The yellow vest movement in France is a wake-up call for the real estate sector too, writes Isobel Lee.
As London’s office markets prepare for an unknown post-Brexit future, it’s comforting to think that we’ll always have Paris. Yet the French capital has been capturing the headlines recently for a political crisis of its own, playing out in a very visible way with the gilet jaune protests. Despite real estate’s long focus usually discounting trends that don’t last decades, even property people are taking note.
The yellow vest was chosen, after all, as an easy-to-obtain blue-collar symbol. Neon yellow is the colour of safety jackets, building sites and construction vehicles. And it’s clearly not a case of arbitrary anarchy – the first protest triggers were petrol-price tax-hikes in the wake of a change to real estate levies for the elite. ‘By taxing car gasoline, the state taxes people who have no other choice,’ one protester told New York journal The Nation. ‘These are people who have no access to public transportation. This is the first revolt of the energy-precarious.’
Above all, it’s a wake-up call that whatever plans the Élysée Palace has for broadening employment and mobility options, now is the time to step them up.
Perhaps surprisingly, it turns out that the private real estate industry has plenty to contribute on both fronts. Grand Paris Express may be suffering significant delays – brought into stark focus by the deadline of hosting the Olympic Games in 2024 – but progress is being made. The state is awarding construction contracts at such a rapid pace that the project’s theoretical influence is becoming a concrete one.
Suburbs and neighbourhoods will strengthen, creating de-centralised business clusters and speeding workers into Paris’ traditional office heartlands. Meanwhile, green projects such as Ivanhoe Cambridge’s Icawood vehicle and Macron’s pledge to make France the ‘start-up nation’ by attracting venture capital emphasise that fundamental change is afoot. If the 2024 Olympics creates the kind of buzz which transformed London in 2012, Paris’ European supremacy will be confirmed.