Urban population growth has been constant for several decades in France. Between 1960 and 2020, it rose from 61.88 percent to 80.69 percent. The phenomenon of urbanization was more significant in the 1960s. Indeed, over this period, the rate of the French population living in cities increased by ten points. The evolution was more weighted over the next 48 years, rising from 71.06 percent in 1970 to 80.16 percent in 2017.
An increase in urbanization was accompanied over the same period by a sharp rise in the overall French population, from 55.57 million inhabitants in 1982 to around 67 million in 2021.
Paris, an urban giant in France
Like in the United Kingdom, the French-style centralized system has led to a high concentration of population around economic, financial, cultural and political centers, all located in the British and French capitals. London and Paris (and its conurbation) are among the largest urban centers on the continent, with Moscow being the most populous. This centralization of power has led to a very heterogenous distribution of population density. The Paris region has a density of more than 1000 inhabitants per km², which is ten times higher than the Haut-de-France region, the second densest region in France.
This centralization of power attracts a strong French and foreign workforce. The French capital is by far the most populated city in France. If solely the municipality of Paris is taken into account, it will have more than two million inhabitants in 2016, which is more than twice as many as in Marseille and four times as many as in Lyon, the country's second and third most populous cities.
Future challenges for French cities
Access to employment is no longer the only reason to settle in a town. Other factors come into play in the life choices of city dwellers. In 2018, more than 90% of the French estimated that the presence of green areas was important to settle or not in a district. The pollution level of the city was also considered in the choice of the city.
In order to address these pollution problems, municipalities must resolve transportation issues on their own territory. Previously the king of the town, the car is increasingly losing ground to public transport in urban areas. Cities like Paris are relying more on public transport. Between 2011 and 2016, RATP and SNCF have built more than 60 kilometers of tramway tracks . Moreover, the construction of additional train and metro lines in the Grand Paris project aimed at better connecting the suburbs to each other without passing through intramural Paris.
Making it easier to travel by bicycle is one of the options chosen by many conurbations to relieve congestion in their cities. Since the early 2000s, self-service bicycles have been a great success in France with more than 2,400 bicycles available in Toulouse or 4,000 in Lyon in 2017. A source of much tension between motorists, municipalities and cyclists, the sharing of the road between 4 and 2 wheelers has, however, been widely developed. In Strasbourg, for example, the municipality had around 1.04 metres of cycle lanes per inhabitant in 2017, the highest rate in France. However, the layout of cycle paths can be perilous and a majority of cyclists in France still feel unsafe on the road.
Share of the urban population in France from 1960 to 2020
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Perspective monde - Université de Sherbrooke. (March 17, 2021). Share of the urban population in France from 1960 to 2020 [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved July 04, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/466415/share-urban-population-france/
Perspective monde - Université de Sherbrooke. "Share of the urban population in France from 1960 to 2020." Chart. March 17, 2021. Statista. Accessed July 04, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/466415/share-urban-population-france/
Perspective monde - Université de Sherbrooke. (2021). Share of the urban population in France from 1960 to 2020. Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: July 04, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/466415/share-urban-population-france/
Perspective monde - Université de Sherbrooke. "Share of The Urban Population in France from 1960 to 2020." Statista, Statista Inc., 17 Mar 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/466415/share-urban-population-france/
Perspective monde - Université de Sherbrooke, Share of the urban population in France from 1960 to 2020 Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/466415/share-urban-population-france/ (last visited July 04, 2022)