It is a fact that Paris is really special and has its own identity regardless of the geo-position, culture or whatever. The architecture is really amazing, you have many museums, and everything stands in a very small piece of land.
People come to see the “charm” of Paris and feed themselves with the narrow roads, typical rooftops and buildings concentration.
The city, in my mind, looks like frozen in a time, between Napoleon III period with Baron Haussmann and the end of World War II. Paris is a museum on its own.

I also think that this city is awfully conservative. I won’t teach you something, saying that French people are conservative. John F Kennedy said “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. In today’s culture of “what’s in it for me?” Kennedy’s exhortation to do the hard work for your country and reap the benefits seems quaint, corny even. In my mind, it is worse with French people and beyond the fact that the French are historically the best in doing strikes, riots and revolution, they are also frightened of the future and unknown situations.
According to Geert Hofstede, French have a great fear of uncertainty. In countries where uncertainty avoidance is weak (the US; the Netherlands; Singapore; Hong Kong, Britain) people feel less threatened by unknown situations. Therefore, they tend to be more open to innovations, risk, etc. The world’s actual situation (I am talking about all the bad things you can read on makes it easy to analyze people’s behavior regarding to Hofstede’s model. But people don’t deal the same way with their fear of uncertainty. In France, the trend is not to think about what is going on outside the borders, ibid inside, and change nothing in the actual situation. I am not focused on our politics but on the French people in general.
Let’s get back to Paris.

I remember a day in Paris where I saw a new modern building, very clean and not obstructive. I had just noticed it and said wow, that’s not common here but that is far better and cleaner than the other buildings around. Just after, I heard an old woman telling to her husband that this was disgusting and that she was horrified by such an architecture break. If you consider the issue in its holistic view, she wasn’t so wrong but than it means that nothing is aimed at being changed or improved in this city? I like London, Montreal, Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, …, because you have a lot more space in those cities. You don’t have this suffocating feeling you have in Paris.
I am talking about quality of life here. Not holidays. The question IS: What kind of environment can make your life quality better? The answer can’t be “lack of space”, “narrow roads with high buildings”, “pollution”, ….

Obviously, we can’t do a lot against pollution. You will say that we can use public transports so we avoid polluting more. I agree but to be honest, we have one life and having to travel in such conditions should be prohibited for safety reasons. I am not sure that being traveled from A to B in critical density conditions is very good for you. The temperature is also kinda fantastic in crowded metros. Whether it is freezing or beating outside, you have to undergo the underground/human/machinery heat. Pigs receive better care. You’ll say that it is the same in all the big cities. Indeed BUT Paris is located in France and as you all know, French people are hardly disciplined … At 9 a.m. you have already had your load of stress. I don’t know how the traffic is like in other cities but in Paris, we cannot say that you have an alternative to the subway with the car. Better being dead than having to drive in this city. Maybe the solution is to follow Camilla Morton advices and grab a cab… solution that does not resolve our previously mentioned issue.

Now, to make you realize what suffocating does really mean, look at the population densities of the following big cities:

Paris: 20000p/km² for the city and 25000p/km² excluding Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes
London: 3000p/km² for the city and nearly 5000p/km² for Greater London
Tokyo: 13333p/km²
New-York city: 10400p/km²
Los Angeles: 3000p/km²
Montreal: 4500p/km²
San Francisco: 6000p/km²
Toronto: 4000p/km²

I have never been to New-York city so I can’t make a comparison with Paris but it would be interesting to stand a comparison with it as it is the second highest density in my list, after Paris. Nevertheless, the ratio between Paris density and other cities density, including New-York city, is quite mesmerizing. Paris doesn’t have the highest population density in the world. Such cities like Malé in Maldives has a population density of 48000 p/km². We have also to be aware that in a city, the population density can change according to the district/arrondissement. Also, in Paris, the densest arrondissement is the 11th with 40,672p/km² !!!

So is density a bad thing? I don’t think the answer is YES or NO here.

If you start from the premise, shared by many architects, urban designers, planners, and others, that density is the secret to creating healthier urban environments – with safer streets, better schools, more vibrant cultural and commercial activity, more efficient public transportation, nicer parks, and a less degraded environment – you can develop the issue intelligently.

Saying that density is a leading factor for making a city safe is, in my opinion, a quick shortcut. Statistics show that poverty and lack of job opportunities are key elements that drive crime and not density. Assuming that you have more “good people” than “bad people”, you will obviously find out that, with the same conditions (poverty and lack of job opportunities), the city is safer. Why? Because the average (i.e. density) tends to smooth the criminal inputs. Here I am making the assumption that crime isn’t proportionally linked to density with a x factor.

“Density is also considered good for the environment because it is easier and cheaper to provide heating, electricity, sewerage, and other services to people living in concentrated groups than to those in single-family homes in suburban areas. As a result, the impact of dense populations on the surrounding environment is less harmful” said Ken Gewertz in an article for the Harvard News Office. Honestly, I don’t know if the impact of dense populations on the surrounding environment is less harmful. We can find pros and cons. This morning, I have read an article about endangered species in Paris. The number of species living in this city amazed me. The main problem that is discussed in this article is that the weakest species are endangered and about to disappear of the urban ecosystem and as a result, harmful species like cockroaches, rats, badgers have their population increased.

In my opinion, there is a limit not to exceed and equilibrium to find like in an ecosystem. So what is the best density for a city ?

To dig a bit more this complex issue, we can take into account, the population segmentation. Indeed, young people certainly don’t have the same needs than old ones. Jobs functions should also be taken into account.
Some jobs/activities/urban institutions require a certain threshold population to support them. 2 very easy examples are the cabs and plants. You won’t find a cab in a 10 habitants village. Also if you want to build a big plant somewhere, you have to make sure that you will find enough qualified people in this area. Similar issues are more into the financial weight of the population. Schools, for example, need a threshold population to support them. Theatres, Opera and many other activities depend on a threshold population.

“A wise old man once told me, if you’re looking for someone to have sex with, you live in the city; if you’ve got someone to have sex with, you live in the suburbs. Sometimes I think it may be as simple as that” said Ken Gewertz in an article for the Harvard News Office.

While it is obvious that you may have the choice of the density you want, It is also obvious that there is a threshold density not to exceed. Technology innovations and architecture improvements will maybe allow more density in the future, without increasing the cons we have mentioned. There is one thing I do believe in: Buildings built very close from one to the other are a bad thing. The space between them should be increased if the height is increased.
How to achieve illusion of open space ?

A nice book to read on this topic is “Walking Between Slums and Skyscrapers: Illusions of Open Space in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai”
by Tsung-Yi Michelle Huang

This book studies the effects of globalization on the living space in East Asian metropolises including Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai. The author attempts to explain how walking in the global city reveals the contradiction between everyday life and globalization. It is through walking that one witnesses vividly the oscillation between the yearning evoked by the ideology of open space and the dejection caused by the compression of living space as a consequence of capital globalization.

Have a nice day in your open space.