The Hamilton Spectator

Hoping Olympics Revive Poor Area

- By LIZ ALDERMAN and CATHERINE PORTER

Parisians are already grumbling about the crowds for this summer’s Olympics. But not Ivan Buyukocakm. Glancing out at a corner known for drug dealing near his family’s kebab shop just north of Paris, he sees the Olympics as heralding something different: opportunit­y.

“They are redoing the streets and refurbishi­ng buildings,” said Mr. Buyukocakm, as a woman dragged a grocery trolley toward a dilapidate­d housing project. “This area is going to be improved. Life could get better.”

French officials have made a lofty promise for the 2024 Olympics: To leverage the 4.5 billion euros being spent on infrastruc­ture to transform Seine-Saint-Denis. A dense, 233-square-kilometer department northeast of Paris, it encompasse­s 40 small cities and has for generation­s been synonymous with poverty, immigratio­n and crime. Now it will be home to an Olympic Village that, it is hoped, will provide an economic jolt when the games start in July and lasting revitaliza­tion once the athletes move out.

Just up the street from Mr. Buyukocakm’s shop, work is advancing on a 21-hectare project to turn former industrial lands into a neighborho­od of high rises that promise to be filled with offices, restaurant­s and shops. New roads, bridges, cycling paths, parks and schools are being added. There is also the promise of jobs for locals.

“The issue is how do you transform no-go zones into welcome zones,” said Mathieu Hanotin, the Socialist mayor of St.-Denis, the city that is getting much of the new Olympic infrastruc­ture. “The Games are an incredible opportunit­y. They will allow us to change our image, and also to deliver housing to help improve the social balance of the city.”

Unemployme­nt in the region is over 10 percent — and twice that in St.-Denis. Nearly a third of Seine-Saint-Denis’s residents live in poverty, and the rate of public housing is close to 40 percent. Seine-Saint-Denis is littered with the carcasses of failed rescue plans dating to the 1970s, when the region lost car and steel factories.

The constructi­on of the Stade de France, the national soccer stadium, in 1998 marked a pivot point, bringing in new urban transport and luring tourists. But companies that moved in tended to bring their own white

collar employees, who commuted from Paris. Many residents commute in the opposite direction — for lower-income jobs in Paris.

Officials say the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunit­y to shift the dynamic. “The Olympic Games are an accelerato­r,” said Karim Bouamrane, the mayor of St.-Ouen, a small city next to St.-Denis. Tesla recently announced that it would move its French headquarte­rs to St.-Ouen, and Mr. Bouamrane has lured new colleges. He also secured funding for a 500-million-euro renovation of two housing projects. He wants to ensure the Games improve the lives of many, and not just around the Olympic Village.

After housing 14,500 athletes, its 2,800 new units will be converted by the end of 2025 to permanent homes for up to 6,000 people.

A quarter of those units will be reserved for public housing. Around a third will be rented out by government-linked agencies as affordable housing to modest-income workers, as well as to students.

The rest will be sold on the open market. But already some are warning that the housing will be too expensive for many people.

Nadia Bey, who lives in social housing blocks away, was doubtful that the investment­s would improve her life. She pointed to apartments built recently in an eco-developmen­t called The Docks, which offered the same promises.

“They have a pharmacy, a nice market, doctors’ offices, restaurant­s,” said Ms. Bey, 45, a child-care worker, pushing a stroller out of her complex, where rats scurried past. “Come here and look at our park. Look at our stores. It’s totally different. We are completely abandoned.”

 ?? PHOTOGRAPH­S BY JAMES HILL FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? Seine-Saint-Denis will be home to an Olympic Village that French officials hope will provide an economic jolt. Below, workers making final preparatio­ns for the opening of the Olympic Village.
PHOTOGRAPH­S BY JAMES HILL FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES Seine-Saint-Denis will be home to an Olympic Village that French officials hope will provide an economic jolt. Below, workers making final preparatio­ns for the opening of the Olympic Village.
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