An Expansion Helped by Public Policies? As in the majority of developed countries, urban sprawl was brought in by a wave of economic expansion, and by the consecutive increase in the purchasing power of households. It also reflects the expansion of the space that is accessible every day, which is linked to the increase in the use of the private car. In this sense, the date of the appearance of the process in France corresponds to the relative situation of the country in the post-war movement of urbanization and modernization, which could be described simply as a spatial diffusion begun in Northern Europe that eventually took hold in Southern Europe. The intensity of the process in France (a theory that remains to be proven when the possibilities for European comparison have improved) should nonetheless be explicable by reference to particular conditions. The general weakness in density, resulting in weaker property values and a greater availability of space, is a likely factor. The effect of public policies that have accompanied the movement is another plausible explanation.
The Individual House and Housing Policy State policies designed to solve the problem of housing shortages in the context of post-war reconstruction and the succeeding phase of unprecedented demographic growth (baby boom, massive rural exodus, and then at the start of the 1960s, the reintegration of two million people from Algeria), were initially expressed in the building of large collective structures, between 1950 and 1970, favored by the institution in 1958 of the Zones d’Urbanisation Prioritaires (ZUP). The marked preference from this period on for the acquisition of property for individual housing, the rejection of the large collective groupings by the middle classes, and modification in family structures, from the end of the 1960s, inspired the first waves of building of individual housing estates. Motivations offered as reasons for moving are related much more to conditions of housing (surface space, cost, the desire to change from renting to property ownership, and from the collective to the individual), than to a search for the advantages of a rural environment (Orfeuil, 2000).
These ‘spontaneous’ tendencies were certainly increased by national policies. The Real Estate law of 1967, with the ZAC procedure (Zone d’Aménagement Concerté—Collaborative Development Zone) provided greater flexibility for the establishment of housing estates with individual houses. In particular, it was the law of 1977 on the financing of public housing, substituting for ‘aid towards stones’ an ‘aid to persons’, by guaranteeing loans for the acquisition of property for low-income households, which promoted the extension of the cities. Thus in the beginning of the 1980s, 40% of new constructions were destined for households that were benefiting from assistance.