How has Paris changed

Following my OECD visit, I have been thinking about how Paris has changed in the almost thirty years I have been going there.  I came up with the following mental list:

1. It is much less of a working class city in the center.

2. Many more immigrants, most of all outside the center.  The center and the periphery are now more different than in times past.

3. People smoke much, much less.

4. The residents are less Marxist, but now more “woke.”

5. English is far more widely spoken, and good French is not so much expected in casual interactions.

6. The average quality of bread is declining.

7. Michelin restaurants, in relative terms, have grown much more expensive.  I recall having a meal at the Hotel Bristol, maybe six years ago, for 150 euros.  A similar meal now goes for 380 euros, more than I am willing to pay.

8. The city has been remarkably economically resilient, in part because of the longstanding emphasis on services.

9. The city now has a burgeoning start-up scene.

10. I believe central Paris is now much more different from the rest of France than it used to be.

What else?


What makes you think the average quality of bread is declining? Or do you just mean you think it tastes different to now than what you think it tasted like before? Do you have a clear and distinct idea (in the Cartesian sense) of the taste of bread across large periods of time?

More places selling a huge variety of breads they make from frozen dough. Still amazing bread to be found but more bad bread.

The decline in cars parked everywhere, what were once parking lots (the louvre, republique, notre dame, th rives de seine, are now prime tourist hangouts. Also the increase in safety, especially in the inner ring suburbs and outer aronsisements. Goute d'Or and Montreil are different universes from my childhood

I must disagree on bread, too. I’m 51 and live in Paris. I remember tasteless frozen baguette with no variety when I was a kid (probably because it was still under price controls). Today, one can frequently find two or three kinds of baguettes, including a traditional and and a cereal one. Pain Poilâne, Éric Kayser and others propose large loafs of delicious “country bread” plus more exotic varieties with raisins, olives, nuts or other. What a treat!

Tyler right on this one (and I have been spending lots of time off and on in Paris for over 65 years). The average quality of baguettes has been plunging pathetically.

Same question to you then. Why do you think? Your memories of bread used to taste? Clear and distinct ideas? The existence of God is proved by the fact that I have a clear and distinct idea of Him? Or did you study it empirically, measuring the quality of bread over the years? Or is this merely your impression, that bread is is plunging pathetically? If this is true, to what do you attribute this pathetic plunge?

You can now find find funny things in your steak tartare. Worsectershire sauce. Anchovies. Avocado. And chilly!!!

Paris has just become 'Paris' -- a self-conscious theme park (with admittedly the most beautiful rides on Earth.) It's for tourists now, not residents. The whole city is a gorgeous museum with rides...

There is some truth, but the reality is more nuanced. Really "theme park" neighborhoods exist, but all together their surface is a small fraction of the surface of Paris, even of "central Paris", which one could define as the 11th first arrondissements (that is the ones that doesn't touch the périphérique). The rest of central Paris has changed too, but mostly it has becoming more "bobo" rather than more touristic. That may look superficially the same, but that's a different change -- more pedestrian streets and clothes and sandwich shops, but still decent restaurants, many bookshops, etc. Even this change has affected only a part of central Paris. The fifth arrondissement, the one I was born and raised, for example, despite having become one of the most expensive in Paris, has not fundamentally changed. Most streets are still exactly the same as thirty years ago (recently it game me the anxious sense of being an ephemeris passager of a word much older than me and that will continue much longer without me).

And outside of central Paris, in the huge "faubourgs" (but I am still talking of Paris, not the suburbs), I would advance that almost nothing as changed -- except that a few urban deserts have now been built up in a modern and rather depressing fashion, such as the the northern part of the 13th arrondissement. The Bourgeois 16th is still the same Bourgeois 16th, the popular 14th near the Porte d'Orleans is still as it was, etc.

My overall take, from someone who spend his first 25 years or so in Paris then 15 years abroad, then is temporarily back, is that if you do a random walk in Paris, your general impression will be almost the same than forty years ago.

This is an interesting insight.

If the urban landscape doesn't change, we may feel like passengers. Conservative dreams may be poisoned, if things effectively don't change, you may become aware of your own insignificance.

If the urban landscape changes, we may feel empowered, even a bit arrogant. The past is lost, traditions are broken, but we are part of the change.

The interesting thing is that individually we have almost zero leverage on the evolution of the urban landscape. It's truly one of those cases of spontaneous order. Is there literature on this?

You're not wrong, but do you really apply "change" to the describe the aerial bombing attacks of Rotterdam and Dresden during WW2?

Is that your point, that those events are better described by "change" and not "destruction"?

Or you can have what was called 'urban renewal' in the U.S.

The progressive city planner's dream of 'urban renewal' was already all-but-dead 50 years ago -- its demise most most powerfully symbolized by the famous implosion of the Pruitt-Igoe complex in 1972.

But this is Paris we're talking about. One of the most successful urban renewals in history was carried out in the 19th century by Baron Haussmann.

Yep. But France built some pretty awful post-war public housing blocks, too (albeit mostly in the working-class suburbs).

At lot of it is much a function of time than place. In the late 19th century, Chicago too had it's own Haussmann in Daniel Burnham ('Make no small plans'). The beautiful string of lakefront parks and museums derives from that era. But none of that stopped Chicago from building the infamous Cabrini Green and other dystopian housing projects some decades later.

Walt, is this you? Thanks, John

Yeah you're totally wrong about that Paris is a real city even if some parts of it are flooded with tourists. Sounds like you haven't been there.
If you want theme park cities go to Italy - Florence, Venice -> those are theme park cities that have nothing BUT tourists. Paris has a lot more going on than just tourists.

How's the pickpocket situation in Paris these days? It was pretty bad.

It still is.

Which is why I refer to a pair of pants with zippered pockets as my "Paris Pants."

I don't worry too much about pickpockets -- I carry a credit card, some cash -- 20 euros for so -- But the gold ring scam really put me on edge -- One woman followed me from Orsay to the Louvre and freaked me out -- then I yelled at another "lady" showing me a ring and I freaked her out. Lots of scammers around l'Opera

4. Am wondering what interactions with Parisians reveal to what extent they are Marxist and/or "woke," and how are we defining the latter term?

4. So the residents are equally Marxist?

More lime scooters and Uber

You haven't been in Paris recently. Plenty of scooters. Compensating for the bike sharing breakdown I think. Many driving on sidewalks (where there are no bike lanes, which have also increased).

Sorry I misunderstood your comment... I thought you meant that the lime scooters would not become widely used because traffic was too dangerous. Clearly, people are ignoring the danger.

I think the situation with e-scooters will stabilize after people learn when, where and how to drive them intelligently. And drivers learn to watch out for them. You have the same problems when the number of bikes increases in a city that is not used to it. It may take a few years though.

The incredible growth in electric scooters is more like a change in 12-18 months than 30 years.
Fundamentally it's a problem with - or depending upon your view an opportunity from - lack of regulation, as these "vehicles" don't belong to any existing category. The Paris administration and now the French government has been playing catch up - as we see in many other countries - and now in France they have to be driven by a person 12 years or older, you can't wear headphones, carry one of more passengers, you must use a cycle lane if there is one and you can't exceed 20kph. In Paris the limit is 8kpm, and you can't use them in a park, on the pavement (sidewalk) nor leave them anywhere except where cars and mopeds can park (i.e. you can't leave them on the pavement).

Disneyland Paris opened in 1992. An "old person" in 1990 remembers WW1. An old person in 2019 probably remembers WW2. We also recall that France sorta on its own in 1990 (as far as NATO, nukes, etc.) in 1990 which surely was more pronounced in the capital. And hmmm do the initials EU or the term Maastricht ring any bells? both since 1990.

" A similar meal now goes for 380 euros, more than I am willing to pay."

Nobody wants to pay up for quality product anymore. A Michelin starred meal in Paris isn't exactly a fungible commodity.

Did you notice the huge number of McDonald's that sprouted like weeds in those 30 years?

Well, some people obviously do want to pay up, hence the fact that they are willing to charge that price. It seems more likely that top 1-2% Americans like Tyler have been priced out by the top 0.1%ers (Maybe Chinese, Russians and Saudis).

"It seems more likely that top 1-2% Americans like Tyler have been priced out by the top 0.1%ers"


That is probably the most expensive restaurant in Paris, and that is the price for the tasting menu which is always expensive and rarely contains anything I'd want to eat. For a "normal" good restaurant in the same area try something like this: about €60 plus drinks.

I agree with just about all your observations.
As a lifetime London resident I would be interested in your 30 year observations on how we have changed.
I'm not sure that BREAD would feature very much but many similarities I am sure. The same of course can be said no doubt of NYC.
I wonder which major capital has changed the least over the last 30 years. Even the least changed will have changed a great deal. Far more than over the prior 30.
Maybe Tokyo?

I agree with Tyler's observations too, but we must interpret them differently, because I do not agree with "even the least changed [city] will have changed a great deal [in the last 30 years]. Far more than over the prior 30." I would say it is quite the opposite for Paris.

Apartment prices (and rent) have increased significantly. People living in Paris proper have reduced, the first belt of towns (Boulogne etc.) has essentially merged into Paris, prices have increased there too despite worse public transport there. Workers commute from farther and farther away. A lot of the other changes follow from this.

up and coming literary / intellectual / artistic types can't afford to live there. read Seaver's beckett reader - the intro about discovering and publishing him - or even the recent Sontag: her life - or a thousand other examples (a moveable feast etc).

that milieu exist anywhere any longer? maybe online..

Except for the bread comments these changes are reflected across France. If one has not visited Bordeaux and the surrounding region one must.

#1: what's the definition of working class? Mine is everyone working for a living. No matter the focus on services, they're still working class.

#4: 30 years ago, that was 1989. Consider the massacre of October 17th 1961, it was controversial. If the Parisian police started killing protesters today, it would be simply regarded as contemptible, no controversy.

#5: this is great. Only people in the Jura mountains still expect perfect French. They are able to understand but choose to act as elementary school teachers correcting children.

#7: 380€ is interesting, even for 5-6 course meal where I assume no wine was opened :/ That begs the question, what you drink in Michelin restaurant if alcohol is out of the options?

#7 again, at my job there's a 150€ expense limit per person for work related dinners. Is it similar for the OECD? Simple curiosity if the boundaries are similar for intergovernmental organizations?

PS. some things don't change, Mr. Gurría is still heading the OECD ;)

Not for much longer.

#1 Call it what you want but if one were to *class*ify people in the first place one must turn a couple of blind eyes to not see the gaping differences in attitudes, political views, fields of work, education and social background between manual, low-skill labourers and college grads working in the service sector.

The "bobos" whose commute can be a 15 minute stroll to the office, grabbing a coffee while on the way (reusable coffee mug of course!), and can choose between multiple modes of public and private transportation if they have to.

And, as Alain Bertaud so nicely called them when interviewed by Tyler, the "new proletariat" whose lower social status can be expressed by the length of their commute. The can choose between buying a car or using the one sh*tty bus that takes forever.

Now I wonder, what happens if the Bobos place extra burdens on the new proletarians, via congestion charges, outlawing cars, restrictions on residential developments increasing rents for new arrivals, aggressive attitudes towards different political views...

The public toilets are worse than your average third world Asian or Latin American slum, where people have at least some dignity about the concept of smearing shit on all available surfaces.

Do they still like their intellectuals? In America, we gave ours up for dead.

Welcome to Kinshasa. If it's not evident now, it will be in 15 years. Kudos to all who made this happen.

A city whose real GDP per capita in 20 years will be lower than that 20 years ago.

The building height restrictions are being lifted, slowly been inexorably, which should make Paris more working class if not as beautiful. The inner cities in America have only recently been gentrified, but the Paris inner city was gentrified long ago. Americans were accustomed to slums in the inner city, whereas in Paris the slums are in the burbs. Alas, as the inner cities in America have gentrified, the burbs have gone in the opposite direction.

"Americans were accustomed to slums in the inner city, whereas in Paris the slums are in the burbs. "

The US is largely the outlier - in almost any country, the slums are in the suburbs.

That's because the European elite are NIMBYs with respect to their historic city centers. The American elite abandoned the historic city centers which is why you have all these impressive inner city churches with vagrants lined up on the steps and academies like Johns Hopkins Medical and USC are now located in the hood.

Hopkins is on the edge of a blighted area. To the north it's desperately poor and falling apart. To the south is a middle class, gentrified enclave where houses have sold for as much as 400k (Baltimore resident here- my church is in the latter neighborhood .)

Yeah it's a real mystery why the nation's premier medical school got built on the edge of a blighted area.

One of the striking things about Paris is just how dramatically the look of it changes when you cross the Peripherique from the city proper into the suburbs. Suddenly there height restrictions and many other planning restrictions are gone (or different) and everything just looks different. The regulatory effort to keeping Paris Paris has been intense.

I live in London. There are lots and lots of planning restrictions - most of which keep a lot of London lower than Paris - Much housing in London consists of two or possibly three level terraced homes, whereas Paris is largely six or seven storey apartment buildings. However, the big change in London over the last three decades is the removal of height restrictions on commercial buildings in various areas. In 1991 London did not have a core of tall buildings at its centre. It now does - and it has several other similar areas a little further out, too.

When I was in Paris yesterday, I was struck by how much worse homelessness and panhandling is than in London -- though Paris is still miles better than Seattle and Vancouver when I was there a few weeks ago. I wonder more how London manages it than how Paris doesn't.

Cowen's observations about Paris may strike some readers as, well, not very scientific. I'm not complaining, though, as I am of the view that the data lie at least as often as one's eyes.

You're probably one of those people who thinks Caitlyn Jenner is a woman.

Well, it has "les Halles" (technically called "le form des Halles"), a huge strip mall in the very center of Paris. It was built starting in 1971 after "les Halles" proper, which was the central food market of Paris then, was demolished. That's one example illustrating what I said about Paris changing more in the 1960-1990s than in the 1990-2020s. And this is a change about which many Parisians are still crying, like some New Yorkers are still crying about the destruction of old Penn Station.

As far as strip malls are concerned, there are also the very old structures that one can consider the first malls, from the 19th century, the "galleries marchandes" and later in the century the "grands magasins", but admittedly they have a very different fell than American malls.

Besides les Halles, there are a few American-style malls now, but less luxurious, less well-lit, even more depressing. For example the rather big one at Place d'Italie, who was recently in the news for being occupied and blocked by the radical greens of Extinction Rebellion.

I perceive that Paris has remained stagnant. Job creation is low. This means that the impetus to move to Paris as a professional isn’t there. Certainly not in the same way it is in New York or London. As a result, there isn’t enough capital improvement. The housing stock in central Paris is owned by second and third generation owners who inherited it and can’t afford to improve it.
This lack of an improvement and refresh cycle, without the same rate of flow of new population and investment, has left the center of the city feeling a bit seedy and dilapidated. A frozen tourist center without a thriving professional class.

Great list.

My own experience with and love for Paris stretches over 40 years. One aspect that I find disappointing, though, is that there is very little cultural innovation in Paris. Important museums, yes, but it’s rare to hear of, say, a cutting-edge gallery show. Can’t think of an important visual artist working in Paris these days. Performing arts are also quite conventional. No contemporary Jacques Brel.

I am sure other commenters will correct me. If they do, I would welcome it.

Paris has vibrant hip hop and video game creation scenes but it does not happen in central Paris.

People spend much less time at café terraces than they used to. Half of the cafés have closed in 30 years.

"3. People smoke much, much less."

27% of French smoke daily, down from about 50% in 1990.
23% of Dutch smoke, down from 37% in 1990.
16% of Japanese smoke, down from 37% in 1990.
15% of Americans smoke, down from 25% in 1990.

"What else?"

The French use smart phones far more often than in 1990.

But they use Minitel far less often than in 1990.

The Minitel was doomed for failure since it used the radical AWERTY keyboard.

This is so funny and true.

France computer colorized video from the 1890s:

The Tour Montparnasse is still an ugly, out of place piece of architecture.

In the 1990s, Paris (and often quite central Paris) was full of cheap, often one or two star hotels which were managed by their owners or their families. These are now gone. (Central Madrid is still full of places like this, but not Paris).

As for food, high end dining has gone up a lot in price, but mid-priced dining not so much. You can still eat a good meal in a very traditional French place for £25-30 euros.

What else?

I've not been, but it appears that France is much better at building trains and subways, so the true cost of transit may be lower than in many US comparison cities, like New York, where a surprisingly large number of people in the greater area rely on cars.

For example,

What else?

Since 1990, a Paris cathedral caught fire.

They say it's become much harder to find a place in Paris to pee in public.

The foodie youth culture in Paris vis a vis publications like Le Fooding has aped a lot of the ethos of late 90’s-early00’s Brooklyn. That whole boho chic farm to table foodie ethos has completely suffused itself within Paris. Of course, the French have put their own twist on it, but the intention and inspiration is completely New York.

It’s actually shocking how much Paris looks to the US these days for cultural inspiration, sad in a way....

How often have I heard while strolling the Parisian Boulevards : “ Mademoiselle ! You need to spend more time in Paris!” But... hell!! Vampires took offense SO easily ! Parisian Vampires are the worst !!
Sitting in a side walk cafe and drinking my Bordeaux , I do reminisce of the good old Paris .. gone for ever !! Cheers.


Perhaps a post regarding what you think has remained more or less the same over the past 30 years in Paris?

If you dine at an "ordinary" cafe that has no reservations, is the price essentially the same? Is the staff attitude the same? Is the food quality the same?

Not just cafes, but whatever else comes to mind.

Good three star reataurants in Paris have always been very expensive. Epicure in the Hotel Bristol only fairly recently still moved up from two to three stars. If Tyler went there before then, that would explain it. Three stars have not had the prices he reports from "six years ago at the Hotel Briston" (maybe a different restaurant there?).

In any case, Epicure is probably now the best restaurant in Paris, and one of the best in the world, but plenty expensive for sure (and Tyler has never been a fan of paying much for French food, more willing to do so for expensive Japanese, I think, but, of course always looking for a high quality/price ratio).

Aside from my remarks on Hotel Bristol and three star restaurants, I generally agree with the rest of Tyler's observations about Paris, with a much longer time horizon and a lot more time spent there than he has (and a quite recent visit as well).

I wonder how many of Tyler's observations hold mutatis mutandis for London, New York, San Francisco and many others.


Well, none of them are expriencing the collapse of quality of baguettes as they did not have good quality in the past to collapse from. What is happening is Paris degenerating to their low quality

"Many more immigrants, most of all outside the center. The center and the periphery are now more different than in times past."

What does that mean? Better? Please, elaborate. I really want to know.

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