One of the topics we explored in this class was the so-called “Haussmannisation of Paris,” the transformation from a medieval city to the urban city we know today. We see the blossoming of the urban city through such things as wider streets, storefronts, street life, and cafes. People were encouraged to be out in public spaces, there were street lamps and green spaces, theaters. Street lamps were especially exciting, as Parisians already had an appreciation for illumination. Oil lamps were installed all around, with a silvered reflector (History of Public Lighting of Paris).
Of course, with the demolition of most of Paris, there was the displacement of the lower class and renovations made for the wealthy, a trend that has repeated itself throughout history in most large cities: the displacement of the poor for a more appealing living space for the rich. Only the rich can afford to set aside space to enjoy, especially when residential space was not of concern to them.
We can draw parallels between the Haussmannisation of Paris and gentrification today in modern cities. We see that Haussmann kickstarted the modern era by displacing the lower class, a common trope we see today in cities like New York and Toronto, just generally “up-and-coming” areas. The gentrification of poor areas can be attributed to cheaper real estate, convenient location, and transportation access in modern times. We see this trend of poor neighborhoods receiving a flight of rich people once it’s discovered there are artists living there. In Brooklyn, some neighborhoods are gentrified overnight, forcing native New Yorkers to seek homes out of the city and, in some cases, state. Rents are raised while conditions worsen, and landlords neglect the lower-paying tenants (Yee). So despite all these great advancements to their neighborhood, the originating residents do not get to experience these benefits of a gentrified community (Richardson, et al).
Napoleon III appointed Georges Haussmann for the ambitious project of remodeling Paris into the city it is today. When a Haussmann was appointed, the city was forever changed, it became a model city of European planning. Haussmann was born into a bourgeoise family of connections, he was highly intellectual and educated as well.
Of course, with the introduction of the new, we see the demolition of the old. Paris used to be filled with gothic architecture and it was still a medieval city. In a way, it’s a shame that the old architecture of Paris was not preserved.
Despite all these social implications and displacement that come with gentrification, unfortunately with a city that isn’t willing to provide the funding of bettering a community unless rich people advocate for it. There are positive outcomes to gentrification, usually in the sense of beautification. Although historic with families and communities in Paris, it was overcrowded and filthy. There were limited ways to get around on foot as streets did not connect and there was no sewage. The streets were filled with feces and garbage, there was no light. Although the Haussmannisation of Paris is a mass gentrification, often times when more money is put into a city, the standard of living improves for most folk. Haussmann tore the city down and built it back up with boulevards, streetlights, parks, and open areas for pedestrians. He introduced running aqueducts and sewage, as well as hundreds of trees which contributed to cleaner air. Air pollution was also an issue at the time, especially for working-class folk who lived near industrial areas as they were the ones working those jobs.
In Brooklyn, NYC, back in the 1950s, there was a mass demolition of a residential block in brownstone Brooklyn that outraged locals. Not only were the brownstones replaced with hideous cinderblock townhouses, but this led to the creation of the New York Landmark Committee, committed to protecting New York’s landmarked homes and monuments from destruction like that.
Frankly, the whole thing feels capitalistic. Haussmann essentially turned what was once a self-sufficient town into an urban society with capitalistic foundations. Why is it that the working class should rely on the bourgeoisie to determine where they live? Why is it only rich folk that want to better a city without the participation of the communities already living there?
There wasn’t a second thought of improving the standard of living and the already standing infrastructure, displacement of the poor was the immediate response.