In 1850s visitor would find that Paris had changed little since the Middle Ages. In the present Third Arrondissement, there was one inhabitant for every three square meters. In these conditions, disease spread very quickly. Cholera epidemics ravaged the city in 1832 and 1848. In the epidemic of 1848, five percent of the inhabitants of these two neighborhoods died. Traffic was another major problem. The widest streets in these two neighborhoods were only five meters wide; the narrowest were only one or two meters wide.
In 1845 Victor Considerant wrote: "Paris is an immense workshop of putrefaction, where misery, pestilence and sickness work in concert, where sunlight and air rarely penetrate. Paris is a terrible place where plants shrivel and perish, and where, of seven small infants, four die during the course of the year."
Haussmann's renovation of Paris was a vast public works program commissioned by Emperor Napoléon III and directed by his prefect of the Seine, Georges-Eugène Haussmann, between 1853 and 1870.