Why are so many people leaving Paris and is that 'positive news'?

The Local France
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Why are so many people leaving Paris and is that 'positive news'?
Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP

In France a political row has broken out over the 'depopulation' of Paris - so are people really fleeing the capital? And is the city's mayor really celebrating that?


The French capital is, by quite some way, France's largest and most densely populated city. It's also a symbol of a heavily centralised country as government, media and industries including entertainment are concentrated there, leaving people from the provinces little choice but to move to the capital if they want a career in certain sectors. 

A massive 30 percent of France's GDP is concentrated in the Paris area.


The city of Paris has 2.14 million people living in it, compared to 816,000 in France's next biggest city - Marseille. 

While Paris might seem small compared to London (population of 8.9 million), Berlin (3.6 million) or Rome (4.2 million) part of that is to do with city zoning, with only areas inside the périphérique (ringroad) counted as being in Paris. If we include the inner and outer suburbs to measure the Paris unité urbain, the population is nearer 10 million. 


But while there are still a lot of people living in Paris, there are 120,000 fewer than there were 10 years ago.

While the pandemic sparked a certain trend for people all over Europe to leave cities and move to the country, in Paris these figures are consistent - around 12,000 fewer people each year - confirming a steady 'flight' from the capital, stretching back more than a decade.

You can hear the team from The Local discussing this issue on this week's episode of the Talking France podcast. Download it HERE or listen on the link below


So what's behind this trend? Where are people going? And could it actually be a good thing?

Demographic trends suggest that many Parisians are not going far - they're simply hopping over the ringroad into the suburbs in order to get cheaper and better housing.

Latest Insee figures show that of the eight départements that make up the greater Paris Île de France region, Paris is the only one that shows a population drop - the other seven all show population growth with the inner suburbs areas of Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne and Hauts-de-Seine showing the strongest growth.

An estimated six in 10 of the people who leave Paris, go to the suburbs.

Housing prices drop sharply as soon as you cross out of Paris and into a suburban département and a major expansion of the Metro and tram network means that commuting into central Paris from these areas is now much quicker and easier. 


When asked about the 'flight' from Paris, almost everyone agreed that it was driven by the housing shortage.

“For years I have been asking the Paris City Council to create intermediate housing to allow families to stay in the 7th,” arrondissement mayor Rachida Dati told Le Parisien - her area of Paris has seen the sharpest population fall with 7,000 fewer people (or 12.6 percent) than 10 years ago.

Gaylord le Chequer is head of urban planning in Montreuil, one of the inner Paris suburbs that has seen a big increase in population, and his assessment was also that housing is the issue: "What we see above all is the Parisian phenomenon: a whole population is driven out by property speculation … while we in Montreuil see a rejuvenation of our population with young couples moving in and therefore a dynamic of school class openings, for example."

As anyone who has ever tried to find a place to live in Paris will know, there are more people wanting apartments than there are apartments. And this leads to crazy expensive prices to rent or buy plus, for renters, some extremely poor quality housing. 

The city actually has quite strict rules on minimum space and housing standards, as well as a rent cap, but the housing shortage and the desperation of many tenants mean that these are routinely ignored. 


So having fewer people might be a good thing.

This seemed to be what city mayor Anne Hidalgo was getting at when she sparked controversy by saying that the "de-densification" of Paris was something to be celebrated, calling it "a necessity, so that we can live better in Paris", citing neighbourhoods like Belleville, where the density per square kilometre is particularly high.

A member of her team later told France Info: "This de-densification, we built it with the Greater Paris project [the expansion of the Metro out into the suburbs], if we have invested in Greater Paris, it is also so that there can be housing not only in the city centre."

They added that having a lower population density meant the city can have "more parks, more gardens, more air, fewer cars, more nature."

"Good news, in short, which shows the attractiveness of Paris."


But what city and suburban officials are also focused on is not only how many people are leaving, but who is leaving. 

There seems to be a clear trend that the group most likely to leave the capital is families with young children - and this is having a major effect on the schooling system.

In what is being dubbed the fuite des familles (flight of the families), Paris had 4,100 fewer primary-school age pupils in September 2022 than the previous year, which itself saw 6,000 fewer pupils than the previous year.

As with the general population loss, the falling school roll is part of a decade-long trend. 

Within Paris, 187 classes have closed in primary schools and 182 teaching posts have been axed in secondary schools because of the falling pupil numbers - and the education authorities predicts another fall of around 3,000 pupils in September 2023.


The mairie has described the class closures as "brutal" and this week has seen protests led by parents in several areas of Paris, demanding that school classes stay open.

Beatrice Haranger, 42, a parent in the 10th arrondissement of Paris who protested on Tuesday outside the education authority said: "Their argument about population change is not justification to close classes in poorer areas of Paris where school children - many of whom don't speak French as a first language or are new immigrants or have learning difficulties - need extra help and attention from teachers.

"They will lose this benefit if classes close and as a result these kids are moved into bigger groups."

Conversely out in the suburbs, there is often a shortage of school places. Local areas are allocated a budget for schooling facilities based on Insee data - which is three years old by the time it is published, leaving many places with a severe shortage of funding and facilities. 

The mayor of Romainville, a suburb not far from Montreuil in the eastern suburbs, estimated the resulting shortfall in funding is up to €1 million a year.


Electoral districts 

Another consequence of the population flight is on the city's electoral map - in 2020 the four central arrondissements were merged into a single 'Paris Centre' district for local election purposes, because they no longer had enough registered voters there.

Arrondissements 1-4 form the historic heart of the city along the banks of the Seine, and properties there command sky-high prices. So much so that few French people actually live there and many of the historic and beautiful buildings are now commercial premises, government offices or embassies or second homes to the super-wealthy - many Gulf royals own second homes in Paris, as did the disgraced financier and convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. 


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