Haussmann’s Paris had its detractors, even at the time. The Dutch Christian statesman Abraham Kuyper decried the artificial uniformity imposed autocratically on the city, much preferring bottom-up organic development of urban life. Indeed, “the modern spirit of Haussmann . . . violates even the consecrated soil of Montmartre to run a straight line through the circular pattern of its boulevards. . . . All the poetry of our cities vanishes, all the quaint gables disappear. The plasterer’s trowel covers up in grey the white panes around the red bricks, and before long all diversity has been removed.” Haussmann’s reshaping of Paris might be viewed as a dark precursor to the totalitarian politics—or, better, antipolitics—of the twentieth century. If a municipal government arrogates to itself the right to uproot longstanding settled communities in the interest of building a better city, it is effectively going well beyond the normative task of government to do justice in the context of ordinary human diversity, ill-advisedly taking on the gigantic project of remaking social life as a whole, a conceit Kuyper traced back to the French Revolution.
Urban Visions at Odds: Haussmann, Kuyper, and the Chicago Housing Authority | Comment Magazine | Cardus