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May 08, 2015

Density in Paris

In our travels through this wonderful city, we remark at the number of cafés and restaurants, green grocers and bakeries, we find everywhere. How do all these little cafés and stores survive?


Paris, apart from all the fantastic stuff, is a city of apartments. There is an endless rotation of six floor buildings throughout the city, usually with office or retail space on the main level and apartments above. The population density is significant.













In fact, through the 20 arrondissements that make up central Paris, or Paris proper, there are over 2.2 million people, in an area of 105 square kilometres.

To compare, the City of Vancouver, or Vancouver proper, is slightly larger at 115 square kilometres and boasts a grand population of nearly 605,000.



Paris has a population density over 21,000 per square kilometre. Vancouver has only 5,250 per square kilometre. Density varies through the arrondissements of course, with some of the central districts having as few a 8,000 per square kilometre while the 18e, where we reside, has 32,000. The district with the highest density is the 11e which is centred around the Bastille as a visible marker. It has over 42,000 people per square kilometre.

As another comparison, New York City's population density only approaches half  that in Paris. The borough of Manhattan, New York's most crowded, has a density approaching 27.000 per square kilometre.





With this kind of population density, having cafés, bars, convenience stores and green grocers on almost every corner becomes easier to understand. The fact that Paris has little room for big-box stores, unlike the wide open spaces of Canadian cities, means it's easier for smaller chains, and even independents, to operate.



Density also creates a sense of neighbourhood as people don't have to get in their cars in order to do their marketing. In fact, "buying groceries" is more likely to become a daily routine, and it takes place at small businesses where people get to know each other.











Paris is home to a varied population, and like Vancouver, finding people originally from Paris is relatively rare. Most Paris residents were not born in the city. It is a surprisingly young city with lower death rates than the rest of France. Upon reaching retirement age, many leave the city to retire to the provinces, especially the south.



Another fact of life in Paris is that there are a large number of single-person family units in this city. In fact, the average size of a household in Paris is only 1.75; many households are home to one person, and they tend to be either old or young. Younger families, while they are on the increase in the city, tend to move to the ring around Paris, where rents, or home ownership costs, are lower. And where the giant stores exist along with the motorways.










And with all those singe-person apartments filling the city, cafés, bars, and stores selling convenient single-use sizes of everything from yogurt to soups, meat and fish to desserts and pastries, can exist, and hopefully, flourish. Because a large number of apartments don't have en suitelaundry (ours a washing machine but doesn't have a drier), neighbourhood dry cleaners and laundries abound.



It is difficult to compare European cities with those in Canada or the US. Our cities, perhaps apart from New York, evolved in a different way. The automobile and lack of public transit played a big part in the way cities like Vancouver and Calgary developed. The absence of political leadership and a avoidance of any sort of planning allowed private interests to seize the civic agenda.



Part of the success of Paris as a world class city, and a city that actually functions properly, is the reality of higher densities of population and the limits of entry imposed upon developers and large big-box retailers. We would be wise to demand the same from our political leaders.












Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2015. 

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