Abstract: Developing Knowledge, the Knowledge of Development: Real Estate Speculators and Brokers in Late Nineteenth-Century Paris

Alexia Yates


This essay illuminates the politics and practices of knowledge generation in the Parisian real estate market during one of the most spectacular building booms of the nineteenth century. From approximately 1876 to 1884, real estate development firms erected thousands of apartment buildings across the French capital. In this article I explore how the building entrepreneurs active in this boom, many of whom were not previously significant actors in the capital's property market, came to know the market and setting in which they operated, and how this understanding contributed to the nature of their built production. By using real estate journals, building guides, digests of land values, and records pertaining to particular developments, I reconstruct the development rationale of a particular historical moment, showing how developers operating at the height of the boom conceptualized urban growth, formed networks for the purposes of construction and distribution, and chose development sites and types in accordance with a particular analysis of the city and its market. Although financing structures certainly played a role in determining the form of private development during this period, I show that the ways in which speculative entrepreneurs came to discern the nature of the property and housing markets in which they operated were also fundamental elements in shaping their interventions in the urban landscape.

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