Anne Hidalgo Hates Paris

Paris has depopulated by 123,000 people in 10 years, or about 5.5% of its population. Normally, this should be cause for alarm: it means either mass abandonment of the city, or, if rents are up, insufficient quantity of housing. But not so according to Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who celebrates the city’s depopulation. Hidalgo – and the New Left urban tendency that she’s so celebrated for – manifestly dislikes her own city so much that she thinks it’s a good thing people of lower incomes are displaced from it to the suburbs; she calls it good news. Why?

The standard excuses

There are specific complaints about overcrowding in Paris, but these are conflated with density. Paris is famously very dense – around 26,000/km^2, excluding the Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne, both of which extrude from the Périphérique, which otherwise acts as the city’s limit. It is also rather overcrowded: in 2013, INSEE reported that the average dwelling size per person in the city was 31 square meters, which may be the worst in the developed democratic world – Tokyo is at 33 by one calculation, and I believe Seoul is about 32 nowadays, while German and Dutch cities are in the 40s (Amsterdam is at 49).

However, Paris’s overcrowding is not about density, and Hidalgo’s dream of sending the working class to the suburbs is hardly going to give them space. Per the same INSEE source, the dwelling size in the Petite Couronne was actually lower per capita than in the city: Val-de-Marne and Hauts-de-Seine, both fairly wealthy departments, are at 31 just like the city, and infamously poor Seine-Saint-Denis is at 27. Note that Paris is richer than its suburbs – this is how Seine-Saint-Denis is so overcrowded – but the same income gradient is found in Stockholm, and there, the city is at 33 and suburbs like Huddinge and Södertälje are at 35.

So the problem isn’t that Paris is too dense – if it were, the Petite Couronne would have the residential space of Amsterdam, or at least Vienna (which is at 36). Rather, the issue is that up until 2013, little housing was built in Ile-de-France.

YIMBY region, NIMBY city

The overcrowding levels for Ile-de-France are from 2013. But in the last 10 years, there has been a building boom, entirely in the suburbs. Yonah Freemark has the best introduction to this issue that I’ve seen in English. In 2014, the housing production in Ile-de-France was around 3.5 per 1,000 people and had been for a generation. In the next two years, this figure doubled, and would stay around 7/1,000 at least through 2019, when Yonah wrote his paper.

Little of this new housing is in the city. In 2021, housing production in Ile-de-France was 72,000, a little less than 6/1,000 people, of which 2,600 units were in Paris, or 1.2/1,000 people. While housing production in the region intensified starting in the mid-2010s, it did not in the city – production in 2019 was lower than in 2014 and has since fallen further. This is not quite a matter of suburbanization and building where there’s more space, because in 2021 the Petite and Grande Couronnes had identical housing production rates (both about 6.8-6.9), and before corona, the Petite Couronne had a substantially higher rate, 8.6 vs. 7.2. Rather, it’s a matter of a growth plan done in tandem with the construction and upgrade of suburban rail, as part of a transit-oriented development plan.

And practically none of this plan concerns the city. This is not because there’s no space: the city is full of high-rise residential housing, typically social projects of around 12-15 floors, and conversely there are sections only built up to 3-4 floors, low enough that the buildings can be replaced. There are still railyards inherited from the steam era that have not been redeveloped yet in the manner of Bercy. Yonah’s paper talks about the top-down nature of the regional growth plan, which has overruled local NIMBYs in the suburbs; but in the city, perhaps the national elites who have little trouble telling a suburb that the needs of the state trump the needs of a mayor are reluctant to do the same out of an emotional reaction to the city.

Hidalgo’s role

Hidalgo has has little trouble overruling NIMBYs on matters that are important to her. The trickle of housing that is built in the city is disproportionately social, often in wealthy areas, where the mayor enjoys needling rich snobs. The same snobs who look down on social housing also look down on taking public transport alongside the hoi polloi; public transport usage in the city is very high, but the wealthiest arrondissement, the 16th, has a fairly large share of drivers, 26% compared with a city average of 12% (see table here). And Hidalgo has little trouble overruling such snobs when she redoes streets to give their cars less space so that there is more room for cycle paths, bike share docks, and wider sidewalks.

So if so little housing is built in the city, it’s not because Hidalgo is powerless in the face of NIMBY opposition. No: she is the NIMBY opposition to growth. No wonder she thinks it’s a positive thing that the working class is moving to the suburbs.

Why is she like this?

The New Left has always been uncomfortable with growth and production. Instead, it centers consumption. Its theory of the city is about consumption, and thus, its take on matters like growth, decline, gentrification, displacement, and housing centers consumption amenities, in which the city itself is what is being consumed. It pays little attention to job growth and instead tells a story of the middle class chasing some artistry, which is not in evidence in either patterns of development or what the urban middle class says drives its locational choices.

In Paris, this is seen in the museumification of the city. It’s a middle class that feels a little guilty about its privileges, and therefore Hidalgo will make sure there’s some social housing in the city for the poor, but the idea that the working class could just afford market rate and live in the city at scale (which it can in YIMBYer cities like Tokyo) is unthinkable to her and to generations of New Left urbanists. If poorer people leave, it’s a victory for the New Left: there are fewer poor people to take care of. Stalin promised socialism in one country; Hidalgo and her left-NIMBY counterparts in the United States and Germany build socialism in one county.

This also cascades to transport policy. Hidalgo has been very good about removing cars from the city – but the city already has a 64% public transport modal split and only a 12% split for cars. It’s more important to grow the city and allow people to move into it rather than out of it than to squeeze those last 12%. Migration out of the city is nothing to celebrate; unless those people are moving to a comparably car-free place like Tokyo, Stockholm, or Barcelona, it’s a net negative for everyone who cares about modal shift.

More broadly, Hidalgo and the New Left care little about how people get to work; Hidalgo is not involved in any plan to improve public transport in the region, and the high-level socialist in the region who was, Elisabeth Borne, is currently serving as prime minister under Macron while Hidalgo allied with far-left forces, including Putin apologists (which she herself is not), to form NUPES in opposition. Instead, they try to create little bubbles where the middle class can feel good about its own consumption while changing little at macro scale. This ideology is, in practice, to the pedestrian, city center, and to the car, the world.

The hate for the city

There are places in the United States that are notorious for their combination of left-wing politics, extreme NIMBYism, high rents, and an entrenched local middle class that looks down on the consumption of the workers who it has displaced. They are never major cities: New York has people with these attitudes but they don’t really run the city – New York’s NIMBYism comes from other interest groups. Rather, they are small places, often college towns or resort towns; Aspen and Boulder are both notorious for it.

The museumification of the city is the product of the ideology of turning Paris from a productive city with millions of jobs that one gets to on the Métro or RER into an enclave for rich people who don’t need to work outside the home. If you want work, you live and work in the suburbs and unless your commute lines up perfectly with the orbital lines in Grand Paris Express, you drive. It’s casual hate for the city, by people who don’t like change and don’t like sharing space with other people, and only differ from the snobs of the 16th in that they are the snobs of the Left Bank instead.


  1. Diego

    Great rant. I have to admit I wasn’t paying that much attention and thought Hidalgo was indifferent to housing rather than actively hostile. My opinion of her has gone way down with yesterday’s interview.

    Hidalgo is a stark example of how NIMBYism is incompatible with an inclusive progressive ideology. She’s twisting herself into pretzels saying that the population going down is good because it makes the city more liveable but poor people moving away is also bad because that means not enough social housing was built.

    If you build a great country, it’s normal for a lot of people to want to migrate there. You should welcome them, and let them help you build an even better country. The same applies when you build a great city.

    • Borners

      Alon’s disliked her for years. I remember them showing a City promotional material showing her cabinet which was 90% white in the most diverse city centre in continental Europe. Compare that to Khan in London, heck the the last 10 British cabinets.

      It does kind of tell you how decrepit the Socialists have become if their leading voice is this …..

      • Alon Levy

        Yeah, and more broadly, NUPES has been terrible about this. Macron fucked up by running a woke-capitalist campaign in 2017 and then appointing an almost entirely white cabinet, appointing Gérald Darmanin of all people to be his minister of the interior, doing constant vice-signaling on racism starting from after the Gilets Jaunes, and shrugging it off when hooligans beat up Moroccan-French people after the semis (it takes a lot to get me to support Argentina over France, but that did it). A report on Islamophobia in Europe put his face on the cover. French voters of color, who showed up for Hollande in 2012 to defeat Sarkozy, started getting blackpilled after little visible progress was made in 2012-7, and got even more blackpilled, and the ones who have showed up largely voted Mélenchon or NUPES.

        …and then NUPES reacted by not doing a single thing to fight racism. It ran on anti-EU bullshit and on pensions, the same shtick that right-populist parties do knowing that retirees are disproportionately white. Mélenchon himself supported a hijab ban until five minutes ago. Where the extreme right made it to the second round in the legislatives, cross-endorsement rates of NUPES and Ensemble candidates were both less than 10%, and somehow NUPES third-placers endorsed Ensemble candidates against R-Haine at slightly worse rates than Ensemble third-placers endorsed NUPES.

      • michaelj

        Alon is one of those who are slightly deranged by Hidalgo (hah, HDS, Hidalgo Derangement Syndrome). She is quite divisive. But, as he reveals in his response to you, the “true left” are even worse, and nuttier.

        Look, try perceiving the bigger picture: since 2001 Hidalgo has been deputy mayor (to Delanoë) or mayor. So ask yourself if the city has improved or gone backwards in that period, long enough to judge broad movements. It’s kinda unarguable that it has improved, largely due to the Delanoë philosophy “Paris for people not cars”. The saccageParis attitude is faintly absurd and loses all perspective, largely because of these urbanist peccadilloes of Hidalgo and the furious incontinence of the car brigade. It has led the world on this (first Velib cycle share system that spread to the world; and no, Lyon or other small schemes don’t count; still Lime scooter and e-scooter capital of the western world, closing major road sewers and creating bikeways and liberating street parking etc; btw it seems they may be the first western city to properly regulate scooters if I understand the new laws, good.). This is also true for the very difficult housing issue, if a lot less dramatic or apparent. Not bad for a very intractable problem, as well-described by Yonah Freemark in his article I abstract in my earlier post. The more recent greening initiatives are on the right track if too early to really judge. If anything Hidalgo tends towards slightly nutty experiments imposed prematurely and without thinking thru (like the new urinals, or OTT with big trees obscuring too much of what makes Paris special)–and it sometimes seems “change for change’s sake”–but the worst gets quickly reversed (urinals, now the benches (bancs Davioud). But a lot of complaint is simply the son et lumiere by those who hate change and especially by those very disgruntled by the anti-car measures.

        Oh, and another non-negligible thing to consider is her influence on the conservatives, especially extramuros. Notably Valerie Pecresse who has been President of the Regional Council of Île-de-France since 2015 (I presume she retains this position despite her awful presidential run), and began implacably opposed to most policies of Delanoë and Hidalgo, especially the anti-car policies which the non-Parisians hate because it impedes their “right” to drive in or thru Paris. It’s been a slow conversion–tempered and trained by various electoral results–but she has definitely moved in Hidalgo’s general direction, though no doubt denies this. As a result there is a broad political and popular consensus for the whole of Petite and Grand Couronne to become more green and people-friendly. Of course part of this is that the Right in France is more people friendly than their equivalents in the Anglosphere; after all it was Sarkozy who enthusiastically promoted Grand Paris Express, and Metropole Grand Paris. Pecresse and Rachid Dati (mayor of Paris-7 among other things) were Sarkozettes.

        Which brings us back to Alon’s topic. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Parisians choosing to relocate to the Petite Couronne or further out. It’s also melodramatic to consider this is anything like American’s (and Australian’s and in as much as they can, Brits) “drive until you qualify” where the lower-SES are forced to be further from the centre (easily 55km in Sydney or dozens of American cities) with fewer amenities and impoverished car-dependent lifestyles. There is almost nowhere in the entire Ile de France, of almost 13m residents, that is a public transport desert. Much of the Petite Couronne is within walking distance of a Metro station, and if not then a RER or Francilien station; actually I estimated once that almost 2 million are within walking distance (across the Peripherique) of intramuros Paris; with many ZACs (brownfield redevo zones) in some of the formerly industrial areas (eg. Olympic-associated devo in St Denis, St Ouen, and the deindustrialisation of Nanterre and the huge investment in public transport here) this will constantly improve over time. Or of course the circumferential tramways (including T3 itself paralleling the Peripherique, very useful for all those extramural residents to walk to, as alternative to increasingly crowded radial Metro) and soon the M15, of which Alon has written positively (and he and others promoted as a model for other cities).

  2. Eric2

    An unnecessarily over-the top headline, given that you admit Hidalgo has been great at shifting modeshare away from cars (I would add: to an extent that few mayors elsewhere have), how nearly all of Paris is much denser than the areas just across its border, and how the places you suggest for development are not actually capable of much development (old rail yards are only a tiny fraction of the city, and 3-4 city buildings in the center tend to be either historically protected or with private owners who might not care to rebuild or both). Given that employment density is centered far west of the population/historical center, it would probably make sense to concentrate future housing production on the areas immediately west of Paris rather than Paris itself.

    • Alon Levy

      Hidalgo can hardly be credited for this modal shift when the numbers come from 2014. There’s 2017 data but it isn’t perfectly comparable (link); there is a small modal shift, but that’s in all of urban France, not just Paris, and the magnitude is far smaller than the effect of enlarging Paris.

      And contra what you say, the city is capable of plenty of development – there isn’t much of a holdout problem for the low end of mid-rise building when it’s legal to go from 4 to 13 floors. These are not usually historically notable buildings, and low-density urban renewal continues to this day, with Les Halles turned over to Mandela Park (France loves naming things after black people who fought Anglo racism) instead of high-intensity commercial uses as befits an already park-replete area right on top of Europe’s best-served urban rail station.

      • Eric2

        Of course the city is “capable” of more development. You could just put skyscrapers everywhere. But why there? The city of Paris is already one of the densest places in the developed world, while also being one of the most sensitive in terms of historic/cultural value and tourism. Whereas Paris’ western suburbs have pretty low density, and little historic/cultural/tourism value, and almost as good job access. Put the skyscrapers, or 13 story apartment blocks or whatever, there.

        • Alon Levy

          Those 3-story buildings between the Marais and Nation don’t really have conservation value, is the point. Neither does Jussieu, which is somehow landmarked despite being widely recognized to be ugly and nonfunctional; they couldn’t even knock down the administration building when asbestos was found. And neither does the area around Les Halles, which is 1970s urban renewal; Paris is full of that – it’s a very poorly preserved city unfortunately, with nothing like the intact medieval core of Gamla Stan.

          • michaelj

            @Alon: “Those 3-story buildings between the Marais and Nation don’t really have conservation value, is the point.”

            Are you sure about that? You should read Jacques Hillairet’s Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris. In 1657 Louis XIV and Colbert exempted the artisans of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine from the control of the Parisian craft-guilds. It gave rise to a burst of creativity in all sorts of arts and brought craftsmen from all over Europe “to create furniture with exotic island woods, tortoiseshell inlays, ornamentation with brass fillets, veneers in walnut, cedar, ebony and every other kind of wood.” This was to supply the endless demands for luxurious products for the royal court. Colbert made hundreds of codifications in his attempt to create a luxury goods market, using something we can recognise today (eg. in post-war Japan), to leverage the local market demand (from his boss, the Sun King building Versailles) to create a profitable export market. By the 18th century it was the largest furniture manufactory in Europe. From Wiki:
            “Colbert issued more than 150 edicts to regulate the guilds. One such law had the intention of improving the quality of cloth. The edict declared that if the authorities found a merchant’s cloth unsatisfactory on three separate occasions, they were to tie him to a post with the cloth attached to him.” That was the beginning of France’s luxury industries which ended up creating the world’s richest person (Bernard Arnault, LVMH).

            Many of the famous names and workshops survive. OK, some of them survive. Apparently there are walking tours of them. I suspect they are workshops on the Cours (Damoye, Trois Frères, Maison Brûlée etc). The low level of those buildings suggests to me that a lot of them may actually date from that era or not long after. Until the mid/late 19th century they were extramuros, the dreaded faubourgs (aka banlieus).

        • Diego

          Why limit yourself to the suburbs, you can redevelop the 15e and 16e too, make them as dense as the 20e. Stick it to the snobs, right?

          • michaelj

            You do realise that the 15e is the biggest in Paris (235,178 residents) and high density (27,733/km2), above the Parisian average. The 16e is smaller (149,500) and but hardly low-density at 19,054/km2. There’s very few city zones of comparable size (approx. 8km2) that approach such densities anywhere in the world; none outside Manhattan in the US. Some of the Petite Couronne approach similar densities. Here is a table of the residential zone in the Seineside-arc opposite to Bois de Boulogne eastwards to La Defense:

            La Defense and adjoining communes:
            Commune Area Population Density
            Courbevoie 4.17 km2 81,719 (2017) 20,000/km2
            Asniéres-s-S 4.82 km2 85,973 (2016) 18,000/km2
            Puteaux 3.19 km2 44,645 (2017) 14,000/km2
            Suresnes 3.8 km2 48,264 (2017) 13,000/km2
            St-Cloud (-park) 2.6 km2 29,973 (2017) 11,500/km2
            Boul-Billancourt 6.17 km2 120,071 (2017) 19,000/km2
            Neuilly-s-S 3.73 km2 60,361 (2017) 16,000/km2
            Nanterre 12.19 km2 95,105 (2017) 7,800/km2
            Total: 38.67km2 566,111 14,270/km2

            These include several of the richest residential areas of Paris/France/EU (Boulogne-Billancourt claims to be the richest suburb in Europe!). So the notion that high densities (in American terms, hyper-dense) 1. don’t exist in the banlieu, or 2. are reserved for ghettos and the lower-SES are obviously wrong. Most of this slice of the Petite Couronne is fully developed but there is scope–and a lot is underway–for brownfield development of deindustrialised Nanterre (has the giant Port de Paris, believe it or not one of the biggest ports in Europe on freight basis), Courbevoie, Asniéres. The latter is opposite side of the river to St Ouen and St Denis which are likewise being redeveloped.They could end up being quite nice areas; indeed property price-wise, it is already too late to get a bargain (I once dreamed about a ex-warehouse in St Ouen but all the Olympic activity, the Docklands development, the Luc Besson Cité du Cinema, the new mainline station of StDenis-Pleyel, the M13 and M14 extensions etc…).

          • Diego

            You do realise that people are willing to pay a lot of money to live in those arrondissements? Clearly they’re nowhere near the point where density is a disamenity and is pushing people out. In other words: there’s room to build more, even if it makes snobs sad.

          • michaelj


            The 15e is not particularly posh or wealthy. It is known as somewhat boring and dull (quick, name something iconic* or recognisable), and perhaps for exactly those reasons it is preferred by middle-class families. There is no undeveloped land or rail yards etc so the only way to gain density would be to increase height which would wreck it. Look at the 13e with its cluster of 31 storey apartment buildings (I lived in one briefly, on the 21st floor) and you don’t need to wonder why they prefer the 15e (next choice, the 14e).

            Luckily for Paris, what random foreigners think they want to impose on Paris is irrelevant.

            *the only things I can come up with are the Pasteur Institute and Tour Montparnasse/Gare de Montparnasse. Maybe the famous high school that perpetually wins ‘best in France’ (and educated Anthony Blinken). Oh, and Allée des Cygnes with its mini Statue of Liberty.

        • Onux

          “sensitive in terms of historic/cultural value”

          Paris is not historic. The Paris everyone knows and loves is a product of Hausmann in the 19th century, between 1853 and 1879 (Hausmann was dismissed in 1870 but his deputy continued the plan apace through the 1870’s, with some further works being completed between 1889 and 1927!) This is not historic by American standards let alone the rest of the world. Many cities in the US have an urban fabric that predates Parisian boulevards by decades (New York, the Commissioners Plan of 1812) to over a century (Savannah and Oglethorpe’s squares of 1733). Even San Francisco’s pre-gold rush street layout with two separate grids meeting at Market St is technically older than Paris’ current layout (1847). There are similarly many east coast US cities with plenty of building built before the 1850’s-1870’s unlike most of Paris.

          Most of historic Paris (particularly almost the whole of the medieval core of Ile de Citie) disappeared under Hausmann’s demolition. He boasted about it. This doesn’t mean that many historic buildings (Notre Dame, Louvre, etc.) remain, but the city as a whole is not.

          Paris IS beautiful, the result of Hausmann having an aesthetic that escaped modern mid-last-century urban renewal planners (Le Corbusier et. al.) This leads to an argument that Paris should pursue building beautiful buildings like Phillip Johnsons’s 580 California St in San Francisco (, search and Google and look for pictures of the roof and penthouse to fully understand). This doesn’t necessarily mean skyscrapers at 580’s height. If the Hausmannian standard is 5-6 stories plus mansard, this could be changed to 8-9 stories plus mansard and produce a city at a height of 10-11 stories which could place more people closer to jobs or give people more indoor space to live (or both) while retaining a human scaled walkable environment.

          • Eric2

            Late 19th century is historic. Not ancient or medieval, but historic. Few buildings in the US date before then. Most buildings in Europe don’t either. Even if people nowadays tried to build in the same style (good luck enforcing that on architects whose CV is built on novelty) the new buildings wouldn’t initially be beloved like the 19th century buildings are (though once the “new” buildings are 50 or 100 years old that might change). The age of the street network doesn’t matter because the street network is not what’s special about Paris.

            Adding a couple floors to each building wouldn’t change the city’s appearance much, but conversely the relatively low added value might not justify the cost of demolition and replacement. And on the narrower streets, 11 stories of height might make the street level and lower-floor housing unpleasantly dark.

          • michaelj

            Most of historic Paris (particularly almost the whole of the medieval core of Ile de Citie) disappeared under Hausmann’s demolition. He boasted about it. This doesn’t mean thatopolt many historic buildings (Notre Dame, Louvre, etc.) remain, but the city as a whole is not.

            I hesitate to tackle this but fear I must, in the name of balance. The popular view that Haussmann totally flattened old Paris is rather excessive. He changed it fundamentally but really, even in those rive-droit zones, I doubt he flattened more than 10%, possibly less. (I have the maps and plan to deploy my OCD-ness to trying to quantify it, but even by eye it isn’t more than 10%.) He demolished (after paying market rates, actually well above market rates–a criticism of his haste at the time) some perfectly good bourgeoise housing to build his new boulevards but then they were immediately rebuilt with even grander buildings (av Opera, Rivoli, bvd Sebastopol, Madeleine-Capucine-Italiens-Poissonniére etc) and other areas were subject to slum-clearance (and general cleanup, eg. of Ile de la Cité). But the reality is that most existing city fabric was not touched. For example, the Marais which today remains a picture of what pre-18th (if not pre-17th) century Paris was like; which is why it is lower (and Glaeser and Alon would replace with 40-storey towers! let’s not forget Corbu and his Plan Voisin which would have destroyed its western half). The Place de Vosges dates to 1605–and remember it is all residential. Likewise somehow the decrepit slum zone of the Plateau Beauborg (on which the Pompidou centre was built) survived, even as Haussmann rebuilt the adjoining markets. All of Ile St Louis was essentially finished, as an upmarket residential zone in the then ‘new’ Parisian style, by about 1660. The large Hopital St Louis in the 10e, where I worked, dates to 1607. The even bigger and beautiful Hospital de la Pitié Salpetrière in the 13e dates to 1658.

            Even on Ile de la Cité, sure a lot was cleared but it was really rubbish and was removed to provide space for the ancient heart of Paris, the Palais de la Cité (Justice) with its Sainte Chapelle; though its origins are much older most remaining structure dates to 1240 and major rebuilding in 1776 after the fire.

            It is even clearer on rive-gauche where much less was demolished, mostly for boulevards St Germain and St Michel. Much of what remains in the 5e and 6e is quite old, some from the 15th thru 17th centuries.

            Of course the city continued to develop and redevelop, and all guided by the model Haussmann established, but that wasn’t Haussmannian demolition. However his plan wasn’t exactly new and built on earlier only-partially implemented plans, eg. The 1676 plan of Bullet & Blondel, commissioned by Louis XIV/Colbert; and the real beginnings of Paris as we see today: Henry IV who built the Pont Neuf (1606) and Pont Marie (1614-23) the two oldest bridges, built to last in stone plus the building style we commonly call Haussmannian really dates from then (eg. 1660 Ile St Louis, essentially untouched since then with the only Haussmannian addition being the Pont de Sully). The extension of rue de Rivoli (first built 1804) east of the Palais Royal was due to Haussmann so it is half and half.

            Although one may say that post-Haussmannian Paris was unrecognisable from before, that’s not really true. Probably partly because a lot of development from the early 17th century was broadly to a plan still recognisable today. Indeed these points have been well documented, eg. by Joan de Jean in How Paris became Paris, and Nicholas Papayanis’ Planning Paris before Haussmann.

            Another testament to the fact that he didn’t demolish as much as is often suggested, is the persistence of the old street patterns. Most of it remains there, if cut thru and superimposed by the grand boulevards. I reckon it is one of the great aspects that makes the city so appealing: the three-level structure from grand boulevards/avenues to main streets to interlinking narrow streets and lanes (and arcades too). If he had really had demolished so much I doubt many of them would have remained whereas they still dominate the old 1e-6e to this day.
            I like this summary (from Saalman, Haussmann, Paris Transformed, 1971):

            Common to all of these approaches is the tendency to take Haussmann’s project out of context, as a kind of independent addition to the city. No one has thoroughly considered what is perhaps the most essential aspect of the program, namely its intimate relationship to the previously existing city. The criterion of urban success or failure in Haussmann’s Paris is not, as we shall see, a matter of addition, but of integration.

          • Onux

            “Late 19th century is historic.’
            We will have to disagree on if ordinary housing and shops a hundred and fifty years old (of which there are thousands) are historic, versus much older or uniquely remaining buildings or buildings with some actual connection to a historic event.

            “the new buildings wouldn’t initially be beloved like the 19th century buildings”
            “once the “new” buildings are 50 or 100 years old that might change”
            This is exactly the problem, the fetishization of things because they are ‘not new’ as opposed to truly old and historic or because they are useful and/or beautiful. This type of thinking is how you end up with gas stations in Washington DC built in the 1960s being proposed for historic preservation as models of ‘mid-century modern’ architecture.

            “I doubt he flattened more than 10%, possibly less.”
            Figures range between 12,000 and 19,730 buildings demolished during Haussmann’s work, and I doubt Paris at the time had more than 120,000-200,000 structures. Remember that Haussmann not only demolished buildings for the area of the boulevards he built but also for the structures on either side. Note that almost all of this work happened inside the Ferme General wall (itself soon to be demolished by Haussmann) and that more than half of Paris’ current area is outside the Ferme General but inside the recently (at the time of Haussmann) built Thiers wall that today defines the Boulevard Periphique. Thus even if his works are 10% of Paris today they are a higher percentage of Paris then, and that much of Paris not “demolished” by Hausmann was never-the-less built contemporaneously with the Hausmann works and is not some historical fabric he didn’t touch.

            “Le Marais” “Sainte Chapelle” etc.
            I myself noted that there are indeed many individual historic structures inside Paris but that the fabric of the city as a whole is not something truly old. The medieval Ile de la Cite was indeed almost completely demolished. Other than the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle, the current Palais de Justice was built in the 1850’s-1860’s, then burned during the commune and rebuilt again finishing in 1914, so it is not that old, and while Sainte Chapelle dates to the 1200’s people at the time criticized incorporating it into the Palais as part of Haussmann’s works. There never was a plaza in front of Notre Dame before Haussmann, etc.

            “Although one may say that post-Haussmannian Paris was unrecognisable from before, that’s not really true.”
            That’s not what people who were there at the time said. Haussmann himself said he was “gutting of old Paris, of the quarter of riots and barricades.”. Another observer said: “one could no longer feel in the world of Balzac.”. A later historian noted: “in less than twenty years, Paris lost its ancestral appearance, its character which passed from generation to generation… the picturesque and charming ambiance which our fathers had passed onto us was demolished, often without good reason.”

          • michaelj

            We’re not so far apart. Those numbers kinda confirm it (to my biased mind). And I don’t accept your attempted exclusion of the outer ring of arrondissements. The Fermiers wall was long dysfunctional (indeed, replaced by the Thiers wall before Haussmann) and its demolition and replacement with grand boulevards was always part of Haussmann’s plan, as were extension of his boulevards into the new outer arrondissements. Obviously much less rampant demolition was required in those outer areas. Nevertheless even as a percentage of the old area inside the Fermiers wall, I don’t think I was too far out.
            I also don’t think one can so easily dismiss all the old legacy, left intact, ie. churches, monuments, palaces, grand hotels or structures that dominate their surroundings (Louvre, Place de Voges, Vendome, ) because they are so extensive. They do tie it all together, which is why I finished with that citation. Harmonious integration is a big part of the charm of Paris. It’s not even clear how much that was direct intent of Haussmann since he was very focussed on achieving his priorities, and we may be lucky it was left to others to complete the plan.
            I think it shows everything needs an occasional reset. Economies, computers, even the planet (we wouldn’t be here if not for that massive meterorite) and cities too. But like a computer reset, Haussmann didn’t rampantly destroy everything, or even a majority, but did some much needed targeted surgery on transport, water and waste.

            As for those critiques, they happen for any change to anything anywhere. Much of it doesn’t stand the test of time. I read Louis Chevalier’s The Assassination of Paris (1977, eng tr 1994) a few years ago and found it somewhat toxic and petty nostalgia, and sometimes hypocritical (as inadvertently revealed in his epilogue added 15 years after publication). Oh, and I think it has some importance because demolishing 10% is significant but is nothing like what Corbu planned for that same inner rive-gauche.

    • Diego

      It’s an entirely appropriate headline, when she is celebrating the fact that there are fewer Parisians and that population needs to keep going down to improve quality of life. The clear implication is that there are too many Parisians, and they’re ruining the city.

    • Benjamin Turon

      Good points, employment growth is always in the historic centers, but the new CBDs and industrial areas outside the original core. Does Paris have “edge cities” like in America?

      • Eric2

        La Defense is the obvious one. I think there are some other suburban job clusters, but much much smaller proportionally than would be the case in the US.

      • Alon Levy

        Paris has extensive suburban employment centers, of which La Défense is the most famous but not even the largest – the largest is Marne-la-Vallée, which also includes Disneyland. Additional ones include Roissypôle (i.e. CDG), Cergy, Evry, and Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.

        However, unlike the American model, the French edge cities were all planned as such, rather than arising by accident like Tysons. They were designed as suburban centers in order to reduce the centrality of Paris – making it harder for the working class of the eastern suburbs to commute to work in the process (same effect as Washington job sprawl, with the same east-west income gradient). They were also designed in conjunction with suburban rail: La Défense was built simultaneously with the early parts of the RER A to permit easy reverse-commuting, Cergy is on a new commuter rail branch that was later folded into the RER A as well, Marne-la-Vallée is on an entirely greenfield RER A branch, Evry is on a new RER D branch, Saint-Quentin is on a preexisting commuter line that is now part of the RER C, CDG is on a new commuter line that was folded into the RER B.

        So it’s still inferior to a counterfactual in which Paris builds these skyscrapers at Les Halles (which, again, is 1970s urban renewal), but between still-high levels of job concentration in the city and relatively transit-oriented suburban job centers, the modal split is a respectable 44%.

        • Eric2

          All those, I believe, have much lower job density than La Defense. If they technically have higher overall employment, it’s because they are defined to cover a much larger area.

          Les Halles is a single city superblock (about 100 by 100 meters), you couldn’t fit many skyscrapers there even if you tried.

          What I don’t understand is the following: all those pretty old central Paris buildings have courtyards in the middle, which is nice for residential (provides windows/air) but unnecessary for offices. So why not let developers fill in the courtyards while keeping the facades unchanged. Floor area could go up by maybe 30% (more if you allow underground building) with no visible changes from the outside.

          • Alon Levy

            The Mandela Park complex west of the Forum des Halles is 120*210. You can put six Empire State Buildings there. If it’s important to France to name monuments after notable civil rights fighters, it can put a museum on the ground floor of one of these buildings commemorating the crimes of French colonialism in Algeria and the relationship with wartime collaboration.

    • Onux

      “Given that employment density is centered far west of the population/historical center,”

      From the link you give:
      “Job density is not evenly spread throughout the metropolis, there is a higher **concentration in the central areas.**” (my emphasis).

      Even accounting for La Defense/Nanterre and Boulogne-Billancourt, looking at the map from the same link, the employment isocenter for Paris is firmly within Paris proper, not its suburbs (probably around the Arc de Triomphe, in the 8th or 16th arrondissement). Clearly you will agree to the skyscrapers and apartment blocks there, since your argument is to put housing development at the center of employment density.

      • Eric2

        See a quick sketch. The two dots are Les Halles and La Defense. Nearly all the dense job concentration is between the two dots. Despite Les Halles being basically the population/historic/transportation center of the Paris region, the job center is significantly to the west.

        In general, of course I support housing near employment (and transit). But this is not the only thing that matters – a pleasant population density, historical preservation, local public opinion, and other such factors also have some weight, and the exact solution depends on some combination of all the factors.

        A number of these factors lead to a preference for future housing just west of Paris (I am thinking roughly the north half of Hauts-de-Seine) rather than in Paris itself: 1) Paris already has a very high population density by Western standards, arguably high enough to decrease quality of life in the sense of factors like noise and limited park space, while west-of-Paris the current density is much lower, allowing for a large increase while maintaining quality of life. 2) Paris is world-renowned for its architecture and history, and large density increases would mean substantially changing the built environment at the expense of current architecture and history, while west-of-Paris there is little historic architecture. 3) I imagine, for what it’s worth, public opinion in Ile de France and France as a whole is more opposed to skyscrapers in Paris than in its suburbs, and all things being equal we should work with people rather than fight them.

        These factors have to be weighted against the fact that both jobs and transit are centered on Paris, not west-of-Paris. However, as I pointed out, the job weighting is skewed towards the the west side of Paris (which is roughly equally close to west-of-Paris and to eastern Paris). Also, the transit network is currently being expanded to serve west-of-Paris much better than at present. So given the massive opposition that any attempt to built skyscrapers in Paris proper is likely to arouse, I think it would be better to focus efforts on massively upzoning west-of-Paris, where all that’s needed to overcome is a much smaller number of NIMBYs.

        • Onux

          “The two dots are Les Halles and La Defense. Nearly all the dense job concentration is between the two dots.”

          1) There is a greater job concentration near Les Halles because the dark area of high job density is a large blob there, while it is a narrow corridor along the Axe Historique near La Defense. Thus more jobs inside Paris than outside it to the west.

          2) Equidistant between the two dots, with all the jobs between them, is . . . inside Paris proper, near the Arc de Triomphe, in the 8th or 16th, exactly as I noted above.

        • Onux

          I should also note you have gone from “employment density is centered far west of the population/historical center” to “both jobs and transit are centered on Paris, not west-of-Paris.” The first is not true, the second is. You clearly have a preference for putting more housing west of Paris, which is fine, you are entitled to your opinion. However, you should not make up statements like employment density being centered FAR west of the center (with the allusion that the center of employment is outside of the city proper) when it is demonstrably untrue and your own links and maps show the opposite.

          • Eric2

            What I wrote was true. The “allusion” you identify is not what I intended and is not true.

  3. Borners

    Since Alon mentioned legacy railyards/depots in city centre locations like Bercy. I’ve been eying the development possiblities for such in the UK context, and given that maintenance of rolling stock is a heavy industrial job it should go where heavy industry should go; urban periphery close to necessary transport nodes. Let the land be redeveloped for high-density That makes crude economic sense, but I’m not technically qualified as to the particular needs of where new depots should actually go once the old city centre ones are redeveloped.

    I’ve asked Alon about this and they admitted they hadn’t looked into it much. Anybody got any sage wisdom on the topic?

    • Alon Levy

      In London, it’s already being done, hence Stratford, or much of the development around Kings Cross and St Pancras (I think Google London is on top of a former goods yard). The NIMBYism in London is not about this and more about “you can’t turn a rowhouse into a mid-rise without getting the approval of a commission on sight lines.”

      • Borners

        I was thinking more about the railyards in West London which are considerably larger both the Network rail ones (Acton, Neasden) or TFL (Acton Works). They are reasonably close to capacity given HS2 is getting a new depot in Buckinghamshire. And they have offloaded Stratford and King’s cross to those depots to boot.
        The issue is also that there isn’t enough industrial land in Southern England as there is (British deindustrialisation is mostly a story of a successful attempt to use land planning to deindustrialise Southern England, only for the industry to move overseas instead of North).

        Actually the sight lines aren’t even in the top 30 worst NIMBYist things about the British state. Those are islands of rules in a sea of discretionary fiat that is the British planning system. The weird architecture is byproduct but it actually has enabled high-rise development on a scale no other West European CBD has permitted. Clear rules about what isn’t permitted have enabled more development not less (though the Corporation of the City of London is also very YIMBY by UK standards).

        Sightlines on developed everywhere else in the UK are governed by the overworked local planning officers spending part of a morning walking around the site, how many NIMBY emails are received by the locality and the political judgement of a committee of local councilors plus a bunch of vague contradictory statements in National Planning Policy Framework which the central government can decide to enforce however it chooses (pro-development if its a Labour ward, anti if its Conservative).

        (For those who don’t know the British planning system gives local and central insane amounts of discretionary control on each individual planning application, there are no rules on vague principals and a “plan” that isn’t a plan).

        • Matthew Hutton

          The good news on NIMBYs is that when campaigning for the Labour Party I’m getting no sign that they exist. Presumably this is because the vast majority of them are die-hard conservatives who don’t want to speak to Labour.

          Frankly if NIMBYs are mostly so die hard conservative that they won’t vote Labour when the conservatives are doing this badly, well I’m not sure we should care at all what they think.

          The bad news is that we still try and build a lot of bad projects that don’t address legitimate concerns (such as flooding or lack of school places or lack of community benefits) held by a much larger percentage of the population. And there’s no evidence at least in Britain that if you make a relatively small effort to provide community benefits that that isn’t enough.

          And the problem with the bad projects is that they wear down people who are politically active and support all parties.

          • Borners

            NIMBY’s are always less powerful than they appear. Doesn’t mean they are not powerful.

            The problem isn’t “bad projects” versus “good projects” but that the 1947 system strangles development by making all decisions subject to political discretion. Furthermore the local government financial system makes Central Government minister discretionary providers of everything. Local governments experience development as fiscal punishment. The problem is that Labour created this system as much as the Tories. It their most important achievement. Its designed to punish growth because that’s easier than spreading success with its attendant social change. Furthermore the activist base and intellectual class are nostalgic for the Social housing era, which is fiscally impossible thanks to the long boom in house prices relative to everything else since 1947. Yes their people say positive things on small bore rhetoric, but Labour people have a history of suborning their policies to their party’s vanity and sense of “mission” which usually means social and economic conservativism.

            Test them on these things.
            1. Move to national*zoning system that removes the right of LPA’s to act as petty tyrants.
            2. Change fiscal funding formula so that growing regions get growing funds.
            3. Devolve local taxation rights so that the proceeds of population growth go.
            4. Include children in the figures for constituency allocation (this a discriminatory factor which benefits the North and Celtic fringe at the expense of London, its also racist).
            5. Move to county level government with Tory districts and Labour rotten boroughs merged into each other.
            6. Where are the construction workers going to be imported from?
            7. National building codes, with explicit light rights. Also building rights e.g. permitted development on car parks, mansards etc.

            * i.e. England only since the E-word is only said by evil nationalists. And the True British people (i.e. Celts and Labour people) don’t say it because its evil and the only place where the British government actually rules because the superior nations deserve self-government unlike “the country”.

          • Matthew Hutton

            I think fixing the issues with projects like HS2 or the Oxford Cambridge arc so you get the community engagement right is easier to achieve politically than what you’re proposing!

            I mean was avoiding a station at Calvert in Buckinghamshire and a 4 minute delay to HS2 services really worth the tens of billions of mitigations that have been added instead? And it’s very hard to see that a station there wouldn’t add several million passengers a year as it’s on East West rail between Oxford, (hopefully) Aylesbury, Bicester and Milton Keynes.

            And for the Oxford Cambridge arc do all the houses really need to sit between Oxford and Cambridge or could some really not be on the other side of both cities so they were more spread out? And could they not have spoken to the people in the villages so they understood how the project was going to benefit their village?

      • Stephen Bauman

        Are you suggesting building another Montparnasse Tower?

        I get the impression you are trying to turn Paris into the vision portrayed in Jacques Tati’s Playtime.

      • michaelj

        @Alon: In London, it’s already being done, hence Stratford, or much of the development around Kings Cross and St Pancras ..

        Not quite sure of your point but there is very little ‘affordable’ housing (and almost zip lower-SES housing) in those developments, especially Kings Cross/St Pancras which is eye-wateringly expensive. For Stratford it gets worse because it seems Boris exerted his toxic mayoral privileges:
        ‘A massive betrayal’: how London’s Olympic legacy was sold out After so many other Olympic sites ended up left to rot, London 2012 was supposed to be different. But who has really benefited from this orgy of development?
        by Oliver Wainwright, 30 Jun 2022

        On the windswept corner of Fortunes Walk … the twin towers of Victory Plaza shoot towards the sky. …Nearby, another pair of towers welcomes residents to its gated “village green” – where no dogs, ballgames or unsupervised children are allowed. Both projects were built by a development arm of the Qatari royal family, and neither includes a single affordable home. Rents begin at £1,750 a month for a studio and rise to more than £4,000 for a penthouse.

        In 2003, the largest planning application since the second world war had been submitted by Chelsfield, Stanhope and London & Continental Railways for the eastern side of what became the Olympic site. Stratford City was to be the new Canary Wharf, a dazzling metropolitan centre of 5,000 homes and 30,000 jobs, the cluster of high-rise towers connected to Europe by a new “international” station. (Eurostar has never stopped at Stratford International to this day.)

        Yet, despite all the planning, the resulting place feels oddly unplanned.
        One result was big, wide roads, and lots of them, which slice their way across the park to this day, making it still feel like an events campus rather than a normal part of London. “I still wince at some of the infrastructure,” a former Olympic design director told me. “The roads were designed to get athletes and officials around the site as quickly as possible, but I wish we’d focused much more on pedestrians.”

        “The whole place just feels like a walled city,” said Suppaya, who is now 17. “There’s the new, clean, shiny Olympic world on one side, and the old, rough, litter-strewn Stratford on the other. The nearest bus stop to the park is a 15-minute walk away through the Westfield shopping centre. I’ve only ever been there on school trips. It doesn’t feel like it’s meant for us.”

        Several insiders told me that the high-density housing model drawn up under Livingstone, and partially realised in the form of the athletes’ village, was suddenly deemed “too European”. Foreshadowing Brexit culture wars, the fact that the eight-to-10-storey courtyard blocks and tree-lined avenues were more redolent of Barcelona than London was now seen to be a bad thing. Johnson and his advisers called for a return to Victorian and Georgian types: terraces, mews and mansion blocks, with Bloomsbury and Maida Vale as the model. “It will mean more £1m houses on the park,” a design adviser told a meeting at the time. The shift towards this nostalgic, low-rise model also had the effect of slashing housing numbers in half, from a possible 12,000 down to the current 6,000 earmarked for the neighbourhoods in the park.

        The pictures accompanying the article look depressingly familiar, of towers-in-a-park and sink estate. On my next trip to London I plan to visit (especially now CrossRail/Elizabeth line reaches there) to see if it is really this bleak. So far it looks like proof of the failure of such outdated models: lower density than required to build a vibrant self-sustaining centre, and with too few houses of the wrong typology there can’t be truly affordable housing (and yet what housing there is looks depressingly average). The density is very approximately 9,000/km2 and while it is certain to grow, it can’t achieve high enough IMO to achieve the kind of urbanity once envisaged by early planners. That’s the English way but it is a big part of their housing crisis. Stratford should have helped.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Apparently the link is to the general page and not the specific data. Still Stratford has gone from 3m in 2003 to 42m national rail riders in 2019. And there’s 65m riders on the tube and 10m on the DLR.

          • michaelj

            Yes. Given the relatively modest residential population, it mostly relates to the business stuff there, the biggest shopping mall (claimed biggest in Europe), the fast regional train to the south (uses HS1 track), the Great Eastern Mainline and perhaps that the Olympics put it in people’s mind. It has the Elizabeth Line. So it is an excellent transport hub which btw is the culmination of Michael Heseltine’s vision of decades ago (despite Thatcher’s obstinant obstruction). It was he who instigated Canary Wharf but was obliged to get private money to do the heavy lifting; same thing for HS1 but the PFI turned into a farrago and it fell back to the state and the whole thing dragged out to 13 years. He is also the reason why Eurostar has a station there though for the moment no trains stop–with Elizabeth Line now running perhaps that might change?

            I have always sung the praises of this vision for east London. I even suggested that they should create a super. campus out there for University of London (perpetually cramped) and Wellcome Trust (world’s largest biomedical research charity & funder, and my sponsor when in Oxford) and anything else (like the new Crick Institute) but it probably needed CrossRail, and it’s all too late. However in terms of numbers and quality of its urbanism, not so much. It seems to embody all the failures of English planning, actually an aversion to proper planning, that we’ve seen post-war (and a lot longer). It could have been a significant part of a solution to their housing affordability problem. Well, you’ve read the English commentators …

        • michaelj

          A-ha, I think we can see where Boris got his anti-urbanism from. And Alon has been influenced by the Jordan Petersen conspiracy theories on urbanism. It’s these evil French socialists (via a Colombian guerrilla professor at Panthéon-Sorbonne). This has made it all the way to the UK parliament just days after Alon’s post (accident or is AL part of this wacky cabal or is it all just a manifestation of HDS (Hidalgo Derangement Syndrome …):

          In praise of the ‘15-minute city’ – the mundane planning theory terrifying conspiracists
          The frightening prospect of greener, people-friendly streets and convenient amenities has sent the online right – and Tory MPs – into a tailspin
          Oliver Wainwright, 16 Feb 2023

          Peterson quoted a tweet that featured the telltale hashtag #GreatReset, referring to the World Economic Forum’s post-pandemic economic recovery plan – widely used in the stranger corners of the internet as a byword for a shadowy global conspiracy intent on robbing us of our freedoms. The anti-vaccine, pro-Brexit, climate-denying, 15-minute-phobe, Great Reset axis is a strong one.
          So where did the fear come from? Many of the UK conspiracy theorists highlight that these “un-British” ideas of urban walkability emanate from France, so they must be distrusted on principle. Worse than that, they point out, the ideology has been driven by a bearded Colombian scientist with radical roots. The ideas had been around since the 1920s, but the 15-minute city phrase was coined by Carlos Moreno, esteemed professor at the Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris, who was once a member of a leftwing guerrilla group in the 1970s. And now he’s coming for your cars.
          “Their lies are enormous,” Moreno said in a recent interview , describing some of the claims made by his critics. “You will be locked in your neighbourhood; cameras will signal who can go out; if your mother lives in another neighbourhood, you will have to ask for permission to see her, and so on,” adding that they “sometimes post pictures of concentration camps.”
          Moreno first promoted his concept of la ville du quart d’heure in 2016, but it gained international attention when the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, adopted it as part of her re-election campaign in 2020. She promised she would close off roads and turn them into public plazas, plant more trees and turn schools into the “capitals of the neighbourhood”, open to everyone for sports and recreation in evenings and at weekends.

          No doubt Hidalgo has been conspiring with Moreno in her Spanish mothertongue in dimly lit corridors of the Sorbonne.

          • Alon Levy

            Is any of those British conspiracy theorists YIMBY? Because usually the same people who think that road diets are a literal conspiracy also think any denser housing than single-family houses on large lots is socialism. The Tea Party conspiracy theorists complaining about Agenda 21 in the early 2010s were capable of, in the same sentence, complaining that it’s socialism to vote on private property and also supporting maintaining low-density zoning. (Note: Kai Wegner is an asshole but I don’t think he thinks bike lanes are a conspiracy, and if he ever compares the Greens to the Nazis, CDU is going to lose votes in the polls.)

          • Borners

            The new Far Right GB News is the most YIMBY new channel in Britain (especially their younger people like Thomas Harwood). Its quite terrifying. They also push 15 minute city conspiracies. I should say saying the “British” conservatism/right is anything other than pro-misgovernment is an exercise in futility, Boomer “Thatcherite” Conservativism has reached its contradictory end-point with Brexit. They maxed out on Boomers and have run out of ground.

            Also I would not call Johnson “anti-urbanist” he whatever he thinks his self-interest is. This is the man who one year can talk about how welcoming Turkey into the EU is the rightful re-unification of the Roman Empire that and the UK in the EU should support it. And the next talk about how we have to leave the EU before they let the Turks in (n/b his family is actually partly from Turkey).

            WTF is “proper planning”? Are you going to pretend that the UK is an example of private sector run amok or some other rubbish? The plan was to make London unlivable. That’s what British industrial policy has been since 1947.

  4. Stephen Bauman

    Here’s a link to Paris’ population between 1989 and 2022.

    As can be seen its population has not been steady and may place the current decline in context. There was a decline from 1989 through 1995, when Jacques Chirac was mayor. Chirac wasn’t exactly what one might consider a socialist.

    The population decline was reversed in 1998 and continued to increase until it peaked in 2010. During this time the mayors were Jean Tiberi 1995-2001 who shared Chirac’s politics and Bertrand Delanoe 2001-2014 who was a socialist, like Hidalgo.

    The population peaked in 2010 and was declining, when Hidalgo took office. These fluctuations should give one pause, when trying to ascribe population declines to the mayor’s political affiliation.

    • michaelj

      The population peaked in 2010 and was declining, when Hidalgo took office. These fluctuations should give one pause, when trying to ascribe population declines to the mayor’s political affiliation.

      A lot of it is correlated with the rise and fall of Boomers. What Alon has confused is density (area per person) versus household area. The fact that (Alon says via INSEE) the density is claimed to be the same in intramural Paris and Petite Couronne (PC) doesn’t mean there aren’t quite significant differences. Though I am a tad sceptical on the basic observation because I can’t quite see how it is compatible with the fact that overall density of intramuros is 26,000/km2 versus approx. 6,766/km2 (2011) in the PC (at 657km2, approx. sixfold bigger without removing big green space etc). And averages are obscuring significant factors like all those tiny studios in Paris (not so many extramuros, since at least post-war chambres de bonne aren’t permitted by building regs) and significant zones of SFH with gardens in PC, plus many ordinary apartments on RDC have (small) gardens which barely exist intramurosl.

      In any case it is a long observed phenomenon that young(ish) people leave Paris when they marry and want to start a family. The rents are a lot less in PC and so it is easier to have a bigger apartment with more rooms. Think of it this way: if they remained in Paris, with 2 children they would have half the area per person of 15m2/person (because they can’t afford to upgrade their rental or purchase a bigger apartment; legally they are probably at their renting maximum) while in the PC they would remain the same density, at similar or lower cost, but have twice the size apartment (presumably 120m2 versus 60m2).

      So, actually, there is some truth in what Hidalgo alluded to. Those people will improve their personal situation. It is a strong driver because, as former Parisian Alon knows, it is always a wrench for Parisians to move out of the centre (like Manhattanites turning into the mocked bridge & tunnel brigade). This is too powerful a force for anyone to fight and inevitably it affects the lower-SES because they have the most to gain by relocating across the Peripherique. But Hildago is having a shot with the multi-billion Euro program for compulsory purchase of apartments (quasi-randomly in the city, when their owners put them up for sale, purchased at market rates) and rent them to designated middle-income workers (like nurses, police, teachers etc), and the Reinventing Paris program that focuses on brownfield sites.

      It is absurd to say that Hidalgo is not involved in any plan to improve public transport in the region and is doing nothing in the city. Intramuros there is essentially nothing to be done as it has been mature since forever with the highest density Metro system in the world; the only new bits are M14 extensions. Of course she has no power or influence over extramuros, and in any case it is progressing nicely with Grand Paris Express. In fact, the development of Velib (IIRC Hidalgo was responsible for this under Delanoë, in 2007) and subsequent personal mobility developments (which incidentally led and lead the world) and build-out of bikeways and increasing pedestrianisation (eg. closure of Pompidou Expressway). This is a veritable revolution and is a result of 22 years of socialist rule of Paris. Alon has some kind of weird denial here!

      As to gentrification, Paris under Hidalgo (and before her, Delanoë) is striving to avoid this more than almost any comparable big prosperous city anywhere. Of course Alon supports the likes of Ed Glaeser and Matthew Yglesias who propose vandalising Paris to throw up 40+ storey high-rises. Kinda destroying the village to save the village, almost literally. It is really the only means to increase significantly the density of Paris, but as I have endlessly argued on these and other pages, Paris is already at a kind of Goldilocks density that most other big city mayors envy. With Bercy-Rapée (Gare de Lyon), Montparnasse 2 Pasteur, MLK park & Clichy-Batignolles quarter behind St Lazare, and Paris Rive Gauche (Austerlitz) the only remaining potential to reclaim railcards is the mess behind Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est. However I will admit that the modern apartment blocks (almost towers-in-a-park!) at MLK are a mistake, with housing that excludes most Parisians simply on cost and so deliberately gentrifies that area. If the Olympics had happened in 2012 (instead of London) it might have been better because it was designated for Olympic housing and was intended to be repurposed post-games to lower-SES housing.) This is different to Citroën-Cévennes (on the old Citroën factory site in the SW corner of the 15th) with its apartments, hospital and offices architecturally replicating the surrounding Haussmannian blocks. Curiously this was under mayor Chirac; luckily before Glaeser’s vandal philosophy took hold which probably would have appealed to le bulldozer. Though Chirac would have been mindful of the unpopularity of Pompidou’s attempts at Manhattanization of Paris.

      Alon cites Yonah Freemark’s observations on how greater Paris is coping with housing affordability much better than peer cities. But he needs to catch up with another study of his of intramuros Paris, of which I present the abstract below:
      Metropolis on the water: Varieties of development logics along the Seine
      by Yonah Freemark, Dec 20, 2019
      Scholars writing about the influence of the “neoliberal turn” suggest that, in response to global competition and a declining welfare state, cities have committed to using urban development projects for the purpose of investment attraction through spatially isolated interventions, particularly on key sites such as riverfronts. But is that really the case, or do project programming and design offer opportunities to combat inequality and increase links to the surrounding city? I explore this question through a study of postwar waterside development in Paris, examining planning documents and statements by government representatives. While officials have promoted their city’s global status, I show that they have also increasingly emphasized the provision of affordable housing; meanwhile, they have encouraged new approaches to urban design that prioritize local needs over those of tourists and create new links between existing neighborhoods. This suggests that Paris’ projects reflect a diversity of development logics—that is, goals with respect to certain planning policies—including some conducive to promoting social equity and community cohesion. This finding challenges expectations about project creation as commonly understood through the lens of the neoliberal turn. It suggests that contemporary urbanism is not converging to a uniform, regressive outcome. I identify institutional and political changes—respectively, the devolution of power to the local government in 1977 and the election of left-wing councils beginning in 2001—as the primary explanations for Paris’ history.

      And from his summary (Freemark):

      Contrary to much of the literature suggesting that development projects encourage inequality, Paris has devoted increasing effort to affordable housing throughout the period studied (A).

      • Alon Levy

        (Rescued from spam.)

        Re Paris and affordable housing: Hidalgo has been very good about the affordable housing ratio and about placing it in high-opportunity neighborhoods. But the overall production rate has been very low and falling.

        And as for local needs vs. tourists, the praxis is banning Airbnb by right-wing arrondissements – the people most aggressively against Airbnb are right-wing politicians in e.g. the 1st, because they don’t represent locals in general but local reactionaries who don’t like it that there are people frequenting local businesses who are not French; it’s not anti-neoliberal except insofar as Tory-style governance is not neoliberal.

        • michaelj

          @Alon:London doesn’t actually build that much housing

          Right, but that didn’t stop Boris boasting about achieving ‘record’ construction. The point, of course, is that it wouldn’t matter if it was double or whatever, if there is so little affordable housing amongst the new stuff. And there is very little. Every shiny new hi-rise project begins with boasts of x affordable housing (whose cost is arguably ‘affordable’ by Londoners) but ends with often x/10 being built.
          Sadly, the only ‘solution’ I see is a total collapse of their housing market (which will probably be worldwide, though the UK might be alone) to achieve a total reset. However, it is not sure that even that would result in improvements because the Anglosphere (and some others) need a change in mentality in treating housing as a speculative asset.


          Right. Which is why Yonah Freemark* points out the success of the Ile de France program, and Alon wrote an article about it. So I agree fully with you and can see little other alternative, and especially object to Alon’s and Glaeser’s and some commenters’ desire to “solve” the problem by building hi-rise in the core.
          Further, prices may have increased in France but nothing like in the Anglosphere. Remember that rents can’t exceed 3x salary so that help cap it. Plus, Paris has not gentrified as much as these others, partly because of affordability and partly by those attempts to retain middle-class workers. Plus, living outside the core in Paris is much better provisioned, eg. public transport, than the likes of London (not to mention cheaper; Metro & RER are at least 2x cheaper than using any London transport–read any comment on transport in the UK and it’s a horror story of poor service and high cost).

          *in his other paper on Paris housing (not the one I cited above which is on intramuros-Paris):

          Doubling housing production in the Paris region: a multi-policy, multi-jurisdictional response
          Yonah Freemark, 19 Dec 2019.

      • Borners

        “Glaeser’s vandal philosophy”? What the hell does that mean?
        “people want to work and live here, let people build buildings for them” is a Vandal Philosophy?

        The question is preserving the Petite Couronne’s early 20th century built form is worth the cost of lower wages, lower productivity and longer commute hours. Not to mention the expenditure necessary to compensate the losers of those costs in subsidies housing and larger expenditure on transportation infrastracture to places like La defence. Museums are expensive, making Paris proper the largest museum in the world is very expensive. In fairness the French have made a better job of it than pretty much anyone.

        Its not a Michael post about Paris without a London dig (allowing super-high rises in London has been the one good thing about planning policy in the last 40 years).

        • michaelj

          Its not a Michael post about Paris without a London dig (allowing super-high rises in London has been the one good thing about planning policy in the last 40 years).

          I can barely believe that every ‘dig’ I have been making about London and Blighty since, hmm three to four decades, has come true. More than that, it has become much worse. And they are only the cusp of awfulness as Brexit and other world events self-amplify it. Differences of opinion are fine, but Borners, are you sincere or just trolling? Have you not read Yonah Freemark’s paper on Paris and his comparisons with other world cities? (Or just the abstract I gave). Glaeser might be delighted at Boris implementing his version of laissez-faire but, other than the international UHNW individuals buying that hi-rise property, there is no one else. Have you read nothing about the increasing unaffordability of London housing, or of how much of those new developments remain empty essentially kept as alternatives to bank accounts/free cash (but we’ll see how much longer that lasts especially with the GBP finally beginning to approach its true value).

          In fact, I am not quite sure if Glaeser hasn’t seen the light because I haven’t read his latest book: Survival of the City (2021). I might have thought that this giant experiment in implementing his recommendations of building tons of hi-rise apartments in the middle of world cities would solve the housing and affordability problems, would have given as good disproof of a hypothesis as is possible in economics: it has resulted in the complete opposite of what an economist or an urbanist would want. Here’s part of the book’s blurb:
          They (Glaeser & Cutler) argue that the biggest threats are those we have created ourselves–inequalities in housing, health, work and education–and that we need to address these as a matter of urgency if our cities are to continue to thrive and drive economic growth and prosperity.

          So, yes, Glaeser is not just a vandal for wanting to destroy old heritage inner-city but we have to conclude he is incompetent as an economist too. I’m afraid Alon has often been a bit blinded by Glaeser’s kind of econocratic laissez-faire, the kind of simplicity that it seems only economists can believe in. Below are just a small selection of recent articles on London’s continuing experiment in disaster capitalism.

          This article is 5,000 words so I have taken the liberty of reproducing a few bits:

          The plutocratic city. How London’s “yachts” and “have yachts” are reshaping the city
          PETER MARES,16 Dec 2022

          As for yachts, so for cities. In the words of sociologist David Madden and planner Peter Marcuse, when housing enters global investment circuits “its use as a living space barely registers.” The built form becomes “a tangible, visual refection of the organisation of society” and global wealth is “congealed” into bricks and mortar — or indeed underground swimming pools.

          and a direct comparison of what Freemark was comparing (riverside developments, Battersea power station where a one-bedder is £millions; and adjoining Nine Elms):

          72 Upper Ground: the latest development selling the Thames down the river
          The riverside was once lauded as ‘London’s greatest opportunity’. But a lack of strategy and overview has seen it crowded with unsightly towers that benefit profit-grubbing developers over communities
          by Rowan Moore, 04 Dec 2022.

          So the dirty old river was now, to use what became a much-used phrase, “London’s greatest opportunity”. There was the prospect of giving London a civilised and beautiful connection to its waterfront, more Seine-like, for the Thames to become a true heart of the city. It was also a chance to attract investment and make money. So conspicuous proposals started popping up, both for commercial projects like a tower in Vauxhall called the “Green Giant”, and for people-friendly bridges and parks.
          One of the most determined campaigners for a better Thames was Richard Rogers, a charismatic figure given to making passionate declarations in brightly coloured shirts. In 1986, he produced a plan called London As It Could Be, displayed with a magnificent model at the Royal Academy, whereby a linear park would be created on car-free embankments, and a futuristic footbridge would enable happy citizens to stroll between a re-energised South Bank and a newly pedestrianised Trafalgar Square. These ideas reappeared in A New London, a 1992 book written with the Labour shadow arts minister Mark Fisher, in the hope of influencing the Neil Kinnock government that never happened. Here, Rogers declared that “there can be no new London without a reawakened river”.
          A consortium of Malaysian investors took on the colossal listed building that is Battersea power station, which since its closure in 1983 had confounded attempts at regeneration. An extension of the London Underground’s Northern line, serving Nine Elms and the power station, was planned and eventually built.
          The investors came. Developers of projects at VNEB include DAMAC from Dubai, the Saudi-backed VCI Property Holding, the Chinese R&F and CC Land, the Malaysian EcoWorld. A game often popular in the property business was played, whereby planning permission was gained, and then a new one submitted for a yet bigger project, the site often having been sold in the meantime. Mayor Johnson had the right, like a Roman emperor in an amphitheatre, to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to major projects, a power he liked to exercise in favour of developers.
          The most obvious lack is of any kind of overall strategy or authority, of a kind proposed by John Gummer nearly 30 years ago. “It is such a glaring error,” says Nicky Gavron, who was on Gummer’s advisory group and was later deputy mayor under Livingstone.

          Another book I haven’t read yet (Hbk is too expensive), in Peter Mare’s words, “Serious Money: Walking Plutocratic London, sociologist Caroline Knowles’s perambulatory new book about how wealth shapes the English capital.”

          or an oldie-but-goldie:

          London: the city that ate itself. London is a city ruled by money. The things that make it special – the markets, pubs, high streets and communities – are becoming unrecognisable. The city is suffering a form of entropy whereby anything distinctive is converted into property value. Can the capital save itself?
          Rowan Moore, Sunday 28 June 2015

          • Eric2

            If your solution to rising housing prices is to build less housing, you should go back to Econ 101.

          • michaelj


            ? How well do you think the Glaeser approach has worked for London? Boris likes to boast that they built a record number of housing (apartments) during his mayoralty yet London has one of the worst housing and housing affordability crises in the rich world. Because those apartments weren’t for Londoners and a lot of them are not occupied most of the time. They are still doing it because the developers hold the power.

            So, yes, I am expecting and hoping that lesson might make it into the econo101 textbooks. Probably not written by Glaeser even if he is a Harvard prof of economics. Of how not to solve a housing problem by building hyper expensive houses for non-resident foreigners, which then forces the price of all housing up making it even less likely truly affordable housing will be built.

          • Alon Levy

            London doesn’t actually build that much housing, is the point. Starts average around 20,000/year (link), or a bit more than 2/1,000; Berlin has about as many starts on less than half the population, and Ile-de-France (which is mostly not run by Hidalgo) has 70,000-80,000 on not many more people than London.

            In general, that Boris says something doesn’t make it true.

          • df1982

            But the opposite can also be said: can you give an example of a city in a developed Western country in the last 3-4 decades that has been able to build its way out of high rents? Adding density to the core just seems to increase demand for the property there, and therefore raise rents even higher. London being a prime example where the proliferation of high-rise districts has done nothing to mitigate the explosion in real estate prices.

            Now, making the core more in demand is not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t support the argument that housing in the contemporary economy works according to standard supply-and-demand dogmas, and it doesn’t solve the problem that all but an economic elite are able to live anywhere near the central parts of major cities.

          • Alon Levy

            Auckland has had real rent decreases in the last few years after adopting YIMBY laws inspired by California YIMBY’s proposal.

          • df1982

            The data I’m looking at suggest that Auckland property prices increased more than fourfold between 2004 and 2021, from ca. NZ$300k to NZ$1.2m+, with a particularly sharp uptick in 2019-2021 (in a historical period of low inflation). So I’m not sure that supports your argument. The real estate market has tanked since then but that’s a nationwide phenomenon due to macroeconomic trends, and has nothing to do with zoning regulations.

          • michaelj

            Yes, after 3 terms (or whatever it was) of PM John Key’s naked neoliberalism of easy money, tax cuts and middle-class welfare the property market had gone stratospheric and NZ had a terrible housing affordability and homelessness problem. It was one of the reasons for the election of Jacinta Ardern. She promised to build lots of houses including social housing. In fact despite several terms she hasn’t succeeded and it is a lot of the reason why her popularity has faded so much; overpromised, underdelivered. Such that her re-election this year was in serious jeopardy and some say it is why she bailed early. NZ isn’t a particularly wealthy nation (in the same GDP per cap group as Portugal, Slovenia, Greece) which is why 10% of Kiwis live in Australia, so this rampant asset price inflation hits their lower-SES very hard.
            Not that the richer Anglosphere is immune. It is starting to bite in Australia where so many of the next gen can’t afford a mortgage and can’t even save the deposit on their insecure gig-economy work and high rents (and for many big student debt which makes banks even less willing to give them a mortgage). The bill for this extended free lunch has a debt-collector about to call.

          • Borners

            Michael clearly has a suburban home somewhere that he needs to keep rising in value. Hence he’s gone full left-coded NIMBY in which building high rises increases prices because Neoliberalism something something and true Socialism has never been tried so they should build lots of Social housing for the poor, but far away from me and my house (a very Parisian strategy).

            The evidence for supply mattering is very good. Poland and the Eastern European EU states have had rapid growth in their economies, open capital markets, sky high homeownership and lots of “neoliberalism” vibes (Neoliberalism is about vibes not policy) but have seen affordability and quality go rapidly. Poland is pro-high rise in particular. Then we have the East Asian littoral economies where affordability is clearly about supply, i.e. Japan is the most affordable and HK. It also works within Anglo-saxon countries i.e. Seattle is more affordable than other coastal high-productivity blue states etc. And France clearly believes in their own version of Glaeserism given how much they invest in housing. But again Michael is a petit bourgeoise boomer who needs to find magic asterisk excuses for his own greed and selfishness. How very contemporary Tory.

            Ahern made serious progress on housing the rent trajectory is clear. Labour is being screwed by the rise in global and local interest rates plus inflation.

          • michaelj


            The main response to almost all of that is: high density ≠ hi-rise
            It’s fundamental, and like with global warming and laws of thermodynamics, if you can’t grasp that then you will continue to espouse totally false notions of how to solve housing issues.

            Has all that London hi-rise in any tiny way helped the housing affordability or housing availability? No, it’s done the exact opposite.
            Has any hi-rise, not to mention super-tall, in Manhattan (and it’s spreading across the East River) in the last several decades helped housing? No, it has made it much worse.
            How come Paris has very high density (more than any place you mention except Manhattan) yet very little hi-rise (and the area that has some, the 13e, has below the Parisian average)?
            Why did Paris stop building hi-rise housing (in the 80s)? And is demolishing a lot of the hi-rise/medium-rise HLMs built post-war, and replacing them with low-rise (which actually ends up with higher density than what was demolished)? Because it has been a failure, both in housing and in urbanity terms and in social terms.
            Further, Greater Paris doesn’t have a housing crisis like most of the places you mention. If London followed Paris, especially in places of great opportunity like Stratford, they wouldn’t have their housing problems. (Oh, well, ok, they’d also have to change their finance system. A sensible set of macro-prudential lending rules would be a start. And of course return to their once adequate (pre-Thatcherite) social housing.)

            Thus, it is blindingly obvious that nowhere needs to build hi-rise to solve their housing crises. And it is very close to a proven rule that anywhere that does build hi-rise is creating unaffordability and mostly destroying urbanity. That would include HK (often the worst in the world) and inner Tokyo.

          • Matthew Hutton

            High rise is also more likely to upset existing residents. If you build 3 story houses next to existing 2 story ones, and then 4 story on the other side of the street from the 3 story ones and so on you can get to 5-6 stories or whatever has maximum density within a couple of streets of existing housing.

          • michaelj

            @Matthew Hutton

            Yes, that’s right. I believe I outlined this previously (years ago) on Alon’s blog. That is, how the transition from Haussmannian 6-7-8 storeys (top 2 levels are setback) to standard terrace (row) housing can be on the same street without drama, ie. one side is one thing and the other is Euro/British style SFH housing that is usually a minimum of 3 storeys (if one is attic). Though NYC brownstones can be higher yet.

            Your point is more important than it might seem because I believe suburbanites get extremely and aggressively NIMBY about any kind of non-SFH development because in the Anglosphere, eg. in Oz, it often means hi-rise which really does kill a neighbourhood. Whereas most people who have visited Paris know that not only is it non-threatening, it actually actively builds good neighbourhoods and is self-sustaining.

          • Matthew Hutton

            No one is bothered by duplexes here in the UK. They are standard.

          • michaelj

            In today’s (Sunday) Grau, showing how serious the UK is about solving their housing crisis:

            Rachel Maclean MP became the sixth housing minister in a year and the 16th in the 13 years since the Conservatives came to power.

            Further nutty pile-on to the 15-minute threat:

            According to Nick Fletcher, Tory MP for the South Yorkshire constituency of the Don Valley, this way of living is an “international socialist concept”. Specifically, he fears and loathes the idea of the “15-minute city” developed by the Colombian-born Sorbonne professor Carlos Moreno, which proposes that most of what you need or want – places of work, homes, shopping, education, sport, social life, pleasure – be within a 15-minute walk or cycle ride, as in a traditional town or city. This, says Fletcher, who seems to be drawing on some of the nuttier claims on the internet, “will take away personal freedoms”. It’s a case of lunacy on stilts as virtuoso as any in the world of conspiracy theories. It also highlights a central question of modern conservatism: do they actually want to conserve things?

          • Alon Levy

            The idea that everyone can live 15 minutes from work is pretty nutty, and in practice (again, look at Paris) what it means is that the more politically progressive sections of the middle class live 15 minutes from work and the people cleaning their houses and serving their food live an hour from work.

          • michaelj

            @Alon: “The idea that everyone can live 15 minutes from work is pretty nutty, and in practice (again, look at Paris) …”

            That is a gross simplification and no one (not trolling) is saying that. But a 15-minute city (FMC) would allow more people to work locally, especially as most jobs in these big cities are service jobs and they are everywhere as Eric2 says. Advocates of FMC promote public transit or 2-wheel individual transport to access work, and obviously Paris has always (for the past century) fulfilled that happy outcome. When I lived in Paris I was never more than 30 minutes from work. When reverse-commuting from Ile-St-Louis (4e) it took 26 minutes on M13 to Villejuif, about 8km in the southern suburbs. When I worked in Hopital St Louis (10e) it took about 30 minutes by either Metro or walking.

            @Alon: “People sit at cafes without being blown away in high-rise cities, too; there are examples from Singapore and New York.”

            Examples, a few maybe. But the main ones to be good enough to warrant pretty pics in NYC would be the cafe en plein air in Bryant Park/NYPublic Library (low rise), or Greenwich Village. There are reasons why it is most associated with a few Euro cities, especially Paris. Indeed Bryant Park is trying to be Paris to the extent that they copy those green steel chairs from Jardin du Luxembourg!
            Here’s a more typical example in Manhattan, and is typical of such plazas bounded by tall buildings:

            General Motors agreed to construct and maintain a public plaza in exchange for permission to build a skyscraper on the site in 1968. Though no one would ever claim that the resulting over-sized shaft was Edward Durrell Stone’s masterpiece, it proved to be better than the graceless suburban mini-mall that occupied its sunken forecourt, a space whose only memorable feature was a half-acre of windswept Astroturf.

            This was about its transformation in 2006 into more amenable space, not least by the new Apple Store, after more than 40 years as a failed public space. The plazas surrounding the old WTC were bleak spaces to be traversed by hurrying pedestrians. I don’t know if the rebuilt site is any better. This is why the nearby Winter Garden by Cesar Pelli became such a hit–enclosing the whole inside a giant glass greenhouse.

          • Alon Levy

            Bryant Park/NYPublic Library (low rise)

            …what? Bryant Park is surrounded by skyscrapers, including a mid-block supertall that I keep referencing as an example of New York costs on firma (as opposed to over railyards like Hudson Yards).

            And yeah, you lived in Paris near work, but the people working in Paris living elsewhere didn’t, and the obsession with moving jobs closer to suburban areas has always led to more car use. Hence the praxis of, to the pedestrian city center, to the car the world. You need Paris, Tokyo, and New York’s level of job centralization to have strong alternatives to the car.

          • michaelj

            @Alon: “Bryant Park is surrounded by skyscrapers …”

            The park and the library, which is not hi-rise, occupy the entire block. In fact it is a double width (nth-sth) block. So your hi-rise might be on the other side of the 3 relevant streets but clearly it is far less affected by the usual Manhattan hi-rise, say like the GM plaza which is squeezed in less than one standard north-south block with of course the GM tower occupying two-thirds of the block. It’s why Bryant Park is popular, though of course there is no other park nearby with Central Park being 18 blocks north and Madison Sq Park 14 blocks south.

            Mind you, I’m not saying it is perfectly clear of those problems but better than most situations, especially midtown which is particularly relentless. So I agree with you that it would be better if the blocks surrounding it were of Haussmannian stature:-) The park was there long before they were, and it would have created a genuine oasis and respite from the oppressiveness of those canyons of hi-rise.

          • Eric2

            ^ Agreed. Almost the whole point of a city is to have a larger job market, meaning that your job can be anywhere in the city. That said, there are many jobs – like restaurant or supermarket worker, or teacher or pediatrician – which will exist in every part of the city and are reasonably interchangeable, and it would be nice if a reasonable proportion of people were able to get jobs in walking distance of home. That said, I am afraid this will always be limited because I suspect economic stratification of neighborhoods is unavoidable.

    • John D.

      “trying to ascribe population declines to the mayor’s political affiliation”

      I don’t think that was the thrust of Alon’s argument – the main contention was Hidalgo endorsing that ongoing decline on dubious ‘urbanist’ grounds.

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t blame Hidalgo for the decline; my disgust is that she views it positively, and makes negative effort to build more housing in the city while the rest of the region is, under state and regional dictates, building a lot more (Ile-de-France builds more housing in absolute numbers than any American or Western European metro area).

      • Stephen Bauman

        If the national and regional governments dictate housing (and other) policies, it’s likely there are constraints on what any Paris mayor can do. The decision to decentralize Paris was taken during deGaulle’s presidency. The process was well under way, when I first visited there in 1967.

        • Alon Levy

          The mayor is evidently building a lot of social housing in rich neighborhoods even though the region is run by the right, so she does have the ability to do things.

          • michaelj

            I don’t think they are targeting rich areas but simply making the process random. This will have the long term benefit of bringing a small amount of social equalisation to the city. I would have thought you’d laud this.

      • Grinsekotze

        I really don’t see your point. The Paris region has an exceptional rail network, and the Grand Express will further improve on it by connecting the suburbs without going through the core. The center of Paris is absolutely packed and there really is very little green or open space. Why is it so important to you that everybody should live in the superdense nucleus of the city instead of making the less crowded suburbs more attractive?

        • Alon Levy

          Because people who live and work in the suburbs drive. M15 can slightly reduce the gradient in modal split between city and suburban jobs, but it won’t come close to eliminating it; the strength of Paris’s rail network is intertwined with the city’s high density of residences and jobs (remember, at the scale of 100 km^2 zones, Paris has slightly more job concentration in the core than New York).

          And as for green space, every anti-urban reformer keeps trotting this line. Entire American cities have been destroyed by urban renewal czars who didn’t like that there were too many buildings and too few parks, and so they build giant empty spaces that sit idle and aren’t actually used for recreation. At least then in the 1950s it was the middle class that left American cities. In Paris today it’s the working class that leaves; evidently the city as it is is desirable, just expensive due to lack of housing.

          • Eric2

            Green space sits empty when it’s decorative gardens that people can’t enter, when the weather is bad (like NYC in winter), and in the middle of a weekday when everyone is at work or school. When green space is designed for human use, and people have free time and the weather is good, it’s extremely well used in a dense place like Manhattan. See for example
            Central Park, Bryant Park, or Washington Square Park. Is it possible that your own leisure activities don’t involve green space so you’re not aware how much this matters to people with different leisure activities?

          • Alon Levy

            Those parks are the only ones in their respective areas, is the point. Mandela Park isn’t – the 1st Arrondissement already had plenty of parkland. It’s the same issue with all those imitation attempts of the High Line in areas that aren’t nearly as busy or underparked.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Driving isn’t a magic wand. It’s difficult to do an average of over 60km/h, and the costs are relatively high.

            Micro mobility and public transport can do well even out in the countryside.

          • Eric2

            The 1st Arrondissement doesn’t actually have that much parkland relative to the number of people there (many of them workers or tourists). The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th (all served by Mandela Park) have even less parkland. So unsurprisingly Mandela Park gets pretty busy.

          • michaelj

            Mandela park is only 5Ha so unless you do build those five Empire State buildings on it, it wouldn’t make much difference. And remember it is built above the biggest Metro interchange station in the west which probably influenced planners and engineers when it was built in the 70s. As Eric2 notes, it is intensively used, for the reason that there is a lot of activity around it, plus tourists. Other than the Tuileries it is the only park in the 1e (unless counting the tiny Jardin du Palais Royal). Not to mention that it borders several heritage buildings (St Eustache, Bourse). It’s quite a nice little space and has become a place for meetings/manifestations, even small concerts (in front of Eustache).
            Of course you’re trolling. I don’t believe you’d really want to build a hi-rise in that position.

          • michaelj

            @Alon: “Because people who live and work in the suburbs drive. M15 can slightly reduce the gradient in modal split between city and suburban jobs”

            That is jarring. It should read “people who live in the suburbs and who work in the suburbs, drive” Most people driving are working extramuros because it is punishingly expensive, not to mention fraught, to commute daily into Paris. Thus those who relocate from Paris to extramuros overwhelmingly use PT to commute to their old job in the city. If they do look for new jobs they will be much more minded than long-term suburbanites to try to find one either within walking distance or within easy PT. The M15 and GPX will vastly increase those possibilities though it may take a decade to bring about a big change.

  5. Lee Cryer

    The Paris discussion is excellent, but so is the next-to-last paragraph. I live and work in Denver, and while NIMBYism is high here, places like Aspen and Boulder take it to another level. I’m curious what other small US cities do you consider to be “ultra-NIMBY?”

    • Alex Cat3

      My college town, Burlington VT has a bit of a NIMBY problem. Despite having a 1% vacancy rate it only builds 2.7 housing units per 100k. Meanwhile the college keeps expanding enrollment without building dorms. They finally have a plan to build a bit more but the zoning board is holding it up because the dorm will be “only” 25 feet from the road, and because they want the university to promise that they’ll continue cramming students into triple rooms after building the new dorm.

      • Benjamin Turon

        At least they built a homeless shelter in Burlington VT, in Saratoga Springs the most recent proposed location was defeated by the outrage of Catholic School Parents who issue death threats 😦

        • Alex Cat3

          Blessed are the poor– unless they want to live in my neighborhood, then f*** them!

    • Alon Levy

      I think Aspen is the most emblematic of this at the resort level. At the college town level, I’m not sure? Boulder is infamous for how that neo-Nazi leader said he feels safe there because it’s so expensive there are no black people, and this is less likely to happen in a New England college town because there are fewer neo-Nazis in New England than in the Mountain West. Usually when I think of a NIMBY university town in the US my first association is Berkeley, but Berkeley is embedded in a large metro area so maybe that doesn’t count. I’ve heard about problems in Ithaca (Nathanael – if you’re here, how is it over there?), but I don’t enough to say how it compares with Boulder.

  6. Reedman Bassoon

    I think you would find Santa Barbara (with its piece of the UC system) to be as NIMBY as Boulder. Chick-Fil-A opened a restaurant there, and SB came within an eyelash of shutting it down as a public nuisance because it was too popular.

  7. Minh Nguyen

    The comments definitely seem distasteful. That said, weren’t Hidalgo and the PS in favor of constructing high rises with a lot of housing and offices at Bercy Charenton, and were only forced to concede due to the other parties?

    • michaelj

      I don’t know much about it other than in the press. Most of Bercy-Charenton is in Charenton, ie. extramuros, and all of it is the ‘wrong’ side of the Peripherique. The 180m tower was to built above the rail tracks, and being intramuros (just) the promise of lots of social housing, and its hype of sustainable green development might have seduced Hidalgo. It is a bit like Herzog + de Meuron’s futuristic hi-rise Le Projet Triangle (180m) which is just inside the Peripherique in the 15e. I don’t know about such hi-rise right on Paris’ periphery; might be ok but I wouldn’t want so much that it eventually seemed like a 180m wall around Paris oddly mimicking the Theirs wall it would be built on top of!
      Skidmore Owings and Merrill has proposed a 180-metre skyscraper in Paris that is designed to be zero-energy, and accessible via a garden bridge leading from the River Seine. The international architecture firm is part of the team that launched a masterplan for the Charenton-Bercy project at property event MIPIM in Cannes this week.
      “As part of a wider environmental strategy, the tower at Charenton-Bercy will become one of the most sustainable buildings in Europe,” said Yasemin Kologlu, associate director at SOM. Sustainable design elements will include rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling, and waste-to-energy conversion.
      Renders of the Charenton-Bercy tower show the “gardens in the sky” running down the sides of the tower in green bands, linking with a tree-filled plaza at the base of the tower filled with shops and open-air cafes.
      A third of the site will be given over to green space, with another third filled by buildings with green roofs. The developer has committed to planting one tree on site per residential unit.
      Of the 1,000 residential units promised in the masterplan, 30 per cent will be social housing. As part of an integration plan, 42,000-square metres will be given over to co-living units for students and seniors.

  8. Phake Nick

    I guess this is in line with Chinese Communist Oarty’s policy in year 2017-2019, where they try to improve the City of Beijing by finding out and then cleaeing off “low end population” from the city

    • Borners

      I think Chinese Communist party policy is that they own China.

      More concretely having the mother of all housing bubbles is a substitute for not having a proper national taxation system and a welfare state. Overbuilding in peripheral zones while underbuilding in the coastal megacities because that allows CCP leaders to enrich their patronage networks while avoiding dealing with fundamental problems of their regime.

      • e

        Beijing is remarkably low-rise in general (unlike Shanghai) – I don’t understand how this situation benefits anyone, whether rulers or ruled.

  9. Grinsekotze

    This really seems unnecessarily cynical. What density do you think is ideal? Do you really think you have to HATE your city if your idea of an ideal density happens to be below the current figure?

    • Sassy

      The ideal density is when everyone who wants to live in a certain area is accommodated.

      Maybe some people will leave that area as more people move in, however, that person deserves to live in the area less than the ten people who replace them. Society does make exceptions for people with 10x the wealth (or 10x the clout with the party, 10x tearjerker storytelling potential, etc.), which should feel inherently unfair, wrong, and distasteful, but such is society.

      Maybe it’s a hot take to phrase it as a hate of your city. Does a white nationalist who wants all blacks and immigrants in the US to get out and stay out hate the US?

      What is a city in your heart (if your heart is mostly concerned about statistical areas and administrative boundaries please try to imagine a normal person)? Some might pine on about some fantasy ideal. However, a simpler answer might be its people.

      • Alon Levy

        Does a white nationalist who wants all blacks and immigrants in the US to get out and stay out hate the US?

        Yes? Have you noticed how all those white nationalists consistently take the side of the US’s external enemies? They fly Confederate flags, they make excuses for Hitler, they’re full of conspiracy theories about the Cold War (Murray Rothbard cheered when Saigon fell for accelerationist reasons), they somehow made excuses for Al-Qaida, they support Putin pretty universally, some even support Xi Jinping.

      • michaelj


        The ideal density is when everyone who wants to live in a certain area is accommodated.

        That is sooo wrong I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps with this, a citation I think may be from Jan Gehl (but I don’t have the link):
        At the Goldilocks density, streets are a joy to walk; sun can penetrate to street level and the ground floors are often filled with cafes that spill out onto the street, where one can sit without being blown away, as often happens around towers.
        I have written reams on Alon’s blog about what is the Goldilocks density. I know it seems self-selected and self-serving* but I reckon it is Paris density or slightly lower for modern cities (because of bigger apartments, no chambres de bonnes etc). The 11e has 41,000/km2 but it has few parks (just linear strip above the canal), no hospital or government buildings, or other ceremonial or institutional buildings; so it isn’t a good example of ‘sustainable’ density, ie. it couldn’t exist except inside a city like Paris–or to invert it, all of Paris couldn’t possibly be like the 11e. Then there is Barcelona’s Eixample which is 3 times bigger than Paris-11 and has density of 36,000/km2. Some might argue that disproves my interpretation right there. But actually Barcelona Eixample has various urban problems directly related to that density: too much noise and unrelenting traffic and too little green space, too little civic space. Cerda had planned big courtyards for all those perimeter- block apartment houses but of course they were all filled in within a short period, bringing more people, activity and traffic to the zone. It’s the reason for the superblock solution, to create traffic-free zones and de facto greener spaces etc. There’s no doubt Eixample would be better if it had more spaces like Paris (ceremonial, institutional, green etc) and as a consequence fewer residents and lower density.

        *Having lived there, I have tried to understand why it is so special, especially after I moved to other places. I believe I have solved most of the puzzle. For every change (higher buildings, bigger parks, wider streets, narrower streets) there is an effect. Alon proposes much of Paris could be 13 floors but it couldn’t while remaining Paris. That’s over double the current average and would wreck it at street level (and halfway up the buildings too). There’s a reason Paris is the premium city for flaneurs and just walking in general. The same reasons why in the 17th century they devised rules relating street width to building height. Humans innate reaction, both short term and long term, to light and air don’t change. (But Hidalgo is correct too and a more biophilic design will improve it, and less traffic.)

        • Alon Levy

          People sit at cafes without being blown away in high-rise cities, too; there are examples from Singapore and New York.

          So what Gehl really is talking about isn’t people being able to sit at street level (which, again, exists in high-rise cities). He’s evoking an image of a European city center that appeals to tourists who shop at cutesy overpriced farmers’ markets while all residents shop at big box malls. Nothing from this picture is incompatible with taller buildings – Taipei has the exact same image, with really cute night markets (while most residents shop at 7-11), and a streetscape of buildings 12-15 stories tall plus various skyscrapers. But it’s intended to give people a positive emotional association with a trad Europe, unencumbered by work or social progress or immigration.

        • Eric2

          When I visited Barcelona (before the superblocks) my reaction was that it was perfect except for the massive amount of traffic funneled down each of the streets. I would have supported road-dieting all those streets, the transit and destination density are so good already that there is little real need for cars. Instead of road-dieting it seems they chose superblocks (which has pros and cons relative to road dieting: there is more continuous space with no cars nearby, but deliveries are harder within the superblock, and the benefits of no car traffic are distributed selectively).

          • michaelj


            Sounds like you agree with me.
            Further, I don’t know about you but if I lived in Barcelona I would want to live either in the old quarters, Ribera, Gotic etc, or my top preference, Gracia just on the northern edge of Eixample. Beautiful low-rise with charming tree-shaded squares etc. and far less traffic but still walking distance to everywhere (but still on the Metro when you want to be quicker or have elsewhere to go).

        • Sassy

          The idea that there is one goldilocks density is absurd.

          Different people have different preferences. The same person at different stages of life have different preferences. The same person doing different activities throughout the day has different preferences.

          Different locations have different amenities. Different locations have different transit accessibility. Different locations have different mixes of activities.

          The only real universal truth about density is that it should vary greatly across a city to best accommodate everyone. Especially considering that walking is slow, density should vary greatly across even fairly small areas within a city.

          Since the ideal density for a specific area is such a complex function, the only real world solution is to make sure the prices that affect land use decisions are accurate, and afford maximum flexibility in land use.

          • michaelj

            Of course people have different preferences but this is about inner cores of (big) cities. If cottagecore is your thing, fine but that has nothing to do with this discussion. It’s about what is required to have a sustainable commercial and livable environment with good walkability, attractive urbanity, good transport links, amenities etc. For that there is a Goldilocks density though it will be a range, and is still not everything. For example Paris and Manhattan are very comparable in area and density, but very different in feel. Moreover, what one experiences on the street doesn’t tightly correlate with a given density.

            So yes, I agree, it is complex. But still a Goldilocks density (range) can give city planners and urbanists an aspirational goal, or at least context for their plans and modelling. It is notable that in today’s Guardian article Paris’ deputy mayor said the aim was not to increase the population, rather to improve or at least maintain the social mix, especially so that those who do all the essential work in the city have the realistic option of living there. In other words to try to resist the relentless gentrification happening in such cities, most obvious in Manhattan and London.

  10. John Frum

    Why make Paris even denser when you could make the inner suburbs denser and build more Metro lines to serve them? This argument would make more sense in a smaller city like San Francisco.

    • Sassy

      I think this could be good if it can be done well. For example, Tokyo is less nighttime dense in its core than Paris, but more daytime dense, and overall more dense at wider areas. It is also significantly less car dependent, more affordable, more transit oriented, more vibrant, and subjectively more pleasant.

      However, that would require Paris proper to also add the commercial density and hyperlocal density in its core to support that. That runs into the same political issues as trying to accommodate more people in Paris proper, arguably more so.

  11. Jeffry the third

    Hidalgo is what Jarasch in Berlin wishes to become.
    It is also seen on a new voters map where inner city votes Greens and everything outside the city – conservatives. At the same time Greens together with Left blocking every second re-development and new housing (e.g. S Greifswalderstr).
    Ironically, the only party with YIMBYish program just got voted out from Berlin government (by spectacularly shooting themselves into the foot by trying to appeal to car owners). FDP could be actually a good party for Berlin, but I’m afraid it is conversation most of berliners not ready to have.

  12. michaelj

    In today’s Guardian (a few abstracts):
    Paris pushes for second-home tax hike to tackle population drain
    Authorities in French capital also want more affordable housing for working- and middle-class families
    Kim Willsher, 14 Feb 2023

    With limited space to build new homes, the deputy mayor, Emmanuel Grégoire, says the only ways for the city authorities and government to take proactive measures include: buying up buildings and forcing the owners of large offices to set aside space for controlled rent public housing; strict controls on holiday rentals; and increasing taxes on holiday homes – a measure it has so far been reluctant to introduce.
    Paris already requires Airbnb owners to register their property and limits the number of nights they can rent to tourists. “People using property for tourism and second homes aggravate the pressure on the available housing. We don’t want apartments dedicated to tourist rentals. We understand it can be a complementary income for people but the main role of an apartment should be as housing for local people,” Grégoire explained.

    “We have to discourage people who say, ‘I have watched Emily in Paris I’ll buy a pied-à-terre there’, with a secondary residence surtax of 60%. Emily in Paris is great for stimulating tourism in Paris but we want people living here as permanent residents. If they want to visit they can stay with friends or in hotels.”

    Ian Brossat, responsible for housing at city hall, said it was determined to counteract property speculation. “We want to protect as many Parisians as possible from real estate speculation,” he told Le Monde. “And to ensure that those who work in Paris can live there since the city loses residents every year because they can no longer afford to stay.”

    Apparently Emily in Paris is so bad, it’s good.

    • Alon Levy

      Paris averages so little residential space per capita… its problem isn’t that there’s office space (having office space in the city is a good thing) or that there’s tourism (jobs are good); its immediate problem is lack of building and its broader problem is that it listens to too many neighborhood-scale busybodies who feel threatened by growth.

  13. michaelj

    Paris averages so little residential space per capita

    Yes, but everyone living there has made the deliberate choice to compromise on that. Even the very wealthy can’t get all that they would like which is why some of them choose St Cloud, Sceaux or maybe Boulogne-Billancourt (which looks very Haussmannian but perhaps has bigger apartments?) or further out like Le Vesinet (the Scarsdale of Paris). The reality is that even if you added 3 or 4 additional floors that metric would not change due to the iron laws of economics. In fact, during the Belle Époque, ie. post-Haussmann, the building code changed to allow more height but conditional on more setback which resulted in those tall 2- and 3-storey mansards with even smaller rooms/studios in them (because the increasing setback made them shallower).

    But it is curious to me that you think Paris has some big problem when it really doesn’t. Your logic is predicated on the need for constant growth or the unrealistic concept that anyone and everyone of any SES should be able to live intramuros. It doesn’t happen anywhere and Paris already does it better than anywhere else comparable, except arguably Manhattan though paradoxically it is clear gentrification is relentlessly destroying a lot of what people value there. Manhattan’s relentless growth, and supertalls, isn’t helping that problem, it is exacerbating it. Further, in your short time in Paris you really picked up the Parisian horreur of living on the wrong side of the Peripherique, as if everywhere was the ridiculous caricature of the “banlieu” (which misleadingly is used to refer to one tiny part of Paris’ many banlieus, namely parts of Seine-St-Denis). Just like parts of Brooklyn are becoming cool due to the exodus of the young demographic of middle-class and creatives from Manhattan, so too will parts of the Petite Couronne. Even–or perhaps especially-St Denis when so much attention is being lavished on it. Of course already there are cries of gentrification there, forcing rents up etc.

    En passant: I wonder if Emily in Paris shows her living in some ridiculously luxurious and spacious apartment in a prime location and bien sur a view of the Eiffel Tour, yet without any visible means of affording it? Setting up a generation of American students for a severe attack of Paris Syndrome if they try to emulate her.
    But one thing I am sure of, like Alon Levy, Emily won’t be seen dead on the other side of the Peripherique …:-)

    • michaelj

      I was wrong. Emily lives in a chambre de bonne, ie under the mansard roof in a walkup at place de l’Estrapade in the 5e. In fact, opposite (or kitty corner as Emily would say) the Curie Institute, so I know that area. Here’s the building courtesy of Wiki. Plain but elegant. It is 7 floors (including the mansardée floor). Try imagining that building doubled in height to match Alon’s desires … nope, doesn’t work. It would be Kafkaesque with narrow dark streets loomed over by hulking monsters. Paris rendered into Dark City.

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