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The futures that never were: Railway infrastructure and housing in mid-nineteenth-century London and Paris

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter (peer-reviewed)



The article explores what we can learn from the plans for new urban transport infrastructure, specifically that of railways, and the provision of affordable housing for the working and poorer classes in mid-nineteenth-century London and Paris. It interrogates what the plans tell us about the histories of infrastructure, on the one hand, and the histories of London and Paris, on the other. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are areas that urban historians and historians of infrastructure alike have tended to treat separately. The article provides in this sense useful insights into the specifically urban dimensions of the history of infrastructure in a manner that resonates with Gullberg and Kaijser’s approach to ‘landscapes of buildings’ and ‘landscapes of networks’, and which also recovers some of thinking of Robert Park, Ernst Burgess, and the Chicago School, for whom the ‘greater mobility’ and the ‘greater concentration’ associated with cities like Chicago at the turn of twentieth century were central to understanding ‘the ecological organization of the city’, a concept whose influence has been felt across a range of fields ever since.
More specifically, the article highlights the significance of studying the imagined past futures of London and Paris as illustrated by the work of two key figures: Charles Pearson, who advocated housing artisans and the respectable working classes in connection to the plans of the first section of the Metropolitan Railway in London; and Fl. de Kérizouet, whose plans provided an alternative to the transformation inflicted upon Paris by Baron Haussmann’s extensive programme of public works. Their plans envisioned the future of London and Paris in a way that was more inclusive and consequent with the reality that a significant part of the population of the two cities experienced, notably the working class and the poor. They are part of the ways in which the future of the two cities was envisioned in the mid nineteenth century: to a degree they constitute a horizon of expectation in the sense that historian Reinhart Koselleck gave to the term, though here it is a horizon that hinges on visions of the future which are characteristically urban.