Paris has one of the densest metro networks in the world. So we've superimposed it on London

A geographical map of the Paris Metro. Image: Metropolitan/Pmx/nojhan/Wikimedia Commons.

We've written before about the difference in scale between the official city limits of Paris and those of London. Several times. (What can I say, it's a hobby.)

But something we didn’t discuss in those earlier articles is the knock on effect this has on the two cities' metro systems. People who care about such things often speak as if the two networks are equivalent: in some ways, however, the two perform entirely different functions.

Much of the London Underground was built in the great Metroland boom of the early 20th century, and was created to ferry people from the outer suburbs to the centre and back. As a result, although there are 270 tube stations, these are spread over a vast area: one that’s 30km from east to west and 20km from north to south. The outermost station, Chesham, is nearly 40km from Trafalgar Square.

In Paris, by contrast, the metro was built primarily to get people around the city itself; and while some lines extend into the neighbouring communes, many don't make it beyond the Périphérique. In all, there are 245 stations within the boundaries of the city itself – an area with a radius of just over 5km.

The Paris Metro, in other words, is much denser in its coverage. Both the lines, and stations on them, are spaced much more closely together.

It's difficult to visualise what this would look like in another city – so, we've done it for you. We've used this geographically accurate map of the Paris Metro, and imposed it on a section of the London bit of Google Maps at the same scale.

What you get is, well, a bit of a mess.

(For what it's worth, the dotted line is the city boundary, the dark blue lines with no stations on them are water – the Seine, obviously, and, to the north east, the Canal Saint Martin.)

What you can see, though, is quite how closely spaced stations on the Paris metro actually are. Travelling on London’s Victoria line, it’s five stations from King's Cross to Victoria. On this map, the mauve line 4 of the Paris metro tracks a similar route; that, though, makes 13 stops.

This is an extreme case – the Victoria line is the closest the tube has to an express – but it's replicated in smaller ways on other routes. On this map the blue line 2 runs just north of London's circle line between King's Cross and Paddington. That's five stops in London; in Paris it's 10. Or consider the miniature 3bis line of the Paris Metro, which serves four stops on its 1.3km journey. London's smallest line is the 2.37km Waterloo & City, which runs from Waterloo to Bank, and serves no other stations.

Possibly the record, though, is the 18 stops line 7 takes to wend its way in a roundabout fashion from Place D'Italie to Louis Blanc. The Bank branch of London's northern line does a journey of the same length, from Oval to Angel, and that isn’t massively direct, either. Nonetheless, it does it in just eight stops.

Any Londoners looking at the tiny distances they'd have to their nearest metro station and salivating, though, should consider the flip side of this situation. In outer Paris, gaps between railway lines are often much larger than you’d expect in London.

Here's what happens when we pull back a bit:

This map isn't comprehensive. Many lines continue beyond its edges; and while the map shows the express underground RER lines, it misses out the Transilien, the equivalent of national rail. 

Even taking that into account, though, there are some very big holes in the network. Consider the vast gap to the east of the city, which on this map covers Tower Hamlets. No other trains serve that district.

Two thoughts stem from all this. One is the difference in functions performed by these different networks. In Paris, the Metro moves people around the city centre; the RER and Transilien ferry them in from the suburbs.

In London, though, there’s no such division: the Tube plays both roles. The Central line, say, acts like an RER route in the Essex suburbs, but a Metro route in Zone 1.

The other is that this might be one reason why so many Parisian banlieues are depressed: it’s much harder to generate a vibrant economy when there's no way of getting to a job.

Geographical map of the Paris Metro courtesy of Metropolitan/Pmx/nojhan/Wikimedia Commons.


The Adam Smith Institute thinks size doesn’t matter when housing young professionals. It’s wrong

A microhome, of sorts. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Adam Smith Institute has just published ‘Size Doesn’t Matter’, a report by Vera Kichanova, which argues that eliminating minimum space requirements for flats would help to solve the London housing crisis. The creation of so-called ‘micro-housing’ would allow those young professionals who value location over size to live inside the most economically-active areas of London, the report argues argues.

But the report’s premises are often mistaken – and its solutions sketchy and questionable.

To its credit, it does currently diagnose the roots of the housing crisis: London’s growing population isn’t matched by a growing housing stock. Kichanova is self-evidently right in stating that “those who manage to find accomodation [sic] in the UK capital have to compromise significantly on their living standards”, and that planning restrictions and the misnamed Green Belt are contributing to this growing crisis.

But the problems start on page 6, when Kichanova states that “the land in central, more densely populated areas, is also used in a highly inefficient way”, justifying this reasoning through an assertion that half of Londoners live in buildings up to two floors high. In doing so, she incorrectly equates high-rise with density: Kichanova, formerly a Libertarian Party councillor in Moscow, an extraordinarily spread-out city with more than its fair share of tall buildings, should know better.

Worse, the original source for this assertion refers to London as a whole: that means it includes the low-rise areas of outer London, rather than just the very centrally located Central Activities Zone (CAZ) – the City, West End, South Bank and so forth – with which the ASI report is concerned. A leisurely bike ride from Knightsbridge to Aldgate would reveal that single or two-storey buildings are almost completely absent from those parts of London that make up the CAZ.

Kichanova also argues that a young professional would find it difficult to rent a flat in the CAZ. This is correct, as the CAZ covers extremely upmarket areas like Mayfair, Westminster, and Kensington Gardens (!), as well as slightly more affordable parts of north London, such as King’s Cross.

Yet the report leaps from that quite uncontroversial assertion to stating that living outside the CAZ means a commute of an hour or more per day. This is a strawman: it’s perfectly possible to keep your commuting time down, even living far outside of the CAZ. I live in Archway and cycle to Bloomsbury in about twenty minutes; if you lived within walking distance of Seven Sisters and worked in Victoria, you would spend much less than an hour a day on the Tube.

Kichanova supports her case by apparently misstating research by some Swiss economists, according to whom a person with an hour commute to work has to earn 40 per cent more money to be as satisfied as someone who walks. An hour commute to work means two hours travelling per day – by any measure a different ballpark, which as a London commuter would mean living virtually out in the Home Counties.

Having misidentified the issue, the ASI’s solution is to allow the construction of so-called micro-homes, which in the UK refers to homes with less than the nationally-mandated minimum 37m2 of floor space. Anticipating criticism, the report disparages “emotionally charged epithets like ‘rabbit holes’ and ‘shoeboxes,” in the very same paragraph which describes commuting as “spending two hours a day in a packed train with barely enough air to breath”.

The report suggests browsing Dezeen’s examples of designer micro-flats in order to rid oneself of the preconception that tiny flats need mean horrible rabbit hutches. It uses weasel words – “it largely depends on design whether a flat looks like a decent place to live in” – to escape the obvious criticism that, nice-looking or not, tiny flats are few people’s ideal of decent living. An essay in the New York Times by a dweller of a micro-flat describes the tyranny of the humble laundry basket, which looms much larger than life because of its relative enormity in the author’s tiny flat; the smell of onion which lingers for weeks after cooking a single dish.

Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley has described being “appalled” after viewing a much-publicised scheme by development company U+I. In Hong Kong, already accustomed to some of the smallest micro-flats in the world, living spaces are shrinking further, leading Alice Wu to plead in an opinion column last year for the Hong Kong government to “regulate flat sizes for the sake of our mental health”.

Amusingly, the Dezeen page the ASI report urges a look at includes several examples directly contradicting its own argument. One micro-flat is 35 m2, barely under minimum space standards as they stand; another is named the Shoe Box, a title described by Dezeen as “apt”. So much for eliminating emotionally-charged epithets.

The ASI report readily admits that micro-housing is suitable only for a narrow segment of Londoners; it states that micro-housing will not become a mass phenomenon. But quite how the knock-on effects of a change in planning rules allowing for smaller flats will be managed, the report never makes clear. It is perfectly foreseeable that, rather than a niche phenomenon confined to Zone 1, these glorified student halls would become common for early-career professionals, as they have in Hong Kong, even well outside the CAZ.

There will always be a market for cheap flats, and many underpaid professionals would leap at the chance to save money on their rent, even if that doesn’t actually mean living more centrally. The reasoning implicit to the report is that young professionals would be willing to pay similar rents to normal-sized flats in Zones 2-4 in order to live in a smaller flat in Zone 1.

But the danger is that developers’ response is simply to build smaller flats outside Zone 1, with rent levels which are lower per flat but higher per square metre than under existing rules. As any private renter in London knows, it’s hardly uncommon for landlords to bend the rules in order to squeeze as much profit as possible out of their renters.

The ASI should be commended for correctly diagnosing the issues facing young professionals in London, even if the solution of living in a room not much bigger than a bed is no solution. A race to the bottom is not a desirable outcome. But to its credit, I did learn something from the report: I never knew the S in ASI stood for “Slum”.