Chart: Why the French government wants to tackle Paris’s housing crisis

Yeah, you couldn’t afford this. Image: Getty.

Paris, like most of its peers at the top of the world city rankings, has a housing problem: house prices have rocketed by over 95 per cent in the past decade. The price of pre-existing apartments has tripled.

French law requires that anything sold or rented as a “living space” must be a minimum of 9 square metres, with running water, electricity, and access to a bathroom and kitchen. But rising prices have resulted in the renting and selling of illegal spaces that don’t live up to all, or any, of these requirements.

In March, The Guardian reported the story of a man paying €330 for a 1.56x1.56m room. (In case you were wondering, that means the average person wouldn’t be able to lie down in either direction. But they could lie from corner to corner, so that’s something.) La Foundation Abbe Piere, a housing action group, estimates that a fifth of the complaints they receive come from those living in tiny, illegal residences.

There is some hope. A 2012 study by the Economist found that France’s housing market was massively overvalued, with prices inflated by around 47 per cent. The crash they predicted hasn’t come about, but, after tripling in the decade to 2011, house prices to since seem to have levelled out a little. This chart shows the growth in the price of apartments in three major French cities since 2010:

Quarterly house price index of apartments. Excludes new builds. Source: CityMetric Intelligence.

As you can see, after a big, post-crash boom, prices have actually levelled out since 2011. Between 2012 and 2013, apartment prices in Paris dropped by 2.1 per cent to an average of €8,260 per square metre.

The national government has also introduced a slew of measures to tackle the problem, including two sets of legislation meant to provide more affordable rental accommodation and guarantee a stable housing market. Under the Loi Duflot, property buyers are entitled to tax reductions, and there’s a cap on estate agent fees and rents. And under Loi Alur, you can rent out your property without checking with the city government first – good news for buy-to-renters and Airbnb hosts alike.

Paris’s city government’s been doing its bit, too. In July, it announced that empty commercial buildings must be converted into useful spaces – such as apartments – or their owners will face fines. Meanwhile Anne Hidalgo, Paris’s mayor, has announced that city councillors can no longer live in council-owned accommodation.

So if you dream of owning property in Paris, don’t give up hope. That 3x3m palace could still be yours. 

 
 
 
 

The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.