However, finance was also the reason for Haussmann’s dismissal in 1870, one year after failing to get parliament’s support for the fourth issuing of bonds. This was mostly due to the provinces’ opposition to using State resources for the sole benefit of Paris. It is interesting to note that financial costs had increased as a consequence of the June 6, 1860 ruling by the Supreme Court. This ruling not only increased compensation to landlords, but also granted protection to expropriated tenants. The prefect harshly opposed the ruling, as it would “dramatically increase expropriation costs and delay the works due to the multiplication of procedures”. It is notable that this was the first time expropriation was used to renovate the city of Paris: entire quarters were demolished. The Declaration of Universal Human Rights of 1789 consecrated the right to property, and the Law of June 3, 1841 set the regulations for expropriating land in cases of public utility, stressing the social significance. In 1852, however, the decision to expropriate in cases of public utility was transferred from the legislative branch to the Emperor, leaving parliament without control over the procedure.1
In the case of China, the expropriation procedure has undergone an important evolution over the last two decades, although a low level of compensation has remained its main feature. The declaration of public utility was vague until 2012, leaving local governments with discretionary powers to use land acquisitions for local finance. With reference to the meagre compensation fees, it is interesting to reflect on the report by Hyun Bang Shin about residential redevelopment in Beijing. He analysed a specific case involving two phases between 1999 and 2002 in downtown Beijing. He noted that in 2002 compensation fees would just amount to the equivalent of eight years accumulation of annual income for a three-person household (Price to Income ratio of 8 to 1) whereas the average price for an apartment there would be the equivalent to a PIR of 20 to 1. The PIR was lower outside the second ring road, reaching 7.1 to 1 outside the fourth ring road. Finally, even though 4% of the residents were re-housed in the redeveloped neighbourhood, most of them were driven out later due to the increase in housing costs. On average this would amount to as much as 28.7% of their monthly income, whereas before it came to 11.6%. The municipal ordinances only calculated compensation for registered Beijing residents (ironically excluding those migrant workers who were working on the renovation of the city for the Olympics).
City expansion paves the way for “commuting” to work from home. In Paris, commuting began at the time of the Haussmann renovations, especially for the displaced working classes. In Beijing, it led to the disappearance of bicycles, which have gradually left their place to cars, traffic jams, and pollution.
The splendid film “Shower” (xizao – 洗澡), by Beijing director Zhang Yang (张杨), depicts the last days of a neighbourhood in Beijing through the family-run bath where residents not only go to wash, but also to relax and chat at the end of the day. The film presents a caricature of the modern urban lifestyle, where white-collar employees devote just seven minutes of their “optimized time” to shower in specially designed cabins located near their offices in a sea of glass and steel. The activity is carried out without any trace of human interaction and is in stark contrast with the humanity that reigns in the local bath that is about to be demolished. Although the film is an exaggeration, it seems evident that displaced residents are forced to make a new start far from everything they have grown familiar with during their whole life, and this necessarily implies a break in social ties, the loss of points of reference, and the eclipse of neighbourhoods whose sense of community can hardly ever be replaced.
- Michel Lacave (1980) Stratégie d’expropriation et haussmannisation: l’exemple de Montpellier. Economies, Societés, Civilisations, 35e année, 5 [↩]