Paris As Revolution: Writing The Nineteenth-Century City

Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson’s excellent 1994 book, Paris As Revolution: Writing The Nineteenth-Century City, is available freely online thanks to the University of California’s E-Books Collection project.

The book, which you can read in its entirety here, is structured around the following chapters:

I was reminded of this book as I’ve been re-reading Zola’s La Curée [The Kill] (1871-1872), which – although arguably one of the author’s lesser known works (particularly among non-French speaking audiences) – is a compelling account both of the Haussmannisation of Paris and the speculation in land and property which accompanied it. There are some extraordinary passages in which the protagonist, Aristide Saccard, describes in breathless detail ‘the Empire’s interest in huge speculative ventures, in organising the prodigious excavations and building operations that gave the working classes no time to think.’ For Saccard, Paris is a city coated in gold; ripe for the killing. And yet, as history has taught us, the re-making of Paris was predicated on expropriation, consumerism, socio-spatial segregation and a toxic, credit-fuelled boom, the collapse of which was as inevitable as the sub-prime crisis of 2008.

Baron Haussmann’s mémoires can be accessed freely (in French) online. Volume III – Grands Travaux de Paris (in which the Préfet de la Seine describes his transformation of the city) – can be read here.

David Harvey has written brilliantly on the transformation of Paris during the Second Empire in Paris: Capital of Modernity (London: Routledge, 2003).

Harvey’s wonderful Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (London: Verso, 2012), in which he once again turns his attention to nineteenth-century Paris, can be read here.


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Ralph Tubbs, Living In Cities (1942)

I picked up Ralph Tubbs‘ Living in Cities at the market in Cambridge last week. Published in 1942, when the end of the war was still not in sight, it is a call to the modern; an appeal for thoughtful planning and meaningful reconstruction after the war.

When peace comes, shall we yield to temptation? Exhausted by the war, shall we merely want to return to the imaginary “good old days”? Profit-seekers will try to break any attempt at control, and if we fail to make the necessary preparations now, the demand for speed will tempt those without conviction to shelve any large-scale planning schemes. We must not fail. […]

“In the city, time becomes visible. Through the material fact of preservation, time challenges time, time clashes with time… By the diversity of time structures, the city in part escapes the tyranny of a single present, and the monotony of a future that consists in repeating only a single beat heard in the past. Through its complex orchestration of time and space, no less than through the social division of about, life in the city takes on the character of a symphony.” (Lewis Mumford)

No sane planner would want to wipe the past from our cities. Uncontrolled sentiment may suffocate reason and prevent logical action, but complete absence of sentiment reveals poverty of character. The folly of the last century must go, the chaos, the slums and the dirt; so also, the crimes of our own century, the mock-Tudor suburbs, the ribbon development and the imitation Classic. But the squares, the cathedrals and all the fine achievements of a growing culture myst be part of any new plan, so that, with our new creations, the expression of our own time, they may enrich the orchestration of the city.


Cities will be proud of being cities, and not ashamed like the compromising “garden cities”; cities will delight in the busy activity of their ways, in the splendour of their buildings, in their quiet open spaces. When travelling about in the town, we should be moving in fine enclosures of space. Square and colonnades, skyscrapers and terraces must be arranged so that the spaces around them are as finely proportioned as the buildings themselves. After all, we live and walk in the spaces.

Ralph Tubbs