The approach of the municipal elections in France, in a tense economic and social climate, gives the opportunity for the many candidates to make proposals for the cities they manage or they intend to manage. But the given evaluation of these proposals rarely makes the connection with the followed policies at the national level when, in major agglomerations, they have important consequences on growth and employment. They can contribute to the achievement of the searched equilibriums or to the aggravation of the situations the State is trying to cure. But these situations are frequently, in fact, the consequence of policies conducted at the local level. Paris is a good example of that.
The city is the only one in the world which is a political, economical and touristic capital. London could compete but its touristic attraction is very connected to its economic and financial role. New York, Shanghai and Sao Paulo are not the location of their respective governments. And it is difficult to pretend that we go to Tokyo to benefit from the beauty of its monuments and museums. Regarding Rome, Madrid or Berlin, these capitals are not the location of the headquarters of the major companies of their respective countries. But Paris specificity is rarely recognized, and definitely not by these who pretend today to accede to the Town Hall. The examination of the different projects shows that the priority is given to welcome tourists, to establish “urban forests” or parks to the detriment of transportation modes and housing. Population is declining (-0.5% per year) when it grows by 0.7% in the country and is ageing: there are more people over 60 years old than young under 20. The number of major company headquarters is falling, which is not a good signal for growth and employment.
Three essential points allow to making a judgment on the management of a city: the quality of the air people breath, the easiness with which it is possible to get around and the ability to offer comfortable and affordable homes. The assessment of the action of the previous teams which succeeded to themselves in Paris is highly disputable and the proposals presented by the candidates are not convincing. So the risk is real that the priority given to visitors, through the transformation of Paris in a museum, to the detriment of these who live and work there becomes more pronounced, which, considering the weight of the capital and of its immediate neighboring in the whole French economy will have negative repercussions at the national level.
Proposals regarding environment and the outdoing to which candidates are committing themselves risk to have the opposite effect to the expected result and to worsen pollution. They confuse the action against climate warming which is necessarily global with the fight against particle emissions which constitute a heavy and immediate danger for health with the development of breathing diseases. Since the quasi-disappearance of wood and coal heating, their main source is constituted by diesel engines. So these ones continue to profit from tax incentives. Atop of that, the town has multiplied the authorizations given to tourist buses and has not taken any measure to restrict the coming of trucks with an excessive size or of old professional vehicles which are heavily polluting, especially in the housing and public works sectors. At last, and without seeming to attract any interest, RATP still makes operating buses which are sometimes more than twenty years old. The main restrictive measures concern private vehicles which are not, by far, the most polluting. It is also focused on the “greening” of the city due to the trees ability to absorb carbon emissions. It is derisory at the planet level and that doesn’t contribute to make the air in the capital cleaner.
Proposals regarding travels almost have as an objective to reduce the role of private vehicles. Through the reduction of the size and of the number of available ways, it is expected to facilitate new mobility. Instead of giving the priority to the improvement of public transports, “two wheels”, with or without engines, are encouraged, which is going against safety. When the number and the accidents seriousness is declining for twenty years, in Paris region, an opposite trend is observed for three years regarding motorbikes and now bicycles and scooters. These new moving modes are not adapted to jobs and homes characteristics which are more and more far from each other, which increases the length of the home-working place travels. The reduction of the available ways has not generated a pollution decline because the diminution of the use of cars has been more than compensated by the accumulation of traffic jams. Paris attractiveness for enterprises has been affected.
But the issue about which the lack of credible proposals is the most striking is housing. Population diminishes because housing prices continuously increase which attracts investors, frequently foreign ones, who see there an un-risky and rewarding investment, not through generated revenues because these locations are not proposed for renting, but thanks to the increase of the asset value year after year. This growing scarcity, we can observe in seeing every day the closed shutters of thousands of apartments, is made worse by the city policy which generously grants authorizations to transform homes into offices or, when they are located above a shop, to extend it at the second and even at the third floor. These decisions were not without any interest: professional surfaces are providing more fiscal receipts than homes. A vicious circle is being established: available housing scarcity provokes prices increases which incite investors to acquire them which is increasing scarcity. It is definitely not through subventions granted to buyers without any link with the real prices or through the promise to build some hundreds of social homes each year that this trend will be reversed.
The only benefactors of this evolution are the tourists, French or foreigners. They travel in buses, they stay in very short time or seasonal rented residences and have their meals delivered at home by young independent workers which will be included in employment statistics, so artificially inflated.
France is right to be proud that the Louvre is the most frequented museum in the world, that Paris has been chosen to host 2024 Olympic Games and that we welcome near 90 millions foreign visitors every year. But that must not be done to the detriment of social and economic balances. The mission granted to a municipality is to offer to its inhabitants the better possible way of life, the indispensables shops and public services at proximity and housing conditions consistent with offered jobs, regarding both price and localization. The Paris move toward a model of museum-city is neither consistent with its history nor in the interest of the country, regarding its weight in the French economy. It must be noticed that the different candidates have not assess the importance of these challenges.