Rural areas keep losing demographic weight around the “civilized world”. Here is a vision of the current condition in three French-speaking countries, with a special attention to urban planning issues.
Here is a set of interesting references on long-term real estate prices in France, for the 1936-2015 period in the whole country and 1200-2015 for Paris. This vision in long-term series reminds me the long series on revenue on which Pikety supports his ideas.
Series from 1200 in Paris are evidently based on various methodologies, with a lesser statistic representatively. They show an erratic journey, but reality can sometimes be so.
INSEE (the French national statistics office) has just published an interesting report on the time French dedicate to shopping (as well for everyday things as food, as for choice items as clothes). According to the analysis of a series of data between 1974 and 2010, French have reduced their shopping frequency and they spend more time during Saturday, going to longer distances to get the items they purchase.
As of 2010 the average French uses 2 hours 41 minutes per week for shopping; between 1974 and 2010 women have reduced the weekly time for shopping some 28 minutes, while men have increased theirs by 21 minutes. Internet shopping is still reduced in France. 20% think that shopping is a chore, while in 1986 those were only 10%.
These figures may seem far away from urbanism, but they show that for small urban retail, that brings life to cities, times are hard…
As I have already said some years ago, the central issue for the blog this year will be the grain of the city; i.e., how the detail that you see on the urban space is formed by aggregation of circumstances. The bylaws applied two centuries ago are the fodder of today’s tourism guides, and the old crisis often explain how a neighborhood took its shape (try to explain the XVth district of Paris and its architectural mix without the brutal economic discontinuity of the inter-world-wars period…).
The issue today is the way in which the real estate crisis spread over Spain in the recent years. The real estate sector, central for economic growth since the second half of the 1990s, based its expansion on the construction of new homes, mainly in peripheral zones. In terms of landscape, this means that large sectors of urban outskirts (often still without building, and probably with many years ahead in that situation) were prepared for development by building streets and infrastructure, by contrast to urban cores where existing streets received sometimes a face- lifting, but buildings got not that much of an upgrade in general terms.
The end of what has been called the real-estate bubble has not been homogeneous on the land. This can be analysed in many ways, and this is how I did it. The Ministerio de Fomento, the Spanish Government’s body more related to housing (an attribution of the regions) publishes each quarter data on the evolution of the selling price of the sq m of housing, for a set of 283 municipalities over 25.000 residents, recording differences between homes completed less than 2 years before and the older stock. I did not focus on price itself, but rather on when there has been a “blackout” in data due to a lack of statistic representatively of available data. I’m fully aware that there are other resources, authored by private agents, that have different data, but I chose this one as it is public and everyone can use it, and it also has chances to stay active for some time. A remark for those willing to use the source: for the analyzed period (first quarter 2005- third of 2014) a municipality was added to the list; I used an homogeneous series excluding that one.
This is what I did:
- A map of the data “blackouts” (upper animated image, you can see green turn red): It identifies the last available data for each municipality concerning homes under 2 years. Just two municipalities (Madrid and Barcelona) have had a record of no data blackout in any quarter, and as of the third quarter of 2014 there were only eight municipalities with data: Almeria, Barcelona, Caceres, Madrid, Merida, Las Rozas de Madrid, Madrid, Teruel and Zaragoza. In some cases, as Madrid and Barcelona, metropolitan areas with many points can somehow mask the visibility of still “on the radar” municipalities.
- A chart of the evolution by quarter of the number of cities without statistically representative values for the price of homes overall (no age class distinction), and for those under 2 years old (new homes). It is clear that in 2009 things became complex, and that the first quarter of 2011 became a clear threshold. By comparing the chart to the evolution of free homes (homes sold in a free market without public subvention to purchase) completed and the average price of a sq m of urban land in municipalities over 50.000, there are many parallels. Homes under 2 years old reduce, as there are no longer produced in large amounts.
- A comparison between the charts of the home prices, in national average, in Spain, Colombia, France and the United States, by quarter, from the first 2007 to the second 2014, taking the valuest of 1st quarter 2007 as 100%. It is clear that France has not seen a drop in home values (a reduced residential output), in the US the 10% correction seems over (even if the difference in country size probably would deserve a more detailed analysis, and Colombia has a chart clearly reminding that of Spain five years earlier, something that doesn’t seem good.
- A cross tab vision of the demographic size of municipalities and the number of quarters (regardless of their order) in which they have been “under the radar” for new homes prices. It is clear that size matters, and more populous municipalities (that in Spain are often those with the larger physical areas and have large developments) are those that seem to have best survived the crisis, with wider markets and, against all odds, a better stock of price- stabilizing elements for the housing demand (transportation, distance to jobs, facilities)
All this doesn’t imply automatic answers to questions regarding the future of these municipalities; any plan must face a future that, by definition, is uncertain, and so needs a certain degree of flexibility. But the lesson would rather be (as will be seen in future posts) that long term plans have a sense in urban planning if you grasp the idea that buildings will also be built long term. And therein lied the rump here, as development was drawn without a clear demand for the buildings that had to pay for the streets and pipes and electric lines that were built (leave alone the land itself, often bought at astronomic prices…).
Here is a problem common to many areas (sure, China probably sees it from a distance…). This text looks at how things go in France. With no clear answer, as anywhere else.
Just a map, by the French Commisariat General for the Equality between territories (I know, it sounds like taken from an Ayn Rand’s rant against the State as concept). The municipalities of the country are divided in three groups:
- Rural areas near cities, coasts and urbanized valleys. The best connected areas, somehow linked to the dynamics in big urban areas. 26% of the French population.
- Old rural areas with weak population densities. For those familiar with historical French geography, the “empty diagonal” is still there… 84% of the French are there, enduring a weak economy.
- Agrarian and industrial rural areas, with 9% of the french population. Mostly on the northern half on the country, and waiting for Paris to grow to take them…
So, in the end, 56% of French living in urban units over 10.000.
Some years ago, while in Paris, I had a chance to listen to a speech by Jean Paul Lacaze, a French urban planner among those that had been everywhere in all the relevant places, as he explained a curious story. He talked about the French experience with new towns, and the growing complexity of the criteria to choose a place (to erect a city, an industrial area or whatever) in consistency with the sustainable development paradigm. He spoke about the urban planning project linked to the Lacq gas field, in Pyrénées Atlantiques. The field was discovered in 1951 and is somehow the origin of the present Total oil group; there are some parallels with the current shale gas, as it was a hard to obtain resource (high proportion of hydrogen and sulphur), but a relevant input for the national economy. Lacaze said that while the presentation of the project to the press around 1957, the mayor said something like “we chose the better place, no doubt; Jean Paul and I, we drove for an entire day on my car around the municipality to find it”. That is a far cry from what could be considered good practice now, but it is how Mourenx, a city of 7.000 now (10.000 in 1968) appeared.
The gas field closed in 2013, and the economic base of the city suffered, as in many other mining areas, even if there is a set of industrial projects. The city seems clearly a “ville nouvelle” of the first model, even a hybrid with the previous “grand ensemble” model. It is an architecture of lineal multi-storey blocks on a rather regular street grid in which every chance is taken to introduce a curve (and the terrain gives some room for that).
That day, Jean Paul and the mayor chose a relatively flat area surrounded by two large sets of hills giving a certain visual protection when seen from the close industrial areas. Each neighbourhood has a tower, but individual homes have become more important (after all, that is France). The Plan Local d’Urbanisme is being revised, with moderate growth previsions.
INSEE, the French national statistics agenda, has published a study on a set of 30 indicators about quality of life in different parts of that country.
An august morning in Nice (some years ago) has many things to see; as in many other cities, but here, from the castle, you feel you can see more:
– Planes. Lots of them (one of the busiest airport in France), which you can see take off and land, as the runways seem an aircraft carrier; you feel you can almos touch them, as here the approach is curved (I never saw something like that, at least in Spain), and this makes traffic all the most spectacular. The aeronautical servitudes map seems an Enric Miralles’s architecture.
– The beach is quite active; cobblestones, so less hospitable that sand beaches.
– The Promenade des Anglais is quite used. Compared to other more modern sea walks, its beach sidewalk is utterly simple (its prestige comes more from the buildings on the land sidewalk), but seems to work well; it is wide, the most important thing, and at least it is not cluttered with nonsense stuff.
– Seen from a distance the hills could be almost anywhere in the northern Mediterranean coast. The percentage of eyesores on the landscape is lesser than in Spain or Italy, but they also happen to exist.
– On the harbour there are many yachts the size of a navy corvette (although not as many as in Monte Carlo). In fact, that area seems among the least active of this landscape, but it attracts the eye in a quite ordered wharf, which still shows the Italian origin of the city.
This is an online version of a 40 sq m digital model of greater Paris currently being exhibited at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal, one of the main watering holes for visiting architects in Paris. Worth a look to understand the ambitious urban projects associated to a new metropolitan rail network and other things architectural and urban happening right now in the French capital.