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View Poll Results: Haussmannization of Paris... good or evil?
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Old Mar 29th 2014, 10:31 AM
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Michael Michael is offline
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Default Re: Haussmannization: good or evil?

Excellent points you make there - and Edmund Burke is surely rolling in his grave.

I'll summarize your argument into a few short bullet points:

1. State planning is more efficient than private.
2. Government housing projects tend to fail because of poor planning, not because the government is the one doing them.
3. Damage to the city fabric/history is only theoretical. The gains are practical.
4. Use of authoritarian techniques of government doesn't lead to authoritarian government.
5. The state has this authority and has always had this authority.
6. Eminent domain is necessary for building highways and railroads.

I shall now destroy each of your arguments in turn.

1. If central/state planning was actually more efficient than dispersed/private enterprise, then the Soviet model economy would have outperformed the Western model economy. That being said, central or state planning can be more efficient and effective than private enterprise in particular respects, due to its ability to set and enforce uniform rules for health and safety for example. But this government efficiency works at the level of 'rule-setting' and/or 'arbitration' (setting of building codes, zoning laws, etc). But when the government goes beyond creating and enforcing rules for protecting public health and safety to actively engage in large-scale urban demolitions that have a large and self-serving political agenda, the problem should be obvious. There's no rational reason to believe that the government is better or more efficient at deciding proper land-use than private enterprise is.

It is important to note here that in our contemporary world, government is more often than not, an institution that can be bought and used against the public interest - especially in areas where private profits are large such as in urban real estate. There is always a huge profit to be made when large scale urban demolitions are involved. In whose interest are such government decisions truly made when the public pays the cost for private profits?

2. Government housing projects tend to fail, not because of the usual incompetence and poor planning decisions made by committees of well paid and well meaning people, but because the whole idea of public housing is absurd and lacks any economic logic. There is no intrinsic reason for governments to be actively involved in building/managing any real estate (other than for properties necessary for government functions like military bases and public buildings, etc). If the government wants to help support housing for poor people, they can do so through subsidies which are much more efficient and effective means of supplying the product. Governments generally don't do that because of their own self-serving political interests of having the beneficiaries of such government largesse concentrated in a single location for voting purposes (and putting one's name on a physical building or place).

3. The damage to the city fabric is very real in the form of lost buildings and lost neighborhoods. People relate to buildings, streets and neighborhoods on an emotional level. If you radically change the cityscape, you change the way the people relate to the city itself. It is to be noted that one of the major components of the 'Haussmannization' of Paris was the subsuming of the old, politically proud and independent 'inner-city' of Paris into a much larger administrative district that was more easily controlled by the central government.

4. The use of authoritarian techniques for urban redesign projects doesn't necessarily produce authoritarian citizenry. However, authoritarian techniques for urban design projects tend to produce authoritarian projects with authoritarianism as the goal. The 'Haussmannization' of Paris was designed to foster, support and glorify the authoritarian government of the Emperor Napoleon III. That it failed to do so was in part due to the brutality of the initial phase of Haussmann's demolitions - which set off a major political reaction against Haussmann and the Emperor's political regime which in time lead to a re-establishment of political liberty (and property!) in France.

Btw, this same critique also applies to government housing projects using authoritarian powers of eminent domain - the authoritarian goal of public housing is always to warehouse/quarantine the poor for control purposes. Housing of the poor doesn't logically or rationally require segregation and concentration into large projects. Normal housing is generally dispersed and scattered.

5. The government normally doesn't have this kind of power - it is abnormal. The 'Haussmannization of Paris' was only possible because the government of France was under the rule of a dictator (Emperor Napoleon III). After the great fire of London in 1666, they talked about re-laying the streets to make the city more grand but that would mean the state would have to purchase the properties affected. The Crown did not have the legal authority to expropriate the land, re-apportion it and assign it back to the previous owners. The only legal way they could do it was by buying the properties affected, but that was prohibitively (insanely) expensive. So London got rebuilt with almost the same street layout as it had before the great fire. In the big US demolitions for public housing (or highways), the state uses eminent domain and buys the affected properties. This can be VERY profitable for certain politically well connected people (who use some of the profits to re-invest in more political power to keep the game going!).

6. Yes, eminent domain is necessary for building of highways and railroads. And in both cases (in the USA) they are famous examples of eminent domain being massively abused almost entirely for private profit. Certain segments of the population tend to benefit at the expense of other segments of the population in these cases. The US Department of Transport is practically owned by the US highway construction companies and associated property developers whose goal appears to be to build as many highways as possible, forever. That's not a rational public policy, that's a government power that is too easily and commonly abused for private profit.

So, in conclusion, I have to assert that the use of authoritarian government power to force demolitions of city fabric for any purpose other than the laying of necessary common utilities, is inefficient at best, and fascism at its worst, and therefore ought to be always opposed on principle.
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