Paris’s Olympic prom­ise

The Olympic Games: Paris un­der pres­sure

Vocable (All English) - - Édito Sommaire - AN­GELIQUE CHRISAFIS

An op­por­tu­nity for the town of Saint-De­nis?

The Olympics are com­ing to Paris in 2024 and this is giv­ing rise to new hopes and as­pi­ra­tions lo­cally. Saint-De­nis, a sub­urb north of Paris, has been promised sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment, such as the con­struc­tion of an Olympic vil­lage, an aquatic cen­tre, lo­cal job cre­ation and hous­ing. Will th­ese re­ally come to pass?

It was a gam­ble that Paris couldn’t af­ford to lose. Af­ter decades of hu­mil­i­at­ing fail­ures in bids to host the Olympics – in­clud­ing tear­fully los­ing to Lon­don in 2012 – the French cap­i­tal has fi­nally won the 2024 Games.

2. The city is now un­der pres­sure to prove it can de­liver its promised new style of or­gan­is­ing the event: cheaper, greener, with no white-ele­phant build­ing projects and able to change the for­tunes of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

3. Lo­cal politi­cians pleaded that Paris host­ing the world’s big­gest sport­ing spec­ta­cle would re­store the city’s pride, bring back the tourists who have stayed away af­ter ter­ror­ist at- tacks and rec­on­cile the thriv­ing cap­i­tal with its poorer, de­prived north­ern sub­urbs.

4. Paris’s ar­gu­ment was also that, af­ter decades of over­spend­ing and waste in other Olympic host cities such as Athens and Barcelona, France could do things more ef­fi­ciently. Paris al­ready has 95% of the sport­ing fa­cil­i­ties in place and does not need to build a main sta­dium, un­like Lon­don in 2012.


5. But Paris was seen to have lost to Lon­don in 2012 in part be­cause it was too fo­cused on its city cen­tre while the Bri­tish vaunted the re­gen­er­a­tion of Strat­ford in east Lon­don. So the focus of the 2024 plan is re­gen­er­at­ing Sain­tDe­nis, the di­verse, dein­dus­tri­alised town that nudges up against the north of Paris. 6. Saint-De­nis was promised sport­ing trans­for­ma­tion 20 years ago when the Stade de France was built there for the 1998 foot­ball World Cup, but it still has far higher rates of poverty and un­em­ploy­ment than the cap­i­tal and suf­fers over­crowd­ing on pub­lic trans­port.

7. Only a few new Olympic venues will be built and th­ese will be mostly in Saint-De­nis, in­clud­ing a vast aquat­ics fa­cil­ity. Politi­cians prom­ise the pools will then serve res­i­dents in an area where half of pre-teens do not know how to swim.

8. The ath­letes’ vil­lage will also be built in Saint-De­nis, near the Cinema City film stu­dios cre­ated in a dis­used power sta­tion by the film-maker Luc Bes­son. Af­ter the Games, the vil­lage will be turned into hous­ing. France is keen to move on from its rep­u­ta­tion for build­ing ghetto hous­ing es­tates and will al­lo­cate half to so­cial hous­ing and the rest to pri­vate sales. With pri­vate in­vestors lead­ing the project, build­ing work be­gan be­fore Paris se­cured the Games.

9. Valérie Pe­cresse, the rightwing head of the Île-de-France re­gion out­side Paris, has spo­ken of “re­con­nect­ing” the town of Sain­tDe­nis. Plans to ex­tend the Paris area’s pub­lic trans­port net­work were in the pipe­line be­fore the Olympic bid.


10. But also at play is the fu­ture of the wider Seine-Saint-De­nis dé­parte­ment, the poor­est county in France, which stretches well beyond the town of Sain­tDe­nis to­wards the de­prived hous­ing es­tates north-east of Paris where the 2005 ur­ban ri­ots be­gan.

11. Lau­rent Russier, the com­mu­nist mayor of the town of Saint-De­nis, said the Olympics were “an op­por­tu­nity to end the bad im­age that is of­ten stuck to us,” hint­ing at snob­bery to­wards the di­verse town where some of the 2015 Paris at­tack­ers hid out in a slum flat be­fore a po­lice siege. On the night of the Paris at­tacks, the first bombers struck out­side the Stade de France.

12. Some fear that the Olympic devel­op­ment in Sain­tDe­nis could lead to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, forc­ing lo­cals out. Pierre Mansat, an ad­viser to the Paris mayor, Anne Hi­dalgo, told the web­site En­large Your Paris this week: “Elected of­fi­cials in Seine-Saint-De­nis have an ur­ban vi­sion that is suf­fi­ciently in­clu­sive and based on sol­i­dar­ity to pre­vent that phe­nom­e­non.”

13. The Paris Olympics bud­get, at around €6.6bn, is his­tor­i­cally low and al­ready some econ­o­mists say costs are likely to rise. Lon­don in 2012, Athens in 2004 and Syd­ney in 2000 all saw their bud­gets for host­ing the Sum­mer Olympics at least dou­ble between the launch of their bids and the fi­nal bill.

14. Paris ar­gues that it will build tem­po­rary sites at key land­marks us­ing eco-ma­te­ri­als that will keep the car­bon foot­print and cost down. Open-wa­ter and triathlon swim­ming are planned to be held in the river Seine af­ter au­thor­i­ties clean up dirty wa­ter­ways. The Grand Palais will host fenc­ing and taek­wondo. Triathlon and marathon events will be based around the Eif­fel Tower.

15. The French pres­i­dent, Em­manuel Macron, has said the Olympics will be cru­cial for France, de­scrib­ing the award of the Games as “a ges­ture that shows that in our longterm bat­tle against ter­ror­ism, we don’t stop big events.”

The pools will then serve res­i­dents in an area where half of pre-teens do not know how to swim.


Chil­dren run­ning with Tony Es­tanguet and Pa­trick Bau­mann, Stade de France, Saint-De­nis, 15 May.

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