Thursday, June 03, 2004

You may have a Bistro, but not an Apartment

If the French constitution is a periodical, reform for decentralization is its annual supplement. France has made many attempts to decentralize power, yet Paris remains the symbol of centralization and concentration of power. Most reforms fail because de-concentration does not follow decentralization. More specifically, the government does not surrender clear powers to local and regional politicians, but gives the prefects tremendous control over the implementation of national policies.

In 1982, Mitterand decided that decentralization was a means of invigorating the French polity by making power flow from the local level to the central level. The loi Deferre of 1982 gave mayors greater control over communal matters, nearly making them despots that rival the prefects. In particular, mayors received extraordinary powers over land use: mayors became both urban planners and developers. Rather than employing these far-ranging powers to improve urban conditions, French mayors have been obsessed with increasing tax revenues. The latest example of this trend comes from zoning policies. Mayors have used their ability determine land use to restrict housing development and to promote construction for commerce and industry. The result is a scarcity of land for housing and high prices. According to Bernard de Korsak:
I do not believe that there is a shortage of real estate--it suffices to look at production [in order to see this]. One refers to the absence of land when it is a question of accommodating new lodgings, but not for installing enterprise or commerce.

The prevailing logic is that businesses produce revenue for communes, but people demand services. As a result, most development occurs in a predictable manner: lots of office space interspersed with a few apartments.

Poor translation of the quote is my own.

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