The Paris Anachronism: Housing

In the context of the second round of the French municipal elections, and in the light of the debate on BFM, yesterday, Thursday June 25, 2020, I wish to take up an old but still current issue: I want to talk about the separation between Paris and Paris. Sorry: I mean between the hyper-center of the Paris Region and the region itself. The current demarcation of the City of Paris (also called Paris intra-muros), which has hardly changed since 1860, continues to suggest, politically speaking, that the city still lives almost in autarky. However, in everyday reality, nothing could be further from the truth, hence the emergence of many contradictions in terms of (peri)urban organization.

Let’s look at the implications of this completely outdated scheme and see why this XIXth century administrative geography negatively impacts the daily life of the Ile-de-France[1]The Ile-de-France Region is the official territory which includes the City of Paris, its outskirts and the rural places outside. Sometimes, one speaks about the Paris region (Région parisienne in French) : it is understood as the urban zone of the Ile-de-France Region. inhabitants in 2020, whether in the field of housing (today’s article), transportation or work (forthcoming). This archaism makes comparisons between the various capitals around the world quite complex: even some large audit firms or local newspapers fall into the trap. An example? In its article of January 5, 2019, Le Parisien daily notably compares the City of Paris with Greater London. In fact, it would have been necessary either to take into account a central area of ​​London, or instead the City of Paris and its suburbs.

Each mayor[2]I’m talking about mayors of municipalities, not of boroughs manages local town planning, in agreement with the Prefect[3]The Préfet locally represents the French State. He is a key piece of the French déconcentration system. On the other side, the mayor is the first level of the French décentralisation, is to say the most local level of democracy . In France, elected municipal officials therefore have significant power in the management of not only of their social housing stock but especially in decisions concerning building permits. However, the decision of a mayor can have consequences on neighboring municipalities. For example, the urbanization of part of a watershed partially located in a city will increase the risk of flooding of the other part of the basin belonging to the downstream municipalities (see: 19th May contrib.city article). The construction of numerous dwellings and offices on the banks of the Marne and the Seine rivers at Maison-Alfort, Joinville-le-Pont and Charenton-le-Pont (South-East of the City of Paris) increases the artificialisation of soils and therefore the frequency and height of downstream floods where precisely the City of Paris is located. The creation of flood prevention equipment can smooth the extremes in the event of a medium flood (up to a fifty year one) but will not be able to prevent a 100 year flood from causing much material and social damage.

Similarly, when a housing policy is decided, it can only be relevant at the level of the agglomeration. The city center will tend to attract young people who seek proximity to various urban services: education/training, work, leisure and social life. Seniors will also be able to find health services, district shops (and therefore easily accessible) and the presence of local and (inter) national public transport in order to be able to travel easily. Once two young people decide to live together and have children[4]In France, more than one out of two babies is born out of wedlock, the family often decides to leave the city center to go to the outskirts of the urban area: larger housing and more green fields for the same land cost. Once the children are (relatively) autonomous, some older households will return to the city center.

Thus, for a, even relative, harmony to emerge, housing decisions must be taken at the scale of the whole urban zone, that is to say, in our case, that of the Ile-de-France metropolis. Furthermore, as Bertrand Delanoë (former Paris mayor) and Mrs. Hidalgo (current one the 27th June 2020) have done, in accordance with the ANRU law, the percentage of social housing through the construction of new medium-sized HLM[5]Habitation à Loyer Modéré: French for low rent dwellings or the rehabilitation of unsanitary private housing, have been helping families with low or medium/low incomes to stay within the hyper-center of the Paris region. Today, with more than 22% of the Parisian residential park dedicated to the social housing, the City of Paris participates in keeping part of its population.

However, almost 60,000 Parisians, the equivalent of the 5th arrondissement[6]A Paris arrondissement approximately corresponds to a London borrough still left the City of Lights between 2011 and 2016 (Le Parisien, January 4, 2019) in search of more spacious accommodation and a less stressful environment. Who stays then? Either households whose incomes are not too high to qualify for a Parisian social housing, or those who have access to the private for-profit real estate market: more than 10,500 €/m2 on average, i.e. the most expensive in the country (cf: Meilleurs agents, June 1, 2020). In other words, middle-class families tend to leave the Ile-de-France hyper-center. The question that arises then is this: who will ensure the link between the popular and wealthy classes? The concentration of households with very contrasting socio-economic situations can create situations of tension. Without even taking into account the cases where the middle classes are lacking, the sociologist Yves GRAFMEYER explains to us that, [in] practical terms, […] the social mix imposed from the outside, for example by public authorities anxious to diversify real estate operations planned on the same site, can have ambivalent effects compared to the announced objectives of “fight against segregation” [7]GRAFMEYER Yves, Sociologie urbaine (Urban Sociology), S.l., Armand Colin, 2005, p41. In these conditions, can one really speak of social mix when in addition, it lacks the intermediate and central link of this society? And how will this sociological diversity operate? In fact, in the case of the residential policy of the City of Paris, the question is biased from the start because one can only study this society by taking it as a whole (peri) urban entity, that is to say all the inhabitants of the Ile-de-France urban area, and not only those of the hyper-center.

These 60,000 Parisians leaving intra-muros Paris are a sign that one is faced with population movements that not only cannot be prevented but that elected officials must, on the contrary, accompany. Problem: the city councilors who are responsible for supporting the residential cycle have only a mandate whose geographic area does not correspond to the territorial scale of the phenomenon. Creating a housing policy must be done at the size of the metropolis and not only that of the urban area hyper-center. This does not, of course, prevent us from thinking about long-term major directions, on a continental scale, within the framework of relations between the different political or economic capitals of Europe such as, for example, London, Brussels/Antwerp, the urban zone between Frankfurt and Munich, the Geneva Lake Arc, Milan, Barcelona, ​​Madrid and Lisbon, without forgetting cities, like Lyon or Marseille, of intermediate size but which could play a more important role in this European urban network. A housing policy at the scale of the urban metropolis must adapt to the realities of each district via Town Halls of large districts: these could be demarcated into territories corresponding, for example, to the Ile-de-France hyper-center and urban areas around prefectures, such as, for example, Créteil, Bobigny, Nanterre (where the La Défense business district is located) and Versailles.

Here is the goal: to obtain the scale whose leverage is the most effective for managing a metropolitan area, in a context of massive public over-indebtedness which is, for the moment, only bearable thanks to a continental financial entity: the European Central Bank.

(Cover image: the Ile-de-France Region logo and, top right, the City of Paris coat of arms.)

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