – 10:53)
            Tel Aviv seems to be afflicted with similar crazy planning rules as Australia. But that doesn’t mean hi-rise is the only solution. In Australia we have versions of McMansions (not really the same as the US version) in exurban sprawl that are now so close together that they would be better as semi-detached housing (with proviso that regulations insisted on solid masonry party wall). In the 2000s they removed the building reg that stipulated 60cm eaves wtih gutters, from developer pressure and simply to allow this. They could build a lot more family housing in this format or modern terrace format and still retain those qualities people, especially young families, like (bit of private garden at rear). As it happens McMansions have little of any of this–the houses are tacky with less privacy IMO than apartments and certainly properly built semi-d or terraced, and their rear exteriors are often paved over and little used. For this they do horrible commutes to everywhere for everything (jobs, schools, entertainment, shopping, sport).

            for provincial French people who’d like to move to Ile-de-France but can’t afford the rent, and for immigrants who are shunted into slum suburbs,

            Paris-11th arrondissement: 152,500 at 41,600/km2. The reason is that it happens to have little non-residential. I don’t use it as an example of “good” hi-density because the only reason it works ok is that it is in the middle of the city which has all those non-residential stuff close-by. If an entire city was like it, it would be awful. Likewise the 15th at 27,300/km2 is also a bit high; though it has big hospitals (Necker & Pasteur Institute; Broussais & several others I can’t think of), the Montparnasse business & retail district & mainline & TGV train station and train lines,the Port de Versailles exhibition space, the Beau-Grenelle business+retail+residential complex, lots of schools and about 40 small parks and a few bigger ones (Andre Citroen; note the “new” apartments around it, low-rise which is as it should be. ). That is why I would say the Paris average or a little bit higher, is the Goldilocks density. Much higher and some of these things have to give, or you end up with canyons of hi-rise and it is no longer that wonderful Paris ambience.
            I’m a bit slow but I’ve only just realized why you are focussed on Seine-Saint-Denis. I think of it as the urbanized area immediately to the north of the Peripherique (where most live) but of course it is a big department that extends far to the east. It is because of Clichy-sous-Bois the town at its eastern edge which became notorious in 2005 that precipitated the riots. (Incidentally it is often misreported that the police killed two teenagers, but what happened is that the kids broke into a electrical substation (to avoid the police) and then electrocuted themselves!) It has about 30,000 people at 7,500/km2, mostly in those awful mid-rise tower blocks. And yes, the authorities made an error by “shunting” (ie. providing subsidized housing) for a narrow ethnic group (black Africans, not the usual Mahgreb Africans). That commune is bad, no getting away from it, and it was awful policy. But it represents less than 2% of Seine-Saint-Denis residents who mostly live much closer to Paris. One of the popular complaints is repeated in Wikipedia: “Clichy-sous-Bois is not served by any station of the Paris Métro, RER, or suburban rail network.” But actually the RER-E station is just 2 km down the road in the next commune, so the complaint (also Wiki) “the time on public transport to the city centre is 1.5 hours” is also bs. It is no further than Roissy-CDG so the RER trip would be about 30 mins. After all it is 15km from central Paris (this is the edge of Ile de France and is nothing compared to most western cities, like Houston etc and Sydney which now has new McMansion suburbs like Kellyville at 50+ km out, with zero train service anywhere nearby.)
            But even so, it is serious nit-picking, if not actual cherrypicking data, to paint the entire Seine-Saint-Denis with the acknowledged error of this tiny commune.

          • Eric

            @Alon: re Tel Aviv, priorities are changing. The city just approved a master plan which allows for its density to double. I believe most of the new development will be to replace earlier less-dense development, as there is not much open land in the city to build on.


  5. Brendan Dawe

    Noting your observations about the elite-access orientation of edge cities, this gets me back to Vancouver. You observe Metrotown is more accessible to non-elite suburbs than Downtown. If we take Vancouver’s Elite neighborhoods to be the West Side, the North Shore, and residential Downtown, the absence of any space between these neighborhoods and downtown where a suburban edge city could be constructed means this makes sense. This would seem to bode well for Brentwood’s Metrotown II ambitions, since it is roughly as accessible, thanks to the Skytrain and Trans Canada Highway. Lonsdale could make elite-access sense if large numbers of anyone but the North Shore elites could get their in large numbers.

    But this would seem to pour cold water on the various plans that Surrey keeps flogging towards making Whalley a ‘secondary downtown’ for the region. Almost anywhere north of Fraser is better suited for is better located for both elites and non-elites save those who live in Surrey and Langley.

    • Alon Levy

      In Vancouver, the equivalent of the elite-accessible edge cities is UBC, and to some extent Central Broadway. There’s pretty consistent social stratification at UBC. The professors live in Point Grey and Kits (or maybe a bit farther east if they drive) and have 15-minute bus commutes. The postdocs live in Kits, Fairview, and as far east as Main. The grad students live around where the postdocs live, but have suitemates whereas postdocs generally live alone. The undergrads live anywhere from East Vancouver east, and have long bus commutes; some of my calculus students had hour-long commutes. The only time this hierarchy is upset is if you’re teaching a morning class, because then the last bus that would let you make your class is jam-packed with students from farther east and passes up your stop; you have to show up 10-15 minutes early to be guaranteed the bus won’t be full.

      • Adirondacker12800

        That happens when you aren’t in Ithaca or Hanover. It’s kinda hard to have an hour commute when you can drive across the metro area in 15 minutes.

      • Brendan Dawe

        Back in my not terribly long ago student days at UBC everyone lived everywhere. Many of the professors lived in the North Shore or in Belcarra or Whistler what have you. Only really older profs seemed to live on the West Side, since they had gotten in earlier. Most students I knew either lived west of Granville (mostly Kits or Dunbar) or were commuter students who lived with their parents in the suburbs. Those who lived on the West Side only moved east after graduation.

        • Alon Levy

          Hmmm. It’s possible I’m looking at a biased sample of people who socialized with the department after hours, who were less likely to come in from West Vancouver or what have you. But even at occasions where you’d expect more people to show up, like after-seminar dinners, I recall plenty of people who said they lived on the West Side and none who said they lived on the North Shore. One such dinner was after a job talk, and there, the professor who brought the speaker talked about how easy it is to live in Point Grey and take the bus.

  6. Andre Lot

    I’m somehow skeptical on claims that job prospectus are severely affected when someone lives in a satellite location with good transportation links. I’m well aware this is not the case of several North American metros, Bay Area metroplex being a good example, but this is the case of places like London, Paris, Frankfurt etc. People in these areas can easily access core employment centers by transit, so that shouldn’t be an obstacle.

    As for the rest, the ideas implicit here just rub the the very wrong way. Even if there are positive effects of its residents, I’m adamantly against the idea of ethnic/national self-segregated areas that reduces the speed and the urge of assimilation, especially of lower-skilled immigrant communities. I think language and societal assimilation should be a first-order concern, dominating over marginal effects on employment or fears of erosion of social capital within tight-knit hermetic communities.

    Of course, worse than housing low-income foreign immigrant communities within some metro is to put them in some isolated city where they become local demographic majorities.

    • Alon Levy

      But you can’t really access jobs from Södertälje well – it’s at the end of the commuter rail system, and Stockholm-area jobs are suburbanizing in the exact opposite direction. The same is true of Paris and Seine-Saint-Denis. In satellite metros, e.g. Malmö, it’s even worse.

      As for ethnic enclaves, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them, but the overcrowded-but-close-in enclaves (New York Chinatown, South Tel Aviv) are if anything less hermetic than the purpose-built suburban ones (Södertälje, Seine-Saint-Denis). South Tel Aviv has a large population of Jews, mostly Mizrahi, who are pissed at how the black people chose to live in their area. Chinatown’s residential population is mostly Chinese, but because it’s such a central area, non-Chinese people routinely visit to eat and shop. Harlem is more stereotyped, but it, too receives substantial numbers of non-black visitors, and the locals complain about gentrification rather than about being shunned. In contrast, I have yet to hear of a Stockholmer recommending that I visit any of Stockholm’s suburbs for any reason; my only to-visit list outside Central Stockholm is a certain gaming store in Solna, a middle-class suburb that’s denser than Stockholm proper.

      EDIT: by the way, I have a post about assimilation coming.

      • michael.r.james

        (Alon Levy at 2015/09/09 – 18:04)

        The same is true of Paris and Seine-Saint-Denis. In satellite metros, e.g. Malmö, it’s even worse.

        No, Alon, that is simply untrue. Because it is so big, there are some distant parts of Seine-Saint-Denis but even those are not too far from an RER line, or at worst a Transilien line. Quite a bit of Seine-Saint-Denis is within walking distance, or today Velib, of Paris. And yes, I used to occasionally walk from Villejuif (not S-S-D but kind of a southside equivalent) into Paris in my first 5 years in Paris.
        I don’t think you are crediting the benefits of RER–fewer stations for higher-speed, higher-frequency service. Any new Metro (extension of old Paris lines like #13 to Villejuif, or completely new ones like M15, 16, 17) will follow that pattern rather than the very closely spaced inner Metro. Plus, most people in employment get their monthly travel card 50% subsidised (I’m not sure if that continues today but it would be surprising if not) which makes the already-cheap transit even better and not a disincentive (the way it is in London and Australian cities that look to make commuters bleed to the maximum, per some economic-rationalist fantasy of “user pays”.)

        The experience of being in the “suburbs” of Paris is very different from being in suburbs, not to mention exurbs, of sprawled American (or Australian) cities. The only people who chose to live really far out of Paris are the rich elite who like their leafy privileged zones like Chantilly, Fontainbleue or Chartres etc. Or indeed use the TGV from Lyon! Or even London these days! (The London equivalent is Brighton, Cambridge and Oxford–where if I went into London, the express coach would be filled with them, Masters of the Universe types commuting from Summertown or some surrounding twee village from which you could see the glittering spires.)

        At this point I will repeat what I implied in my very first post (and the first post of this article), I’m afraid you are avoiding this aspect because, like Matt Yglesias, it interferes with your preferred solution of demolition of inner core to build hi-rise, instead of solving the problem with transport the way Paris and most European cities (and now Asian) do. (TOD still needs to be dense, not sprawl.) It also preserves choice. For me, I would always choose to live in the centre (in Haussmannian blocks) but if I were to live in the suburbs it would assuredly have to be walking distance to an RER (or new Metro extension, eg. Montrouge where one’s euros buy twice or three times the “loi Carrez”, though alas the differential is shrinking because of that new Metro-4 extension! The best Metro line in Paris because it is the only one to cross all other lines, thus one can achieve the magic of a single correspondance no matter your destination!).

        • Alon Levy

          What choice? If you want to live in inner Paris, you can’t, because there’s no room for you. Someone would have to be removed from their apartment to make room, and because of tenant protection laws, you’d have to prove to the landlord that you’re such a great tenant that you’re worth it. They ask 40-year-olds for parental guarantors. In contrast, in Tokyo, you can choose to live in any kind of housing, from single-family to high-rise, in a large range of neighborhoods. You have to pay more for single-family, you have to pay more to live in areas where the commute is sub-hour, and you have to pay more if you don’t want to live in Chiba, but the inner-urban rents are well below New York and London levels, and they’re not rising the way New York and London’s are.

          The Parisian solution of building more RER lines reduces the demand gradient between suburbs and the city, but doesn’t eliminate it. It’d cost more than just a few tens of billions of euros to build a transit system that would give the suburbs the same job access as the city. Egypt’s trying to bag Cairo entirely, for a couple hundred billion dollars – there’s no limit to tyrants’ willingness to spend their subjects’ money on political prestige projects. France is not Egypt, so it’s limiting the project to orbital transit that can be justified purely on transportation merits. This ensures there’s money left for other things, like health care, education, social welfare, bombing former African colonies, and having something stay in the hands of the private sector rather than taxed. It also ensures that people will still prefer to live in Paris rather than in Seine-Saint-Denis, let alone in Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Partly because Japan’s economy has been stagnant for decades and partly because Japan’s population is shirinking.

          • Joey

            Adirondacker: Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last I heard Japan’s larger cities were still growing rather quickly – it’s the smaller cities and rural areas that are emptying out.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Define city. WIkipedia’s few paragraphs on the demographics of Tokyo contradict themselves. One nugget is that the population of the city itself peaked in 1965.

          • michael.r.james

            because of tenant protection laws, you’d have to prove to the landlord that you’re such a great tenant that you’re worth it. They ask 40-year-olds for parental guarantors.

            I’ve never heard of that, and AFAIK the laws tightly define what landlords can charge and hold as surety. Plenty of lower-SES, well lower-middle-class anyway, live in central Paris. That would have included myself. A lot more than in central London. And your argument that Haussmann kicked out the poor while Manhattan never did is also contrary to the facts. Paris and Manhattan are very similar in size (about 90 sqkm) but Paris has 2.3m residents and Manhattan has ≈1.6m; further Manhattan is the richest in the nation with more millionaires than anywhere else and something like a third of all billionaires. There’s wealth in Paris but actually once you get beyond Avenues Montaigne and Foch it is mostly middle-class or upper-middle class and in fact working class. The wealthiest area (of Paris and of France) is, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Boulongne-Billancourt and then areas like Neuilly, Meudon (where Johnny Depp lived), which directly border Paris, and Vesinet and St Germaine, Versailles etc, further out. The reasons for this are part historic and rent controls, plus the fact that most wealthy people want bigger living space plus garage etc than what the bulk of what is available inside Paris. And both Boulogne and Neuilly are as convenient as most of inner Paris. As long as I have known, Paris administrations have tried all kinds of actions to retain young families inside the Peripherique (you’ll notice all the fenced-off, dog-free children’s playgrounds, ecoles maternelle, huge number of schools etc.). By definition most of these are not going to be wealthy but middle-class.

            Paris is a region of 12 million people and most jobs are not inside the Peripherique so your argument on that count is plain wrong. What is still correct, though not what you said, is that living in the centre still makes more jobs more accessible than living on the periphery. Commute time or job accessibility will always be a trade off with the cost of housing.

            In any case, we are not talking Houston, Atlanta or Phoenix (or Sydney & Melbourne) here. Both Brooklyn and Queens are as close or closer to jobs in Manhattan as Harlem is. Likewise Boulogne, Neuilly and Seine-Saint-Denis (and plenty more like Montrouge, even Villejuif) are the same: a short Metro or RER ride (for significant numbers literally a walk across the Peripherique). So, yes public transit can and does substitute for building hi-rise slums, and it works, at least in a city like Paris (and NYC), not so much in Houston or the Bay Area (though we can only guestimate since they don’t have it).

            Finally, the social-justice argument to building hi-rise in desirable areas is patently wrong (and makes one wonder at the real motives behind making such arguments): nothing being built in Manhattan (or Sydney, or London or Hong Kong or San Francisco or the centre of any rich big city I can think of) is affordable by the working poor. And there seems a correlation between building height and unaffordability. The only thing that makes such housing affordable for the non-rich is government intervention, in the historic public housing in such cities (East Village, Harlem etc) or schemes today that try to coax or bribe developers to include some units in each development (with their separate “workers” entrances and elevators!). As I pointed out in earlier emails, Anne Hidalgo has a €10bn program for Paris–(she is the mayor Paris not Ile de France which has its own mayors) and I know of no similar program in all those usual suspects listed above (London, Sydney, Melbourne, HK, SF) where the programs are deeply inadequate. Given that these culprits don’t want to build or subsidize low-SES housing in the centre, the alternative is good transit (ideally with dense TOD) but guess which cities are equally tardy in doing that? But Paris happens to be doing both, yet you want to point the finger and claim Paris is the city creating inequality, and rich-ghetto museums?

            In contrast, in Tokyo, you can choose to live in any kind of housing, from single-family to high-rise, in a large range of neighborhoods. You have to pay more for single-family, you have to pay more to live in areas where the commute is sub-hour,

            Yet, I knew of no one in Paris who commuted anything like the nightmare commutes of those in the Tokyo lab (obviously this is controlled for equivalent SES, we were all poor scientists). One exception was my (American) friend who chose to live in Chantilly (because the grandmother lived there and was available to help out with children) and put up with a horrendous commute to Evry (“Genepole” of new edu and bio-industry) in the south. It was entirely self-inflicted (as we all knew) and it almost killed him and it was the wrong choice; they soon moved to St Maur, much more convenient–to both Evry and Paris as it happens.
            Incidentally in this context we should also mention that employment in France is much steadier (often cited by neo-libs as a terrible, terrible failure) and this means people can make rational choices of where to live and it will work for them for many, many years. If you live in the exurbs of Houston, Atlanta etc then forget it; job security is zero and you might end up commuting across the vast city in 6 months time.
            Re Nord-Pas-de-Calais: historically this was a coal-mining and smoke-stack (like steel) industrial area, so no surprise it has not kept up. It is like Cleveland or Toledo etc in the US rust-belt. But without specific actions like making Lille the junction for TGVs (London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne etc) and building its Metro (the first with driverless trains and platform doors) has no doubt kept it in better shape than otherwise. And, be honest, if you were French and had the choice of all those other places in France, would you want to live there? (Subject of the most successful comedy ever in French cinema: “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis”/”Welcome to the Sticks”.)
            Adirondacker12800 at 2015/09/10 – 14:39
            Yes, I wanted to note that in response to Alon’s claim that Tokyo was three times the size of Paris. On some measures the Metro area of Tokyo is 13m (about the same as Paris) while on others it is closer to 30m. However that is because physically it has merged with surrounding big cities like Yokohama. Perhaps it becomes pedantic but I am not sure that it is a sensible comparison. If one were to use travel time (by transit) then those multi-hour Tokyo commutes if applied to Paris would include Lyon, Lille and Brussels in their catchment zone. (And with their approx. one hour train trips Oxford, Cambridge and Brighton-Hove become part of London, and are indeed commuter suburbs, which is reflected in their real estate values: I know because I owned property in two of those towns.)
            Earlier post: correction, it is “Fontainebleau” (I cannot blame autocorrect on that.)

          • snogglethorpe

            You can see here:

            There is no sharp boundary in practice between the 23-ku area, the official Tokyo city area (which includes some crazy far-flung and rural areas), and the megalopolis including surrounding prefectures and cities (Kawasaki, Yokohama). From the point of view of somebody searching for housing it’s all largely much the same, with a gradual decrease in prices, the more removed you are from the center of the city in terms of commute time.

            The general consensus is that Tokyo is growing at the expense of other parts of Japan. This is true both of the official city and even more true of the megalopolis. Because the suburban areas are cheaper, they are of course even more popular (to the extent the transportation is still convenient—which in many cases it is), but in recent years it’s been noted that there’s been a sort of “back to the inner city” movement.

          • snogglethorpe

            I think you’re basing wayyyy too much on your one bad experience in Tokyo.

            There are certainly nightmare commutes, and many would certainly list commuting as something they don’t like, but the average commute really isn’t that bad, and the main complaint seems to typically be crowding more than commute time. The people with the worst commutes I’ve known were constrained by family reasons, and so ended up working and living on completely opposite sides of the city; if you have to go from remote Chiba prefecture to Yokohama every morning, yeah it takes some time (although the actual rail service between the two is quite good).

            I’d say most people have a commute under an hour, and an hour commute opens up a huge number of possible areas to live in. Although Tokyo has commute issues because of its size and simple geometry, the excellent transportation system means that you really do have a lot of housing flexibility.

            [I live in Kawasaki, and have worked in a variety of locations around Tokyo, Kawasaki, and Yokohama, and my commutes ranged from a five minute walk (company happened to be near my apartment) to a 20 minute anti-rush-direction train ride (Yokohama), to a 45 minute train ride including one change (Tokyo Minato-ku). In the cases where I had to ride the train, I avoided the most packed times simply by using flex-time to push my schedule a bit later than average; by doing that, the trains were not bad at all, and I thoroughly enjoyed my commutes, reading my book every in the morning sunshine streaming through the train window… Overall I think Tokyo is a very nice place to live.]

          • Adirondacker12800

            The New York City Combined Statistical Area just jumped by 821,000. It sucked in the Lehigh Valley Metropolitan Statistical Area… Define city.

          • snogglethorpe


            The New York City Combined Statistical Area just jumped by 821,000. It sucked in the Lehigh Valley Metropolitan Statistical Area… Define city.

            Of course it depends on what you’re using the term for…

            In the case of Tokyo, the entities that tend to get mentioned are:

            1) The 23-ku “special ward” area, roughly Tokyo-classic.

            2) Tokyo-to, which is the special prefecture of Tokyo; this is the most “official” entity.

            3) Greater Tokyo, which can be defined in various ways, but basically Tokyo-to + three surrounding prefectures, Saitama-ken, Kanagawa-ken, and Chiba-ken. Those prefectures are notable because they have an extremely high density of commute traffic with Tokyo proper, a bit less than one million people per day, per prefecture. In practice they’re highly integrated with Tokyo itself, and there’s no sharp boundary between them in terms of transportation, housing, etc.

            The website I cited before is the official Tokyo government website, so those numbers correspond to Tokyo-to.

            None of those entities have grown hugely in area any time recently; the 23-ku area is roughly static, and since 1920 Tokyo-to has added maybe 50 km^2 (out of 2,200 km^2), and greater Tokyo has grown about 200 km^2 (out of 13,500 km^2).

            To control for any annexation, you can divide by the area of each entity, but in practice (i.e., I tried it) it makes little difference to the trends, because the change in area just hasn’t been very large.

            For each of these entities, the basic trend is:

            1) The 23-ku population grew dramatically until about 1965 (8,893,094 pp), then slowly dropped a bit until 1995 (7,967,614 pp), and has been growing again since then (8,489,653 pp in 2005, I don’t have anything more recent).

            2) The Tokyo-to population grew dramatically until about 1970 (11,408,071 pp), then grew slowly until about 1995 (11,773,605 pp), and has been growing more quickly since then (12,868,000 pp in 2009). This is the only time when land area makes any real difference: if you control for land-area growth, the “slow growth” trend between 1970 and 1995 looks more flat; however even controlling for area, the trend since 1995 has been one of quick growth.

            3) Greater Tokyo basically has been growing quickly since the end of WWII, whether or not you control for land area. There’s a slight knee in the curve around 1980 or so, but even the shallower upward trend is still fairly dramatic. [1965: 21,016,740 pp, 1980: 28,698,533 pp, 1995: 32,576,598 pp, 2009: 35,080,000 pp]

            Anyway, if you saw something about the population dropping since 1965, it was probably talking about the 23-ku area (this is literally true, but note the down-up trend at a finer level). However in terms of housing/jobs/life, greater Tokyo is probably the most relevant entity.

          • michael.r.james

            (snogglethorpe 2015/09/13 – 05:58)
            Interesting stats.
            For clarity (from your figures):
            1965: 21,016,740 pp,
            1980: 28,698,533 pp, [37% increase in 15 years]
            1995: 32,576,598 pp, [13.5% increase in 15 years]
            2009: 35,080,000 pp, [7.7% increase in 14 years]

            Clearly the growth rate is decreasing (as percentage and in absolute numbers) though still pretty scary. (Is it possible it is this “decline” in rate that Adirondacker is recalling?) Most of this increase must have come from elsewhere in Japan (presumably the reported depopulation of small towns and villages all over Japan) because Japan has little immigration and its national population is declining.

            too much on your one bad experience in Tokyo.

            It wasn’t “one” experience but a lot of people in that lab. But as I explained in another response, it may be that there were special circumstances why many had such long commutes.
            In any case I agree that it is not so much the length of the commute, within limits, that is of prime importance but the quality. If one has to commute at peak hours (and in cities this size, “peak hour” can extend a fair bit of the working day) it is not pleasant. It’s an efficient use of an amazing Metro system and amazing it can be done, but seriously I couldn’t/wouldn’t commute under those conditions.
            I wonder if that particular problem (unbelievably crowded trains) didn’t account for a curious behaviour at the lab. Most people stopped lab work between 5 to 6pm and turned to desk work; there was a “voluntary” work ethic that meant most stayed until 7pm or later. But it was the most inefficient use of overworked people’s time I have seen. They would type up things on their computers (in Kenji so that is pretty painful by itself) but a lot would be falling in and out of sleep upright in their chairs, others cradling their head on the desk. If they were my students/post-docs I would have ordered them to go home, but that is not the Japanese way. And maybe the trains were still too crowded?

          • Adirondacker12800

            Nobody has to move anywhere if things get annexed. 821,000 people, without moving anywhere at all, became part of metro New York. There are masochists who get on the bus and work in Manhattan. The Office of Management and Budget decided to add it to the New York CSA because there are a lot of them who commute to office parks on what was the western fringe of the CSA. Office parks that are there because it’s too expensive to have that kind of thing going on in Manhattan.

  7. Andrew in Ezo

    Regarding the “nightmare” multihour commutes in Tokyo- the average commute time in the Tokyo area is 58 minutes. Yes, there are people whose commute times are 90 minutes or more, but it is not the norm. I am curious about the location of the research facility you were at- if it was located in the inner city or in an outer suburb. The former may actually allow shorter commute times. That said, commute time is very much dependent on the choice of neigborhood you live in, and that is very diverse both in atmosphere and rental prices in Tokyo, as long as you don’t insist on living in fashionable neighborhoods or expat ghettos. For example, you can find affordable apartments in places like Ayase which is under 30 minutes to the center of Tokyo (Kasumigaseki). BTW, I have lived in Japan for 20 years.

    Click to access 14071501.pdf

    • michael.r.james

      It was the Cancer Institute within the big hospital at Otsuka, close to the northern limit of the Yamanote line. So maybe you would describe that as the northern fringe of inner Tokyo? I was just doing a month’s working visit so was put up in an hotel within walking distant. There were about 25 people in the lab and there was only one other Euro and he lived close by as well in a tiny studio. He was spending a year or more there and told me that he was the only one who lived nearby.
      There were people who chose to sleep o/n midweek in the lab, regularly, rather than commute home. I wasn’t making that up. One girl commuted from Chiba; she explained that after trying living closer she decided to return to her parents home to save money. I got the impression similar factors dictated why so many had long commutes, ie. it was housing that was chosen before they worked at Otsuka (it was a famous lab with a famous boss who was on the rise, and his mentor was even more seriously famous–all of which, I am sure you are aware, can be critical to a career in Japan). Also they would only be there for a number of years before moving on so perhaps don’t wish to change their home location for a temporary gig?

      I wonder if “average commutes” don’t distort the reality a bit. But even so an average of 58 minutes is pretty long and means there are a significant fraction doing a lot longer. The problem with such a vast sprawled city as Tokyo is you are likely to need to change trains at least once, especially if not near the centre.
      I was pretty impressed with Tokyo’s transit system but glad I had the luxury of not needing it to get to work, and also the luxury of the Yamanote line to get most places around the city, and the luxury of being able to avoid using it anywhere near peak hours.

  8. Ion D

    Hello Alon,

    I have followed your blog for a while and I would like to ask you something. I agree that you make a very strong case that the discrepancy in political power of different groups contributes to stop building in the most desirable parts of a metropolis and this (plus rent protection etc.) advantages the existing citizens of said metropolis at the expense of the potential ones, with the big jackpot going to owners of real estate. Which does seem unfair, at least when we are talking about citizens of the same country (refugees are a different discussion altogether). But.. at the same time it is democracy in action, is it not? The city citizens realise that they are a group with common interests and act on this interest at the expense of other groups. There is a huge amount of hypocrisy involved in this, but I don’t really see why they should not do so. Basically, the essence of your argument seems to me to be that since the new/potential arrivals to a city cannot act politically as a group, existing citizens should be stopped to do so too. But why? In my view, they have the right to act for their self- interest but the national citizens have also the right to elect a government that will take a part of the wealth these people therefore accumulate and redistribute it towards the provinces.

    In other words, if Parisians so like to live in their museum city and hate the idea of another fifty Tours Montparnasse, let them; then tax them to insure quality services and to promote economic activity in other cities too. France does this, including through a wealth tax that touches essentially Paris , and should probably do it more.

    Now, let’s posit the problem that, since most good jobs are in the big cities, and more specifically in the CBD, there is a big demand for housing in the centre of these cities which is not met. Your solution is to answer this demand by building much more in the city centres even if many people think that this degrades the aesthetics of the city and also many people who consider that this would diminish the standard of life. My alternative is that the demand should be lessened by extracting then spreading the resources around, to the second-rank cities and so on, thus creating quality jobs in the provinces. I do agree that, if we take the hypothesis that today (in the global, post-industrial economy blabla…) large and very large cities are the most productive and have the highest marginal productivity, my proposition is not economically optimal. I also agree that is a more interventionist proposition and I am sure you will have plenty of examples of governments trying to “spread the jobs around” which just made things worse. But could you clarify why do you think that pushing the big cities to become taller and even bigger is the best way to maximise welfare?

    • Alon Levy

      The problem with what you’re suggesting is that governments in countries with dominant primate cities – the UK, France, Israel – already try to spread resources around to poor areas. Even Japan does this. This generally produces negative results, for any of the following reasons:

      – Occasionally, it triggers terminal decline in a rich secondary city – Birmingham’s decline is traceable to Labour’s attempt to tax it to spread development around to the North, which was already depressed.

      – It does not really empower people who would like to move to the metropole. The people who are empowered by decentralization programs are the politicians and local notables of the secondary cities, and they are already comfortable where they are, and wish to prevent disaffected locals from running away to the capital. The people who would like to move to Paris (or London, or Tel Aviv, etc.) don’t form a single community in some secondary city, but are spread all over the country, so such a political program would not empower them.

      – Businesses would still prefer to be in the center. The result is that the people who the state will encourage to settle in the periphery are the least politically empowered. In Israel, Mizrahi immigrants in the 1950s were shunted to peripheral towns, as were Russians in the 1990s; this reinforced the inequality between Tel Aviv and the periphery. Politically, you’re not going to get the richest people or businesses to move away – the businesses especially depend on agglomeration and have the most to lose from dispersal, and on top of that they’re politically connected and capable of ensuring other people get dispersed.

      – If you keep the rich businesses in the center and make it hard for the poor to move to the center, you’re creating so much segregation that it reduces income mobility. I didn’t think of this until right now, but the US, UK, France, and Italy, all countries with large geographic inequalities, have low income mobility. Germany, which has large geographic inequalities as well but a smaller periphery, and far more high-end movement into Berlin than any comparable non-capital (Birmingham, Lille, etc.) can expect, has more income mobility, but is still not great. The Nordic counties have high income mobility, and relatively low geographic inequality. Canada and Australia have high income mobility as well, despite lacking Scandinavia’s welfare or free education, but have relatively low geographic inequality, and make it easy for people to move into the rich cities.

      • Ion D

        So you think there is no realistic way in which governments, or anyone else, can intervene to stop the quality of jobs diverging between the centre and the provinces? At least not beyond the point at which living standards are significantly different? To be clear, when I speak about the provinces and places that should get more resources from the capital I am not thinking necessarily (like governments seem to do) about Florange or Hartlepool or other small rust-belt cities. I am thinking also of medium an larger cities or even Birmingham and Lille.

        I remember reading a post on the Economist blogs, that I don’t find right now, that was thundering against the limitation of the green belt around London because this will (from memory) “condemn millions to miss the opportunities of London” or maybe something even stronger. My reaction to that was “Blimey, if living outside London is so miserable and lacking in opportunity, what are they going to do about the tens of millions of poor sods which, even in the ‘best’ case scenario, will have to live in the provinces?”.

        • Alon Levy

          I think long-term economic growth is a very difficult discipline, and even the experts don’t really know what promotes long-term growth beyond the obvious (“if your region is in constant civil war, it will not grow”). It’s very hard to sort correlation from causation – there are so many other variables around, of which a government program to encourage growth in the periphery would be just one. The result is that it’s hard to see which policies work and which fail, which makes it hard for the voters to reward governments that push successful programs and punish ones that push counterproductive ones. Absent the “did it work?” test, people will evaluate the program based on criteria like “did it empower my favorite local political outfit?”, which is why it wouldn’t work.

          In France, the government already is trying to encourage growth in the major provincial cities – Lille, Nantes, Toulouse, and so on. The regions were created in part to give some of those cities hinterlands; Lille also took advantage of its location at the junction of the high-speed lines to Paris, London, and Brussels. The problem is that in Lille, the redevelopment focuses on a small area near the TGV station, while the rest of Nord-Pas-de-Calais remains depressed, with the highest or near-highest poverty and unemployment in France. And as for the regions, some of them are just groups of departments without any real collective identity, for example Pays-de-la-Loire, which reduced regional empowerment; there’s even a movement for reuniting Nantes with the rest of Brittany, but the recent reform of the regions did not reunite them, for stupid reasons.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Putting cash money in the hands of the middle class worked pretty well in North America between 1945 and 1970. Though there were shortages through the end of the Korean War. Worked pretty good in Europe too, once they made some progress on clearing up the bomb damage.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Wage growth has been stagnant since the 70s. Productivity growth got divorced from wage growth.

          • michael.r.james

            (Alon Levy 2015/09/11 – 17:11)

            – Occasionally, it triggers terminal decline in a rich secondary city – Birmingham’s decline is traceable to Labour’s attempt to tax it to spread development around to the North, which was already depressed.

            That’s strange and wrong. Like many such cities around the world involved in old industries, Birmingham simply couldn’t compete against Japan and the NICs. The reality is that the city is simply not attractive enough to attract other kinds of activity that locate just down the road/rail in London (or in one of the global commuter towns of Oxford, Cambridge & Brighton-Hove). By contrast Manchester and Edinburgh are attractive in various ways and far enough from London to avoid getting caught in its “event-horizon”. I’m not typical but I can’t see a single reason for living in Birmingham, especially when property prices are not as low as they should be.

            As for France, I would say its policy of devolution, begun seriously in the late 60s-70s, has been reasonably successful. Maybe very successful when measured against what the planners were predicting in the 60s boomtime of it growing to 20m+. Part of this was the transport system: the TGVs were to make living out of Paris easier, without severing the tether to the mothership. (If anyone doubts this then they are simply in denial of the reality; why did the Paris-Lyon TGV line so instantly exceed any predictions? Most economists–as opposed to town-planners and urbanists–thought it was sheer folly, especially the flavour of neo-libs coming to the fore at that time (you know, Thatcher who closed down BR’s tilt-train project at exactly the moment Paris-Lyon proved what HSR could do. They really haven’t changed their tune since, hence all the irrational ideological claptrap against HSR in the US.) Toulouse and Montpellier vie for the fastest growing European city; they also vie for quality of life awards. In polls Montpellier regularly comes top of where most French people would like to live. Lille is a lot better than most rust-belt US cities, or Birmingham, and can make the claim that it is the (transit) epicentre of Europe!
            Another part (of devolution) was exporting jobs to the provinces: in my area, CNRS and INSERM tenured positions were almost impossible to obtain in Ile de France. You were sen the signal “go south young man”. This has certainly played a role in the cities and towns big on tertiary institutions, of Toulouse, Montpellier, Grenoble, Strasbourg, Bordeaux. I very nearly ended up in Montpellier (an educational centre, especially medical and bio-tech) because my chief was offered a very generous package (including for juniors like me) to relocate to the med school there. (Instead we were enticed wholesale by the Wellcome Trust to set up a new institute in Oxford.) In fact I just remembered that one of the other stars at my then Paris institute, was recruited to Lille med school. I think the only reason he did it was because it was effectively a suburb of Paris (grace the TGV), plus of course it made him a big fish in a smaller pond.

            Canada and Australia have high income mobility as well, … make it easy for people to move into the rich cities.

            Not so for Australia. We are the most urbanised nation but not because people move to the city, but because they are there from the beginning (born or immigrant). Sydney and Melbourne (and Brisbane is catching up fast) are among the most expensive western cities in the world–and this includes those McMansions stranded 40 km out in the sprawl trapped in a car-dependent “lifestyle”. Australian politicians wouldn’t even know the meaning of devolution. The notion was first mooted in actual federal policy during the Whitlam government of the early 70s but has died since then and is “tainted” with the perceived failures of that government (ridiculous but written in neo-con law).
            Though many of us who have lived in Paris, as per the Hemingway maxim, are stricken with the addiction of that city, if forced to I could find any number of provincial cities more than acceptable.

            Incidentally, the regions in France are reasonable empowered for the reason that–other than deliberate national policy–they have powerful politicians as regional champions. At first we of the Anglosphere tend to look upon the political arrangements as strange, a conflict of interests and possibly corrupt; ie. when the same politician can hold a national ministry simultaneous with being mayor of a major city or departmental head. But I have come to see its benefits, and in some ways it is similar to the way Senators work (or should) in the US. There is usually a powerful politician at the heart of revitalized regional cities and while not universal these same are often national politicians. One example that comes to mind is Alain Juppé, former Prime Minister (1995-1997) who was Minister of State for Ecology and Sustainable Development (2007), Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs (2010 to 2011) and Minister of Foreign Affairs (2011 to 2012) all the while being mayor of Bordeaux city (2006-present). Bordeaux (city) has become sparkling under his rule, with cleaned-up pedestrianized ancient core (UNESCO listed in 2007), tramways and cycleways & cycle-hire scheme etc. Three hours by TGV to Paris (but to be reduced as the entire route is upgraded to HSR). And on my last visit–at least a decade since the previous visit–I noted a considerable increase in the number of immigrants. I suspect the same will be true for those other revitalized “southern” cities of Toulouse, Montpellier and Marseilles. The completion of the HSR linking Barcelona to northern Europe will have a similar effect on Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpellier, Nimes etc. which at the moment are just a bit too far out on the periphery. The same phenomenon could/will operate for the California HSR.

            Alon Levy at 2015/09/12 – 20:35
            Long-term US economic growth has been consistent since the late 19th century.

            To expand on Adirondacker’s reply: A country is not a business; a country’s “business” is its people and since the 70s median wages and especially for blue-collar, have been in real decline. On all other relevant measures the US is far behind almost all other western countries, on wage rates, conditions, holiday entitlements, retirement benefits and healthcare. As productivity has notionally improved the benefits have flowed to a tiny fraction of the population.

          • Alon Levy

            The “go south and stop loitering around Paris” issue contributes to the interregional inequality – the top academics are still in Paris, and the universities in Paris are still a lot better than anywhere else.

            Lille is nice for a few blocks around Lille-Europe. Elsewhere? Nord-Pas-de-Calais sets national records for poverty and unemployment, and the departments around Toulouse, Marseille, etc. are all far poorer than Ile-de-France. There’s a reason the immigrants keep clustering in and around Paris. It’s not even that Paris is inherently more desirable. That sort of desirability is a consumption amenity, which would imply lower wages rather than higher wages. This is not what we see – Paris is one of Europe’s richest cities, and maintains a large income gap versus the rest of France. What it has that Lille, Nantes, Bordeaux, etc. don’t is production amenities, i.e. an existing cluster of industries and businesses, which can be disrupted, destroying wealth in the process, but not really moved in a way that lets other cities share. They’ll have to develop their own clusters.

            The regional reform empowers local politicians, yes. This is not positive, because those politicians have a vested interest in not letting their constituents move away, leading to NITBYism. Those politicians are also sufficiently tethered to the state that they don’t have toooooooo much interest in regional coherence. I’ll bring up Brittany and Pays de la Loire again, because it’s a good example of how France sometimes just assigned departments to regions based on proximity rather than any cultural and social ties. The Southwest is another example – there’s a historic Aquitaine/Guyenne and a historic Languedoc, and I can see fidgeting with the boundary to put more of Toulouse’s suburbs on the Languedoc side, but dividing them into three regions just to give Montpellier a hinterland is how a Parisian bureaucrat would think and not how the region would divide itself if it were independent. In general, capital-centric bureaucrats love to create regions from scratch, as a divide-and-rule policy, and France’s entire domestic policy going back to the Revolution has been to disempower anything outside Paris. The decentralization policy, trying to keep the hoi polloi from the capital, is a continuation of that policy, not a repudiation.

            HSR does not seem to promote development in the regions it serves – all it does is concentrate development around the stations. It doesn’t even give proper access to primate-city jobs the way local rapid transit does, because the fares are out of reach of all but the richest commuters.

        • michael.r.james

          (Alon Levy 2015/09/13 – 09:09)

          I am confused about what you are recommending. Destroy swathes of Paris to allow a profusion of 60-floor towers so that the unemployed from Lille can come and live in central Paris? That seems to be a plan to centralize ever-more and end up with a single mega-city alongside a deracinated rural area? The Sao Paulo, Mumbai, Mexico City model?
          Of course the outer regions of provincial cities “are all far poorer than Ile-de-France” because they contain a lot of rural and semi-rural areas and they are always poorer than urban regions. But I don’t think it means that either everyone living in those places (or Nord-Pas-de-Calais) want to move to miserable hi-rise apartments in a slumified Paris.

          The thing is that I can’t see what problem you are trying to fix. I know there is a lot of negative talk about France but frankly most of that talk is ignorant (by which I mean, those saying it don’t actually know the real France and somehow judge things to be worse than they are, from simplistic numerical (econo-rationalist) analysis; the same people who think the UK is better!) The entire developed world (including Japan) has problems today, with chronic un- or under-employment, growing inequality and growing unequal access to what we used to consider birthrights of housing, health & education. On all counts I consider France ahead. (Even on unemployment which is about 10%; yes, high, but the true unemployment in the US is estimated to be at least 14.5% not the official rate; plus the fact that more employed in France have real full-time jobs while in the Anglosphere there has been rampant expansion of casualization and all the misery that brings to people trapped in it.)
          On urban issues France is light-years ahead of the Anglosphere. Alon, despite your comments about national versus local politicians and their vested interests (doh!), France’s main regional cities are superb and immensely livable; ditto their large number of towns and villages. Bordeaux, Toulouse, Montpellier, Grenoble, Lyon, Marseilles all do have their own industries. And the top industry in Bordeaux is aero-industry, not wine. Some of the smaller ones too (Cherbourg makes submarines etc; just east of Avignon is the world’s biggest nuclear fusion project etc).
          Though the smaller places have undergone the global phenomenon of rural depopulation, many of the regional cities are in growth mode. I’d say their policies have been right on these matters.
          Brief interlude while I digest the fact that in the last 5 minutes we have got an unscheduled change to our Prime Minister! The smooth talking richest man in the conservatives, Malcolm Turnbull is the new PM. He is the fifth PM in five years, and it is not supposed to be like this. In the context of our discussions it is a reflection of the dysfunction in politics all over the world, especially the Anglosphere.

          France’s entire domestic policy going back to the Revolution has been to disempower anything outside Paris.

          Well, yes. Centralizing power and unifying the country was part of 19th century nation building (all over the world). Remember that parts of the country didn’t speak the same language at the time of the revolution. But in the past 30 years or so (maybe longer) there has been a strong policy of devolution and that includes both power and budgets that make it happen. Some of it is so complicated that one is amazed it works. But IMO it does work. (Could it work better? Of course, but everything in human affairs can always work better … in theory.) Certainly you’ll find the anti-London griping of the Brits is in the ascendancy; pace the SNP vote. You’ll always hear the same complaint but I do believe the French consider they “own” Paris as much as the Parisians, and that this is quite different to the hate for London by non-Londoners. For business people the regions and departments have real power and they would be advised not ignore that when considering establishing there.

          HSR does not seem to promote development in the regions it serves – all it does is concentrate development around the stations. It doesn’t even give proper access to primate-city jobs the way local rapid transit does, because the fares are out of reach of all but the richest commuters.

          The point is that it brings the benefit of jobs in Paris to those regional centres: those “rich” commuters are spending their money in their local communities. BTW, France has a strong subsidy system for work-related commuting so it is not really “rich” but middle-class. You probably know what “turbo-prof” refers to?

          • Alon Levy

            I don’t really see any commonality to Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and Mexico City, let alone to what I’m proposing. In Mumbai, there are tight zoning restrictions (maximum floor area ratio of 1.33), and a policy of slum clearance and forced dispersal of the poor to job-free suburbs; but there’s no macro policy regarding decentralization. In Mexico City, population growth lags that of any other major Mexican city, due to decades of a government policy promoting decentralization. Unlike in France, in Mexico the decentralization has not quite reinforced the center-periphery distinction, but only because Northern Mexico is closer to US markets, which makes it a favored region for US investment and for offshoring of US factories (if “offshoring” is the correct term for this when it’s crossing a land border…). In Brazil, there’s a policy of developing the interior, never mind the rainforests, but this primarily hit Rio de Janeiro and not Sao Paulo.

            I also don’t see where I’m claiming England is superior to France. To me, both countries exhibit extreme capital-centricity, and haven’t really been able to devolve power much. (Devolution has been more successful in Scotland and Wales, but they’ve always been a bit different from England.) Both exhibit very large interregional inequality. And both have a development policy in the capital that prioritizes historic preservation rather than access to jobs. There is no good European example of a country that gets this right – at best, there are European countries that do not have such strong interregional inequality, and therefore have fewer domestic migrants trying to get into the capital. Japan gets it right, and so does Canada. But England? Eh. It even has a green belt, just to prevent spillover into the Home Counties and their would-be aristocrats. However, I will note that right now, France is excelling at being shitty to Syrian refugees, to the point that the refugees are sneaking on Eurostar trains to Britain.

            (There’s an analogy here with immigration, in that the way every European country tries to engage in integration of first- and second-generation immigrants is a disaster. You can try to piece good policy from taking a few decent ideas from various European countries, with each country implementing one good idea and ten terrible ones, but even that is a failure. In contrast, if you look at US policy toward Cubans specifically you’ll see a string of successes and a model to how other countries should treat refugees, and to how the US should treat refugees fleeing non-communist regimes. Start by instituting real birthright citizenship, without the ridiculous restrictions Britain and France put in after the immigrants from the former colonies started showing up. At least there are good examples from other developed countries, but I wouldn’t rule out that there might be important public political issues on which all developed countries suck but some developing countries succeed.)

            As for the unemployment issue… sorry, but you’re wrong. The headline unemployment rates around the world are comparable, especially in countries where they take decent statistics, e.g. all developed countries. You can’t go and compare France’s U3 with the US’s U6. But this isn’t directly about development – peripheral towns usually don’t have outrageous unemployment, they just have low-productivity jobs. You can sort of look at where a country’s unemployment rate goes at the peak of its business cycle, and there, France does tend to be worse than Northern Europe, and Northern Europe is worse than high-income East Asia, but even that doesn’t tell you tooooo much about interregional inequality and development. The domestic periphery’s problem is usually low wages and not unemployment. It’s only when immigrants come in that you see the full scope of the problem, because immigrants don’t have that social network in which you do makework for a friend from high school who runs a local business and get paid minimum wage.

            Finally, about the TGV: the upper middle class uses it, if it’s subsidized, yes. But ultimately, you can’t expect a few intercity rail lines that charge you an average of 10 euros one-way to be the basis of job access. If it’s a region that developed organically as a suburb, for example all of Long Island, then it can grow as a favored quarter, supported by those turbo-commuters and by people providing them with local services. But if it’s a captured region that used to be independent, there are likely to be too many working-class locals and not enough upper middle-class commuters working in the center. This situation is common in the Northeastern US, where commuter rail allows you to travel from a peripheral secondary city to Boston or New York or Philadelphia in an hour or not much more than that. But the fares are still going to be out of reach for most people in Providence, Worcester, Trenton, and Bridgeport, and those commuter systems aren’t great at serving the less CBD-centric jobs that the working class might take. The situation in Lille is similar – you can commute to London, Paris, or Brussels, but there aren’t enough people who do so to revitalize the region.

            This situation, both HSR turbo-commutes and US long-range commuter rail service, creates a weird pattern in that areas with independent economies are actually poorer than areas without. Thus, Providence and Worcester are not doing well, and Attleboro, the oldest of the suburbs served by the Providence Line, is lower middle-class, while parts of New England that have no independent existence outside Boston do well. In the New York area, the suburban area with the most jobs – the Edison-Woodbridge-New Brunswick cluster – is one of the ill-favored quarters, while the favored quarters (Long Island North Shore, Westchester and Fairfield Counties, parts of Bergen County, and the areas heading due west of Newark) don’t really have jobs except for more recent edge cities, such as White Plains. The reason is that if the region has an independent economic existence, then it’s likely a small urban area that used to be an industrial center but has deindustrialized, and is now trying to reinvent itself as part of a larger region; if it has no independent economic existence, and all income is based on the purchase power of commuters to the big city, then the area only has as many residents as those commuters’ income can support, and moreover the zoning will ensure that the only people who can afford to move in are people of a social class those commuters deem respectable.

          • michael.r.james

            (Alon Levy 2015/09/14 – 16:20)
            I still don’t grasp what your ideal is. I see no advantage in destroying swathes of inner Paris to build hi-rise. Other than infill and brownfield site redevo (as is happening) most improvement to Paris in the future will be to the suburbs and their Metropole GrandParis plan based on the transit plans. This strikes me as better than almost any comparable city I can think of or have seen.

            The “commonality to Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and Mexico City” is that they were allowed to grow laissez faire into mega-cities with huge problems for the subsequent favelas residents; there is not enough work for them all, and it creates educational & health deficiencies, and breeds crime. These cities are 20m to 30m and Paris was headed in that direction but that fate was averted by specific government policy. OK, it may be inappropriate comparison of first-world with third. Perhaps we should be comparing the greater Tokyo region and greater LA, but again, I think greater Paris compares more than favourably to these, including for the lower-SES. Indeed it compares more favourably than cities one half to one third its size like Atlanta and Houston or Sydney or the SF Bay Area*. Paris’ plans for the future will make it even better than all of these examples. Your suggestion of hi-rise would cause the opposite. It’s a subjective matter but at least mine can be experienced in the real world while yours would be an irreversible experiment. As I said earlier, but which you don’t seem to accept, this experiment was partly begun in the rehabilitation of the 13th arrondissement but was stopped as it was deemed a failure, or at least not successful in whatever the original vision was.

            *The Bay Area could benefit from a Goldilocks, ie. Housmannian, style densification. Not a hi-rise mess. But the arguments seem to be bipolar, from one extreme (NIMBY) to laissez-faire hi-rise. It’s not just the low-SES who spend hours each day commuting across the bay to more affordable accommodation. I’ve known scientists and marketing type people who worked at Mountain View etc. and lived in Oakland; they described their commute to me, beginning at something like 5am then leaving work at about 3pm (and looking at their watches because 15 minutes late could mean getting caught in endless freeway jams).
            The direction of your arguments about HSR seems to be trending to the standard conservative disavowal of building them at all.
            As to your casual dismissal of employment stats, I still don’t agree. Those internationally applied criteria give equal weight to someone working one hour a week as to a full-time employee. Only in the Anglosphere can someone be employed for so little time for it to be viable and/or legal for the employer. Or like the notorious zero-hours contracts in the UK. In France it wouldn’t make sense, except in the black market and that is more difficult in France (one reason those refugees head to the UK, no ID cards). Thus most employees in France enjoy longer workhours and much better job security. Economists hate this because they won’t consider anything except such “accepted” employment stats. Neo-con economists hate it because of the argument about “depriving” unemployed from gainful employment … regardless of pay and conditions (which of course get driven remorselessly down). They shriek that this arrangement in France is unsustainable but it looks just as unsustainable everywhere in the developed world.
            Concerning the awful Syrian refugee problem, I don’t have any solutions, except to state the obvious: there needs to be a local solution in the ME. As to France, well it might be partly because it was one of the few countries who were not bullied into being part of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq, which of course is what had led directly to the destabilizing of the entire Arab world. IS has grown directly out of the mess the US created in Iraq. In that context it makes sense that the Coalition of the Willing take the responsibility for the Syrian refugees. France will be getting a big share of those from North Africa. The UK and the US are being tardy; Australia finally yielded to pressure last week to take another 12,000 (though there was a fuss about giving Syrian-christians priority) and of course Germany too.
            But what the heck is Merkel doing? She has unilaterally made a decision that is going to affect the entire Schengen zone, and 800,000 in one year? Where does it end. She should not be taking this decision in isolation of the other Schengen members but it shows her M.O. in matters European. In fact within days of that statement of “open borders” Germany has done a reversal as was inevitable. Where it ends I have no idea. Ask George W. Bush and Tony Blair.
            I will agree that there has been a sad absence of leadership from France since Mitterrand. But then there is a deficit of leadership everywhere too.

          • Alon Levy

            Mumbai is not allowed to grow laissez faire at all. It has tight FAR limits, which make it impossible for people in the slums to build tall and enlarge their tiny apartments; informal economies don’t do tall buildings, because they’re a large capital investment, and when you’re outside the formal economy and everything you do is technically illegal, you’re not going to take the risk. In fact, the state has been putting a lot of money into demolishing squats and shipping their inhabitants to job-free suburbs, still with very little floor space per capita. There kind of sort of is public transit to the urban core, but it’s overcrowded in ways that make Tokyo’s rush hour look tame, and India is too poor to be able to build what France is building (construction costs are actually higher, and GDP per capita is about 15% as high).

            What Mumbai, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo have in common is that they’re low- and middle-income megacities that did not outright ban the villagers from moving in freely the way Chinese cities did with the hukou system. China does not have squats, because it forces farmers to stay on the farm and gaze at urban wealth from afar. Other developing countries do. This has approximately nothing to do with development policy – squats can occur even in the presence of intrusive economic regulations (e.g. the legendary License Raj), and, conversely, in rich countries, relatively lax rules about redevelopment have not created squats.

            Talking about Paris’s success means nothing unless you look at the entire Parisian empire, i.e. France plus former colonies with prospective immigrants. Paris’s various tenant protections and building restrictions have created an ersatz hukou system. Nothing formal, of course – it’s the egalitarian French republic after all – but a situation in which people who are not Parisian have a hard time moving to Paris if they want to, and have no chance of getting an apartment on the same terms as Parisians. And this leads to a situation in which France has very low income mobility relative to how low its income inequality is. It will subsidize the immigrants and the provincials, but it will not give them access to the same jobs as the Francilien long-timers.

            Of course, Britain, the US, and Italy have this low income mobility, as well as high income inequality. But France’s failure to provide the same income mobility as Germany, Canada, Australia, or Scandinavia speaks to the limits of relying on rich-to-poor income transfers as a policy to promote interregional equality (as opposed to within-region equality, which is easier, since people mix more).

            The international unemployment rates indeed do not count underemployment. But if you do count underemployment as well as people who would like to work but are discouraged due to labor market conditions or other reasons, France’s rate shoots up to 19% (link). France indeed maintains high productivity among the people who are employed, unlike Britain (but like the other core Continental European countries as well as the US), but it has high unemployment by any measure, relative to how good its economy is. Obviously, Spain and such are worse, but they’re in a depression, whereas France is not, even if it’s not in a “Greece circa 2007” boom situation.

            As for Syrian refugees, ISIS is a distraction. The primary villain in this story is Assad, who is responsible for a large majority of civilian deaths in the conflict. He and ISIS if anything like having each other around – if he fights ISIS and wins then the West will start comparing him with the other rebel groups and want him out, while as long as ISIS exists, he can say “those people are worse than Al-Qaida, don’t throw me to the wolves.”

            None of this really matters for refugee admissions, though. You can support or oppose bombing Syria while still recognizing that there’s a humanitarian crisis and that the developed countries should take in refugees in significant numbers. Even for a country of Australia’s population, 12,000 is not significant relative to how many millions are displaced in the conflict – at Australia’s rate, the developed countries would take in around 500,000 between them, about an order of magnitude less than the number of Syrian refugees. Germany at least feels enough historic shame to take in more people; most of the rest of Europe consists of countries that pretend they were innocent victims and that 200% of their population was in the Resistance in WW2 and -100% collaborated.

          • Adirondacker12800

            relatively lax rules about redevelopment have not created squats.

            The redevelopment rules might be lax but the building codes aren’t. The new apartment needs a functioning bathroom and kitchen. Egress is regulated. Usually enforced too. There’s usually something about minimum floor area. And someplace on the books, not usually enforced, about how many people can share the bathroom and kitchen. Central heat and electricity. No city sewer? Complex regulations about the septic system. No city water? complex regulations about the well. You wanna live in a garden shed without any utilities, eventually someone shows up and says you can’t do it.

          • michael.r.james

            Our new PM Malcolm Turnbull has appointed a Minister for Cities, the first ever by an Australian conservative government. Conservatives hate trains and the very notion of urban planning, but Turnbull makes a show (a bit Bloomberg-like) of using public transport. He owns one of the most magnificent houses on Sydney Harbour, in the über-exclusive enclave of Point Piper, with an estimated value of $50m. He has decided to remain living there rather than at the PM’s official resident (when in Sydney; there is a main residence in Canberra) at Kirribilli directly across the harbour from the Opera House, and one of the most spectacular leader’s residence in the world (though the house itself is fairly modest). Anyway Australian cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, are decades behind in transit provision so we’ll see.
            (Alon Levy 2015/09/16 – 15:34)

            Mumbai is not allowed to grow laissez faire at all.

            You are talking about official development. The de facto reality in all those megacities is that they all have vast “unauthorized” shanty towns often without water, power and sanitation. While India is poor, Mumbai is actually the richest city of the subcontinent, and apparently the world’s tenth richest urban agglomeration, which places it even ahead of many Chinese cities. So the reasons why it is such a mess are the usual endemic corruption and extreme inequality (isn’t the Ambani House the most expensive in the world, at US$1bn?).
            Do you really want to be so totally against the Chinese approach which has still seen the biggest urbanization the world has ever seen. Clearly it has worked quite well, with a minimum of the shanty town effect. (Except for pollution levels but then the air is pretty horrible in rural China too because of the use of coal-burning fires in homes for cooking and heating.) They clearly are planning on continued urbanization. Meanwhile I’d say the rural poor are better off being poor in their traditional villages where they have established water and sanitation methods which have worked for millenia rather than the usual horrors of shanty towns. There is also large transfer of funds out of the big industrial cities by those workers who still have families (sometimes their own children) back in the villages. (It may not be by HSR–except by US standards–but about one quarter of a billion Chinese go back by train to their rural villagers several times a year.)

            Alon, you really don’t like Paris and what it represents! It and France always raise the hackles of …. (enough, I won’t go there). But it is curious to be so critical when it is the biggest city in Europe, the second richest (after London, though I’d wonder about so much of their wealth being concentrated in the financial industry and in so few of the extremely wealthy & privileged), and thus by definition has given the “wealthy city” experience to more people than any other Euro-city. That would have to include immigrants because just those two departments we mentioned, Hauts-de-Seine & Seine-Saint-Denis, have 20% and 23% of residents foreign-born!
            France is not in a fake-boom situation like Spain or Greece (or pre-2008 USA, or indeed Australia which has the largest per cap private debt in the world due to mortgages and overpriced housing) because they regulate (mortgage) borrowing tightly, which is another thing I endorse.
            Re the 12,000 Syrian refugees, it took about a week of shaming PM Abbott for him to reverse his position on this (just days before he was deposed; it was yet another issue on which he was well out of touch of popular sentiment). Many in his party want it to be doubled, others want it tripled. If the US took a proportionate number it would be 160,000. Which goes to show this is not the main game. The reality is that there are at least 4m Syrian refugees and that transferring them to Europe or elsewhere is not an option and not the solution. These refugees are also destabilizing Lebanon and Turkey. Russia is digging in deeper in Syria. Damage has been inflicted on the EU Schengen system. Look at what is happening at those borders of Hungary, Austria, Serbia.

          • Alon Levy

            We are not discussing Mumbai’s water infrastructure; we are discussing its FAR regulations (or FSI – floor space index – as it is called in India). Those are strict, and apply in both the formal and the informal sectors. The informal economy is not totally unregulated. Every unit there has a maximum size, coming from the need to not be obtrusive to the law when everything you do is definitionally illegal. For example, there are no power plants, only small generators, because regulators would shut down power plants. It’s also impossible to build a large business without access to credit, which you can’t get when you’re in the informal economy. This also limits building sizes – there are no skyscrapers in squats, even in areas where there do exist some multifamily mid-rise buildings, such as the favelas of Rio.

            The rural poor would not be better off staying in their traditional villages. The rural poor don’t think they’d be better off in their traditional villages, either, which is why they run off to the cities, to the slums. India’s cities are growing very quickly, and this is entirely due to migration: as can be seen on this map, India’s largest cities all have birth rates well below replacement, with the exception of Delhi, which is slightly above replacement. In 2015, cities have better public health outcomes than rural areas, even when those cities have squatter majorities, as in Mumbai; it’s not the Middle Ages anymore, when cities had higher death rates than villages. This is on top of large gaps in income and education levels. China’s solution is totalitarian control, telling people when they’re allowed to move to the cities, and even how many children they’re allowed to have, to avoid a rural population explosion. China is a richer country than India so its poor are richer than India’s, but China has higher inequality as a result (why should the CCP elites care, when they have no political competition?). It’s just less conspicuous than in India, since China’s rich have a culture of not showing off their ill-gotten gains domestically, and instead spending it all abroad.

          • Adirondacker12800

            All you need to build a four story building is some dimensional lumber, nails, a saw or two and some hammers. Most North American codes won’t let you go that high with wood. All you need for a steel structure is a pair of tinsmith’s shears instead of a saw and screws instead of nails.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Everybody can’t live in Manhattan. If for any other reason there has to be people out in the hinterlands to supervise the resource extraction. ( look at the population history for North Dakota someday )
        Expensive land in the center encourages the business to think about moving. They do.

  9. Ion D

    Sorry for the html mess… I looked for a “Preview” button but I could not find any.

  10. michael.r.james

    Interesting article in today’s Guardian, on the changing face of Marseille and what Walter Benjamin might make of it.
    In praise of dirty, sexy cities: the urban world according to Walter Benjamin
    Seventy five years after his death, the Marxist philosopher’s passion for the seedier, messier delights of cities such as Marseille and Moscow are a stark reminder of how sanitised today’s urban environment is becoming
    Stuart Jeffries, Monday 21 September 2015
    Marseille isn’t the world’s wickedest port, but subject to one of Europe’s biggest architectural makeover projects. It has become respectable enough to serve as European Capital of Culture in 2013. Its port has been sandblasted and civilised. Throughout the city – Eurostar’s latest destination from London – there are new trams, designer hotels, luxury flats and high-rise developments.
    The last of these changes is freighted with symbolism. Marseille has been overwhelmingly horizontal since Greek graders founded it 2,600 years ago, its terracotta-roofed buildings spreading inland from the bay. Now it’s going vertical, with new skyscrapers glassily returning your gaze, looking like a Mediterranean sibling for those other formerly raffish docklands made safe for business suits – London, Hamburg and Baltimore.
    The worry is, as Marseille comes to look like everywhere else, it loses what made it special – the saltiness, the wickedness, the downright smelliness so off-putting to some.
    “Marseille – the yellow studded maw of a seal with salt water coming out between the teeth,” wrote the critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin. “When this gullet opens to catch the black and brown proletarian bodies thrown to it by ship’s companies according to their timetables, it exhales a stink of oil, urine and printer’s ink …”

    Here is the bit Alon might like:

    In Paris, the poor are banished beyond the périphérique so that when they revolt, they destroy their own banlieues rather than the French capital’s fussily maintained environment. London’s key workers strap-hang on laughable trains from distant commuter towns to serve the wealthy before being returned to their flats in time for the de facto curfew each day. Manhattan island is today a pristine vitrine on which the lower orders don’t even get to leave their mucky paw prints, but inside which the rich get to fulfil with unparallelled freedom their uninteresting desires. I’m exaggerating in each case, but not much. Many of the world’s leading cities are becoming like the Berlin that Benjamin called a prison, and from which he escaped whenever possible.

    • Alon Levy

      I can’t remember a single article in The Guardian Cities that wasn’t trite. This is one example. Manhattan is a pristine vitrine? Has the author been to Harlem? Chinatown? Washington Heights?

      • michael.r.james

        Harsh. But it does communicate some things a big audience. Bringing Walter Benjamin (superficially) to the masses!
        But your complaint is a bit funny. I posted it precisely because it is the same exaggeration you wrote about Paris.

        • Alon Levy

          I don’t think Paris is sterile at all! On the contrary, I find it a lot like inner New York in feel.

          However, I do think Paris tends to shunt poor people who are not native Franciliens to the suburbs.

          • michael.r.james

            I see that the City of Paris has finally (definitely maybe …) approved the building of Projet Triangle (or Tour Triangle), the glass pyramid sitting literally atop the border with the banlieu. It is on the eastern side, and on the actual site, of the Porte de Versailles Parc des Expositions in the 15th arrondissement. It will be a 120-room hotel and offices, so not exactly addressing the residential issues of Paris. Except if it really gets built it might just break the taboo on skyscrapers “in Paris”. Or more widely perhaps. It is only just within Paris, as the Bvd Peripherique runs under the southern edge of the site.
            I’m not sure what to think of it. On one hand it is not really in Paris and doesn’t displace anything of note (a bunch of low-rise drab 1950s exposition sheds) and at 180m (roughly 50-55 floors) it is only a bit higher than half the Tour Eiffel (324m with antennae; 300m without) and still a bit less than Tour Montparnasse (59-floors, 210-metre); and being a pyramid it will seem a lot less bulky. OTOH, I don’t want to see a de facto 200m wall of such things around the Peripherique. It would be remaking the original defensive walls turning inner Paris into a Kremlin. And least of all do I want any to be for residential. I prefer the Metropole Grand Paris plan which is essentially to develop a series of regional centres each as a TOD, usually on a RER line.
            Here is the hype by the designers, Herzog & de Meuron:

            The Triangle is conceived as a piece of the city that could be pivoted and positioned vertically. It is carved by a network of vertical and horizontal traffic flows of variable capacities and speeds. Like the boulevards, streets and more intimate passages of a city, these traffic flows carve the construction into islets of varying shapes and sizes. This evocation of the urban fabric of Paris, at once classic and coherent in its entirety and varied and intriguing in its details, is encountered in the façade of the Triangle. Like that of a classical building, this one features two levels of interpretation: an easily recognisable overall form and a fine, crystalline silhouette of its façade which allows it to be perceived variously.

            Nothing like a bit of starchitecture “narrative”. And Paris already has its glass pyramid(s) in the Louvre, another piece of starchitecture (IM Pei) which does work very well. Of course it is about one twentieth the scale.

  11. Schwert

    I just wanted to attach another Guardian article to this post, in reference to the social networks in cities.

    A couple of paragraphs from the article sum it up nicely:

    “This, I think, may be the real story of London’s low income households, welfare reform and the PRS. When the housing benefit reforms were first announced, a seasoned Labour housing expert anticipated that while some people would certainly end up moving as a result, many would cut back on other spending in order to stay put, if not in the same home then nearby.

    By 2103, an assessment for the Department for Work and Pensions of the initial impacts of housing benefit reform seemed to bear out this prediction. It noted that people with little cash to spare could be particularly reluctant to move from familiar areas, because making ends meet often depends on informal local networks of families and friends, providing free help with childcare and so on.”


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