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Old Paris Is No More (laphamsquarterly.org)
167 points by collapse 72 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 101 comments



One difference between Haussmann and others is that his buildings turned out to create one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

In contrast, 20's century urbanism projects - even on a smaller scale - are almost always considered a failure ex post. In Paris itself, walk yourself through the Les Olympiades area, from Tolbiac down to Porte d'Italie, if you like an impressive testament to that fact. Some other favorites in Europe to google are "Berlin Marzahn" and "Hannover Ihme Zentrum". There are of course many more.

I wonder if there are contemporary developments that will, some day, be considered truly beautiful.


Poundbury in Dorchester (UK) was nothing but plain grass in the 1990'ies. Now Poundbury is a city that has generated more new jobs than new homes. The price for real estate is 30% higher than neighbouring cities. And they have yet to experience a traffic accident. Beautiful walkable cities is good for business.


An other interesting new urbanism project — though I'd have a hard time calling it "beautiful" — is Louvain-La-Neuve in Belgium: a completely planned city resulting from the split of the "Catholic University of Leuven" into the flemish KU Leuven and the walloon UCL the city was set up such that the city center is entirely pedestrian, cars within the city center travel below the giant concrete slab which makes up the city's ground.


I would say it's main fault in the beauty department is that the centre is for students, and so there naturally wasn't much spent on its decoration. Certainly the heavy wear of being a student town in a country with easy access to alcohol does work to bring down the beauty too.

But it manages to give a pretty cosy impression, and with a night life that punches much above the weight of its population otherwise would indicate. Also they gave some good crepes there.



The last time we drove through Poundbury on a summer weekend, the town (it's not a city) was a ghost town. We tried to find somewhere pleasant to have lunch - i.e. open and not fast food - and utterly failed. It has a central town square with nothing going on. I'm sure the rest of Dorchester is interesting and full of life, but Poundbury wasn't.


What a strange town. It appears to have been built mimicking architectural styles from the 19th century, complete with bricked-up windows, mansard roofs, and use of old-fashioned materials and techniques. I do like the human-sized proportions (houses are generally 4 stories or less) and the use of softer-looking materials like brick and stone and rendered walls, but from the photos the town also seems subtly artificial, like a Disneyland version of England. You'd think there could be a middle ground here that didn't skip modernism entirely.


It's been a while since I've been there and I don't know what you're referring to, so could you expand on your criticism of Les Olympiades? Not everyone here can go out for that walk right now and notice all the things you in particular don't like.


Ah sure. So it's basically one of these concepts of what a modern city should be. You have cars and traffic completely underground, on top a relative open area with shops on different levels and high rise buildings for living (as to have public space). It seems like a great idea conceptually, because it affords much space to pedestrians, green spots and still allows accessibility.

But it failed to be attractive to the intended audience - well off young workers and families. It is not a slum and never was, but it did not turn out have the demand.

If you look at it now, it seems downright ugly. There's space, yes, but it's so much concrete, so many bleak looking high rises. It certainly isn't "beautiful" in the sense of the rest of Paris (except if you appreciate that sort of architecture, which I actually do).


Toronto built a complex for urban workers which was designed to be highly walkable “Towers in a Park” approach meant for 1950s young “swinging single” workers, the quintessential urban planning done by cities of the era, but before long it turned into an urban ghetto where drug dealers and petty crime thrived because there was poor access for police vehicles and other types of law enforcement with the towering buildings and narrow walkways shielding any bad behaviour.

Which is sad because it’s next to one of the nicest neighbourhoods in the city (Cabbagetown).

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._James_Town?wprov=sfti1


> drug dealers and petty crime thrived because there was poor access for police vehicles and other types of law enforcement

Interesting take, not supported by the Wikipedia article. Don't Canadian police have access to bikes, motorcycles, or (gasp) horses that might access areas where cars can't go?

What the Wikipedia article does say is this: "The apartments lacked appeal though, poorly constructed, and with a lack of amenities to support the density spike; many prospective tenants instead moved to suburban houses in the developing areas of Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York. The area quickly became much poorer. Four buildings were later built by the province to provide public housing."

Shoddy housing attracts those who can't afford better, and poverty breeds petty crime, that much is true. Blaming it on missing car access is original. Personally I would be more worried about access difficulties for firefighters.


I lived next to it for a number of years and often visited friends who lived there. I’m very familiar with it and the problems it has.

The idea of these concrete enclosed blocks of land being havens for crime and gangs is hardly controversial.

This isn’t the open walkable streets of some nice European city or even downtown Toronto. It’s isolated and poorly maintained. Basically what people have come to expect from city run and planned housing from the past generations.


I don't think they're disputing that it's crime-ridden, just that it's crime-ridden because police cars can't get in.


That's not the only reason why but it's a big one. It's about visual protection with lots of narrow dark alleys and enclosed spaces connecting to endless stairwells. Making surveillance far more difficult and easy for people to disappear into it the minute a watcher sees police enter.

Don't underestimate just how lazy and safety obsessed Cops, so they'd need a partner to go with them to enter on foot.

Police do bike through once in a while when it's summer, usually in groups of 4-6 but Toronto isn't always accessible by bike during winter. Plus I rarely saw bike cops at night like you do cars cruising around.

These isolated places with towering buildings, tons of concrete, and only roads deep outside on the edges creates an excellent environment for shootings, robberies, and drug dealing to take place.

Either way it increases the effort it takes and almost all of them have full time security on site as the problems are constant.

Down the road there are 3 large buildings one by one lined on a major road which are equally in disrepair and impoverished, and they dont have people constantly hanging out side against the walls next to rear stairwell entrances, while everyone else is scared to go there at night. The keep their business inside or out of view.

There's a hundred examples of these places that are set up like this in NYC and Chicago.

Cabrini Green had the same issue with too many enclosed areas where people hung around constantly. The design was counter to open and friendly:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabrini%E2%80%93Green_Homes?ol...


Here in Germany we have a similar issue in some of these project areas.

They are called "Angsträume", translation is "spaces of fear". Dark, secluded spaces, staircases and so forth, where people feel unsafe.


Hm, what's the difference between St. James Town and Békásmegyer? (The latter is perfectly safe, yet looks the same. And it's not a fancy upscale area either.)

https://www.google.com/maps/place/St.+James+Town,+Toronto,+O...

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Budapest,+B%C3%A9k%C3%A1sm...

> These isolated places

How are they isolated? There are perfectly fine streets and parking lots there.

What do you mean roads only on the edges?

And where are the dark alleys? Are there no public street lights?

> and they dont have people constantly hanging out side against the walls next to rear stairwell entrances, while everyone else is scared to go there at night.

What? So what if people are hanging out somewhere? Are they disturbing the tenants? Do they do something illegal? Do people report them to law enforcement? Does law enforcement act on this?


How .. how can anyone believe police cars can't get in?

People use trucks to move their stuff/furniture there. There are proper paved streets, parking places and so on. You can check on any satellite view service.


That sounds almost exactly like the Eastern Pasila neighborhood of Helsinki. I'll just quote Wikipedia:

>In the ranking of the best places where to live in Helsinki ... Eastern Pasila is ranked 92nd, out of 94 different parts of Helsinki.


This is unrelated to the topic, but your comment is a good occasion to learn more about what seems to me to be weird (grammatical) article usages by English speakers.

Why did you call it _Les_ Olympiades, and not Olympiades (no article) or _the_ Olympiades (article in English), or _les_ Olympiades (no capitalization of the article) ?

For Porte d'Italie, you did not add any article, i.e. Porte d'Italie and not _La_ Porte d'Italie. Why the difference?


Honestly? Because I am not French and I just wrote very thoughtlessly. Sorry, no further reasoning behind it.


I see. Still, this is quite common. For instance the English Wikipedia article [0] use the "random French capitalized article" ("Though the proportions are more modest, _Les_ Olympiades are designed similarly to the esplanade of _La_ Défense.", emphasis mine) but not the French Wikipedia 0article [1], which uses "normal" (to me) grammatical articles.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Olympiades

[1] https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympiades_(quartier_parisien)


It's pretty typical to capitalize articles in English if those articles are part of a proper noun (esp. at the beginning of the term). So it seems likely that the article is seen as part of the name of the place. I'd guess there's a similar phenomenon with plurality in proper nouns.


The French article repeatedly refers to it as _Les_ Olympiades.


The article is capitalized only when it is the beginning of a sentence, or for the elementary school of the same name. The article behaves "normally" (eg switches to aux Olympiades when needed) while the English article stick to Les Olympiades with a capitalized "Les".

Interestingly, both articles first words are "Les Olympiades", but:

* "Les" is in bold in the English one, as if it was part of the name, while only "Olympiades" is in bold in French

* The French article says "the Olympiades are" while the English one say "the Olympiades is".


Ah now I get what you are saying. Okay so remember this was all subconcious, but I think I added the articles since "Les Olympiades" seems like a whole name. Just "Olympiades" makes less sense since that could have different meanings, like people perhaps. In that sense, I considered "Les" as part of the name. Therefore, it is capitalized.

Porte d'Italy on the other hand is clear, there's only one interpretation, and therefore the article is not part of the name.

I am not saying this is right, just my brain doing brain things. I apologize if correctness is important for you, I will try to be more precise going foward.


Just like you would say 'les miserables' or 'le big mac'


I think this comes down to the fact that English speakers don't consider their own articles very much because they're always the same. We don't have to put any effort into picking one, so selection is unconscious and automatic.

I recall Ukrainians objecting to the English-speaking world's fixation on calling their country "the Ukraine" instead of just "Ukraine." The propensity to just append articles to nouns to facilitate flow is hard to overcome.


>I think this comes down to the fact that English speakers don't consider their own articles very much because they're always the same.

It's a little bit like how native English speakers tend to regard accent marks as largely optional decoration.


Not so weird, its use is governed by convention. Country names derived from geographical feature take a definite article.

Country Names and 'The': The Ukraine or Ukraine https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/country-...


The definite article makes sense in this case, since it's a specific place and not a category, "les" because that's how you'd probably see it written if mentioned out of context elsewhere[0], and capitalized (against French convention) because proper names are typically capitalized in English, including articles.

And also because people who speak about Les Olympiades in English call it Les Olympiades, in a deliberate effort to distinguish it from the Métro station.

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italie_13#Les_Olympiades


This does not explain why "Les" is considered a part of the name, i.e. English speakers could call it "_the_ Olympiades", to distinguish it from the Métro station.


I'd say the same reason the Spanish Wikipedia article for Alhambra uses La in front of Alhambra even though Al is the article in Arabic.

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alhambra

Native speakers usualllly ignore the articles from another language unless there was a cultural reason not to. It also just sounds better to my native ear.


There isn't a rule about that sort of thing, but a convention you get used to over time.

Adding the Les gives Olympiades more context. The extra word provides clues that this is a straight foreign word that should be treated differently. Port d'Italie is already two words, so extra context isn't necessarily needed.

Like many things in English, it's up to the speaker/writer, and the context.


> I wonder if there are contemporary developments that will, some day, be considered truly beautiful.

Do we still build buildings that will withstand the times to just get to our great-grandchildren though ? Or are we just biased because only the good ones remain from the 19 century ?

(The neighborhood around Olympiades is from the 60s though).


Here is a Twitter account to follow if you're interested in "good urbanism": https://twitter.com/wrathofgnon


Tel Aviv has many examples of good 20th century urbanism. London Barbican is also a great example. I'm sure there are more but we'll see which ones will be true classics over time.


< I wonder if there are contemporary developments that will, some day, be considered truly beautiful.

By whom? It's a matter of perspective. If you're into architecture and design you'll care more about the practicality and function of the building than it's exterior appearance. A sterile exterior then becomes an indicator that the budget went into what matters most.

In my personal opinion, the exterior of buildings (excluding windows) should all be considered public space, they should be open for decoration, like street art, mural paintings etc., so this problem would be solved by the people who live there and take action.


>By whom?

By those who live in them and by those that visit them.

Those who design them and those who write design critiques don't matter at all, and should not even have a voice (at least not one anybody should care about). The best buildings, people take pride living in, and coming from abroad to admire, were built that people we don't even know their name, many even designed and built by craftsmen (as opposed to university-studied architects).

>If you're into architecture and design you'll care more about the practicality and function of the building than it's exterior appearance

The exterior appearance is part of the practicality and function of the building. A bleak appearance can crush the soul, destroy any community pride, and even make people physically ill. Humans are not cattle (though even cattle deserve better).


Is it because of the structural complexity of individual buildings (e.g. kitsch ornamentation) or could it be just the color and texture (e.g. people hating flat grey walls)?

A painted and decorated facade could change the exterior impression completely.

The problem is more the large scale uniformity and a lack of variance, like housing complexes that all look the same, not individual buildings.

Here's an extreme kitsch example: https://www.dezeen.com/2019/01/18/drone-abandoned-turkish-ch...


At a high level, people enjoy "information" and tune out areas that don't have any. It doesn't have to be useful information - a blank brick wall is more interesting than a blank concrete wall, and older hand-laid bricks with more variation and mortar thickness is more interesting still. Small modifications on a repetition (e.g. https://www.curbed.com/2016/6/2/11833698/brownstone-greyston...) add a sense of life, even if it's in the window screens, handrails, landscaping, etc. Central Paris is full of 5-7 story buildings with stone facades and Juliet balconies, but they're all different enough that it's interesting to walk block after block.

It matters what scale you experience it - you can notice cool individual trees when you're hiking, but not when you're driving. As more travel became motorized vs pedestrian/horse, there was less and less reason to prioritize street-level beauty. Also, cars opened up so much land that there was less redevelopment, so a lot of buildings are the first buildings ever built on that site.


I think in two senses.

First, reception by audiences such as tourists. What is on their vacation photographs? Boulevards, or high rises of Italie 13?

Second, by the people who live there. The Olympiades never attracted the successful young professionals they were intended for, and in that sense, were not successful in their design. It may indeed often be the case that some modernist areas are in fact quite nice and comfortable to live in - I do not know. But at the very least they did not turn out to be as desirable as they were planned.


Contrary to what the article says, Haussmann isn’t really a controversial figure in France and much of what makes Paris one of the most beautiful and visited cities in the world is thanks to the architecture he imposed, something that few, if any, modern urbanist can claim.


Would it be self-fulfilling if we disagreed on him being controversial ?

Perhaps an aspect of it Parisian's Paris and tourist's Paris is fundamentally different, and the current leadership is more or less trying to undo a lot of what Haussman stood for to make Paris friendlier to live for Parisians. Whole blocks are closed cars to bring back shops and 'village' like environment.

Modern residential neighbourhoods are rebuilt with lacy paths, cul de sacs, pedestrian/car cohabitation, closer concentration of housing.

A lot of what Haussmann did was beneficial from a health perspective, but we know we can solve these issues in other ways, an I don't think most planners would do it the way Haussmann did if they had the choice to go back in time.


When thinking in historical times you should put yourself in that moment of time. Of course if someone travels back in time with current knowledge will do things in different ways than Haussmann - they know whats going to happen, they know about things Haussmann didn’t.


It's not just historic fantasy though, there was opposition to his way, but they didn't have the political clout nor could oppose centering the cities around cars.

It's not just Haussmann either, most countries had that tension around letting cars dominate or not (there was an excellent 99pi episode about these tensions [0]), it just happened that one side massively won benefiting from economics, politics and power distribution.

[0] https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/episode-76-the-modern...


I think you need better evidence for this tension than an episode that's talking about a different country half a century later (the time difference is especially important, because the changes to Paris took place at a time when cars were still being invented, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benz_Patent-Motorwagen "widely regarded as the world's first production automobile" was patented in 1885, 15 years after the initial development according to Haussmans plans stopped)


The opposition was not against the car at that time, but against the military purpose (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges-Eugène_Haussmann#The_d...), the crushing of the lower layers of society, who had to move away from the renovated areas, and more than anything the amount of money thrown into it that didn't seem to be worth it.

Haussmann succeeded mostly because of the emperor's constant backup and the basically no limit budget he got from him. Once these backings were gone he was out of the game.

He wasn't otherwise very well supported by the people. I kinda like this quote:

> In his memoires, Haussmann had this comment on his dismissal: "In the eyes of the Parisians, who like routine in things but are changeable when it comes to people, I committed two great wrongs; over the course of seventeen years I disturbed their daily habits by turning Paris upside down, and they had to look at the same face of the Prefect in the Hotel de Ville. These were two unforgivable complaints."[17]


> Perhaps an aspect of it Parisian's Paris and tourist's Paris is fundamentally different, and the current leadership is more or less trying to undo a lot of what Haussman stood for to make Paris friendlier to live for Parisians. Whole blocks are closed cars to bring back shops and 'village' like environment.

Yes Haussman was definitely wrong when he planned a city for cars. More seriously just check paintings or videos of Paris before the expansion of individual cars. Read books. It was highly walkable.


Today (because we forgot the cost), but not back in the day.


> Today (because we forgot the cost)

Or because we think it was worth it, in the end.


> Or because we think it was worth it, in the end.

This. I mean if the people put up with the problems caused by the new construction, I believe they deserve credit for being pro-civilization. Not the "oh no, look their old world is gone" nonsense. Surely nobody rebuilt the city for garnering sympathy.


I understood a completely different point from the article.

The old mediaeval city was destroyed to essentially disenfranchise the working poor. No longer would they have strong defensive positions in small winding streets during revolution, they were also displaced from the city centre to make space for the wealthy and elite.

Money and power weren't working towards a pro-civilisation agenda. They were working in their own self interest against the struggling masses.


This kind of thing is described in Scott's book "seeing like a state". The state takes steps to modify the environment and society to make it more legible to management by a central bureaucracy, to further the aims of the state.

For example, the state knocks down existing dwellings to build more roads so it is easier for the army to rapidly mobilize and crush unrest.

The state begins to require all subjects to have a last name, where the people themselves have no real need of one, in order to better identify individuals for more effective taxation.

It's worth a read, both for the appreciation of how it plays out in the world, and also as a source of interesting analogies for how other regimes, such as large hierarchical organisations, will embark on grand projects to attempt to make the surrounding environment more legible and tractable to centralised control and governance.


To be frank those defensible streets themselves were an older agenda back when one of the functions of city was defensibility - in the service of the same elite.

They were always for the purpose. While there are rightful aspects to complain about the displacement sanitation and boulevards were good things even if their motives were ulterior.


>Not the "oh no, look their old world is gone" nonsense.

Taking for granted that that is nonsense, is the same error, a blind belief that any novelty is better than what it replaces.

There were political motivations behind the change (and impact on the population at the time) not just some noble march towards better.

To give a simple example, bulldozing down Venice to build some Mall-ridden monstrosity that looks like 20000 other places in the world, would not be better in any way, and people would be right to lament about that "old world" being gone.

(Of course many moderns, especially Americans having no history, live in a perpetual now, and can't put things into perspective. They judge all things like mobile phone models, the newer the better).


> I mean if the people put up with the problems caused by the new construction

TBF the people who were affected by them were just shoved out of the city center.


Pretty much. Every change comes with a lot of whining, even if they would be a massive improvement (example: replacing the imperial system)


>Haussmann isn’t really a controversial figure in France

Today, when the change has settled down, and nobody lives that remembers before him, no. At his time, and for a while, he was.


Those interested in old photographs documenting Paris should have a look at the work of Eugène Atget.

He basically documented the streets, shops, crafts, people of Paris at the end of the XIXth century, before most of the old and derelict housing were demolished and replaced with the "modern" ones we see today.

https://www.moma.org/artists/229#works


I can't recommend highly enough the Revolutions Podcast, which has seasons devoted to the French Revolution, the 1848 Revolutions, and the Paris Commune. Paris was ground zero of the extremely tumultuous sociopolitical transition from feudalism to republican nation-state, which eventually became the norm for most of the globe.


> There was no property-owning democracy. Everyone was dependent on the will of the landowners and the owners of the houses in Paris. In that particular context, he really took on the most powerful social group at that time, trying to offer a solution to urban problems

As someone who has had to rent in the horrible Paris market, I don't see how everyone being "dependent on the will of the landowners and the owners of the houses in Paris" has changed.


Where else have you rented? Paris is a bit expensive but apart from that the rental market works fine. I wouldn't say the same of Stockholm, Dublin or San Francisco


> Where else have you rented?

I didn't come here for a who-is-more-cosmopolitan dick-waving contest. But if you did, do feel free to entertain us with your personal horror stories from Stockholm, Dublin, and San Francisco.

> Paris is a bit expensive but apart from that the rental market works fine.

Landlords require you to bring a CV and a work contract and proof of income, which must be 3x the rent, otherwise you must bring documentation from a guarantor who does have that much and who is resident in France. You must also bring receipts proving that you paid your rent on time the last three months. (Sure, this is not a big deal per se, except that other countries don't even have this kind of receipt, or you might be coming from some arrangement where you did not (officially) pay rent.) Don't you also have to bring a valid renter's insurance policy? There was almost certainly other stuff I forgot; I remember seeing people at viewings with bunches of paper centimeters thick. Some of this is difficult (read: impossible) for someone just moving to France.

If you don't have these documents, they could be nice and welcoming and try to accommodate you. Or they could just pick one of the 20 people who showed up to the same viewing and who did bring 100 pages of crap. In my limited experience, they do the latter. Overall, "fine" isn't the word I'd choose to describe this.

> I wouldn't say the same of Stockholm, Dublin or San Francisco

"X isn't quite as shitty as San Francisco" is faint praise indeed.


Other than the receipt thing, this sounds the same as anywhere I've rented… I agree it's a shitty system all around, but I don't think any of it is unique to Paris.


Oh, sure, it's not unique, but it's not a sign of a particularly healthy market.

For our current apartment in another EU capital my partner and I were asked informally what we did for a living. I mentioned my income, but I think it was without being asked explicitly. I was prepared to show my work contract as proof, but they never asked. Those were all the required "formalities" before we were given the contract to sign.

Rents around here are rising at a rate of something like 7% per year, so it's not like there's too much housing, but it's not quite as constrained as elsewhere.


I don't understand this romantic idea of Olden Times. I doubt any Parisian misses dying of simple dieases or just not having access to emergency care. I don't understand why people would ever romanticize with the old days. Sure, we ought to remember our history but we don't need to romanticize it. It was awful.


Progress is not all-encompassing; it is entirely possible to claim that 21st-century medicine is preferable to 19th-century medicine while simultaneously preferring 19th-century architecture, art, or other aspects of society. Paris today may be cleaner and safer than it's ever been, but it's also far less exciting or intellectually interesting than it was in its heyday.

The prevalence of this view in the tech community is especially ironic considering that San Francisco was a far nicer city to live in 50-60 years ago (in general, of course - not for every segment of the population.)


Knowing Paris as it is now and comparing to the photographs in the article I am happy that cleanup was performed. The old architecture was maybe interesting to some extent, but very close to a huge slum.


Note that you can also clean things up without tearing it down entirely. Many cities have retained historical centers in that style without keeping the "slum" bits, and it does makes for more interesting walking around than huge boulevards and avenues.

There's an architectural movement to come back to these more human-sized city designs too: smaller streets, more mixed use, less emphasis on large (and motorised) transportations, incorporation of structural shading and breeze-shaping, ...


It works for small towns, not capital cities with multi-million inhabitants. Even with the (fabulous) dense underground network you need larger boulevards and parks, not 3 meter wide streets everywhere. I am not a fan of Champs Elysee (there are so many better places), but it gives some air to the city. I think Paris 200 years ago was claustrophobic and a maze.


See Strasbourg for an example of that. Center was left alone and 19th century building were built in a brand new neighboorhood.


see brussels for a counter-example. tore down everything, and became of laughing stock for urbanists, and a sad place to live in for the rest of us.


Maybe. But had those buildings survived they would now be attractive, clean, and very expensive.

From the perspective of today the problem was that the families living in the small apartments was way too big and did not pay enough rent to maintain the buildings. They just did not have enough rich single professionals willing to pay chic apartments and studios back then. Or student with rich parents seeking a studio downtown.


The 2-300 year old buildings would be easier to raze and rebuild than to put electricity and plumbing in it, improve resistance to earthquakes, make it safe to live in case of fire or other events that requires evacuation. They were not safe on modern standards.


Still great to see some remains of the older Paris here and there, such as le Marais.


Intellectually interesting is not an objective thing to pursue. I believe if you look closely all modern day architecture is an intellectual marvel. Architects of today have an attention to detail that you wouldn't find in the olden days. As for SF, I would never choose to live there. A wooden old looking house for a very very high rent ? I don't see any data to support living there.


>50-60 years ago

Rent wasn't high back then.


> "I don't understand this romantic idea of Olden Times. I doubt any Parisian misses dying of simple dieases or just not having access to emergency care."

Of course not. This isn't a call for a return to poverty and disease. It's about the organic neighbourhoods, architecture and street layouts that are gone forever and replaced with centrally planned layouts and homogenous buildings.

One of the reasons I think London is a better city than Paris (in my opinion, obviously - I've lived in both) is that it has, whether through accident or design, managed to retain significant numbers of it's medieval streets and diverse, centuries-old buildings while also embracing modernity.

Where as in Paris you have a rather homogenous city, mostly all built in the same era, in London you can walk a few blocks and be transported through centuries.


Its interesting to contrast the two approaches taken by london and paris.

Barring the great fire (and I suspect there will have been similar events in paris as well) There was no one architect or style that completely flattened the victorian london.

The strand, which is now a large paris style boulevard was a semi-slum/porn publishing district. Around the houses or parliament was a spectacularly large slum.

https://publicdomainreview.org/2016/06/29/the-secret-history... (warning Victorian porn. NSFW)

This did mean that in the 1920-40s there was a massive expansion into the "suburbs" to escape the slums, poverty and diseases of central london. This is a decline that has only really just reversed in the last 20 years. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_London)

The crucial thing was that "social" housing was placed in every borough of the city, not just on the outskirts. The highest density of social housing is in southwark, which is opposite both the houses of parliament and the "city". I imagine its the equivalent of building ~80k houses exclusively for the poor in the 6th and 7th arrondissement


Surely you can think of stuff that got worse with time, development seems to be a tradeoff in general.


No, I cannot. Everything got better with time. Except maybe air quality. I cannot imagine spending a day in 18th century. I would either die of disease or kill myself. It only looks great in paintings and pictures and what not.


Lets try with some quick cut and paste.

Paraphrased from wikipedia on the term fairy tale - is mainly used for stories with origins in European tradition, originally meaning a little story from a long time ago when the world was still magic. Tales were told or enacted dramatically, rather than written down, and handed down from generation to generation.

Wikipedia on Paris - The Parisii inhabited the Paris area from around the middle of the 3rd century BC. This meeting place of land and water trade routes gradually became an important trading centre. The Parisii traded with many river towns and minted their own coins for that purpose. During the 17th century, Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister of Louis XIII, was determined to make Paris the most beautiful city in Europe.

And from this post - Costly confusion, the triumphant vulgarity, the awful materialism that we are going to pass on to our descendants. ... Thousands of people were forced from their homes to make way for luxury buildings that the former tenants would not be able to afford. The overcrowding turned Paris into an “immense workshop of putrefaction, where misery, the plague, and disease work together in harmony,”. One way to successfully quell rebellion then was to to insulate the rich from the poor. The social ills that helped motivate the 1848 revolution did not disappear with the renovation of Paris and the subsequent restructuring of its social life. They may have even been made worse by the stratification of urban life,


This. Notice the little rivulet running down the left side of the lane in the first photo? Odds are that's either urine or sewage.


You can romanticise the parts of it that was beautiful.

A lot of times people talk about particular aspects of a period, or in general, of objects, not absolutely everything that comes with it.

You don't need to bind every thing to its context entirely.


Its still amazing to me how bad modern construction is. Paris was build with no electricity, no cars/trucks, no computers, no massive cranes and they can build a city that is more beautiful than any modern city. Even in the US pre-war apartment buildings are more solid, higher ceilings and more ornate than anything built in the last 50 years.


“a city that is more beautiful than any modern city” to each his own. i would rather live in a modern flat in La Defanse than in the centre of Paris. i feel those long and wide boulevards are not really meant for humans, and those old buildings have horrible flats. give me some narrow and winding London roads any time of day. preferably full of modern skyscrapers.


The new sewerage system was a revolution, and Paris really needed a transformation up to digging the ground.


On a similar topic, I greatly enjoyed "The Other Paris" by Luc Sante, a sort of long-term social history of the city with focus on the marginalized.


I love Paris, but just like Barcelona, their wide boulevards can be off-putting sometimes and their more cozy, narrow-street, neighborhoods tend to be tourist traps. Montmartre and Borne come to mind, both gorgeous but crowded with visitors and defaced by postcard stands.

Barcelona in particular went through its own Haussmann-style revamps throughout the years, in the XIX century but also for the 1992 Olympics, giving its current and impressive urban layout. [1]

But the thing is I fell in love with Madrid. Its narrow streets downtown, some of them eerie mazes, make living here quite the authentic and unique urban experience.

[1] https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/4/8/18266760...


When I visited Paris, I could see the Arc de Triomphe from the Louvre and thought I would just walk there. After all the walking I'd already done I gave up and took the Metro the last two stops.

My sense of distance was thrown off by how monstrously huge the Arc is. I don't know where they take the pictures of it from, but standing across the street from it I had to just about stand on my head to get the whole thing into frame on my camera.

And as big as the Arc is, the Napoleonic Louvre is bigger (And, I might add, covered with his initial, like a child marking his belongings). And they additions were made in such a way that from the outside it looks five times bigger than it is. There's a certain element of shock and awe going on here.

The only thing I've seen on a similar scale is the Washington Monument, and you understand why all the pictures of the Lincoln statue make it look like it's immediately behind the pillars. It is not. It's on the far end of a large room, also too big to get into frame. It's just so big that it destroys perspective.

To people confronted with this for the first time, I can see how they might wonder why they didn't stop at a smaller monument. In an era without high rises, there's a bit of grotesquery about the scale of these things. They were paid for on the backs of the lower class. I'm sure it was a very concrete image of the slide back into monarchy.

The only thing I've seen on a similar scale in the US, aside from nature, is the Lincoln Memorial. Seeing the monument, you understand why all the pictures of the Lincoln statue make it look like it's immediately behind the pillars. It is not. It's on the far end of a large room, also too big to get into frame. It's just so big that it destroys perspective.

Now, in an era of high rise apartments, the ridiculous proportions prevent these buildings from simply being swallowed in a sea of truly mundane buildings of comparable size. And that is probably why these places have such a tourist draw even today.


I was really hoping this article would have been about how Paris of 2019 has lost some of it's charm compared to Paris of 2008 and before. Need to find an article about that.


> suburbs, with the border between the two divided by a highway called “the periphery” (its construction completed in 1973), a ring road that encircles all of Paris proper

A more exact translation would be "peripheral". And unlike what the author asserts, Haussmann’s transformation did not remove all popular lodging from Paris. And I'd say that removing the slums, adding proper sanitations, opening wide boulevards were a good thing.


The link gives me 403 Forbidden. Link to the Wayback Machine https://web.archive.org/web/20190808100014/https://www.lapha...


If you liked this piece, a good read is, "Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris" by Graham Robb.


Of course, old Paris is no more ! I live near Paris, and I go in this town only when I am forced to. Residential intensification, insecurity (pickpockets in the metro), migrants, Paris nowadays has nothing to do with the romantic vision of American people. Real Parisians now live in the suburb, there is some very nice towns in the suburbs. (Others not so nice, it depends where you go).


The article is about the 18th and 19th centuries.


So little has changed in the process then to now to be easily confused, or what is your point?


Which suburbs are nice?


16 out of the top 20 French communes by household incomes are in the Parisian suburbs [0]. Generally, the western suburbs are richer, as well as the ones directly next to Paris.

[0] https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revenu_fiscal_par_m%C3%A9nage_...


The list is too long. But for example, Rueil-Malmaison is a good suburb.


what, so you can migrate there?! non non non mon dieu!




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