ANALYSIS: Residents of Paris suburb brace for Olympic village upheaval

The plans show gleaming images of tree-lined boulevards, modern residences and tranquil squares on the banks of the Seine river.

ANALYSIS: Residents of Paris suburb brace for Olympic village upheaval
Many people living or working in the 51-hectare area earmarked for the Olympic village will have to move elsewhere. Photo: AFP
But for residents and businesses in the impoverished northern Paris suburb where athletes will stay during the 2024 Games in the French capital, the reality looks rather different.
Many people living or working in the 51-hectare area earmarked for the Olympic village will have to pack their bags and move elsewhere, amid doubts about whether they will be able to benefit from the Games' much vaunted legacy.
“A village designed by athletes, at the service of performance,” says the website for Paris 2024, boasting how the site by the Seine will provide a “serene and relaxing environment before and after competitions”.
But the area is already home to three schools, two apartment blocks, a hotel and 19 businesses employing some 1,000 people, all of whom will have to move.
A view of the model of the Olympic Athletes Village (in brown, near the Seine and the ring-road) of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Photo: AFP   
“We are being told to leave even though we do not know where we are going,” said Boubacar Diallo, a representative of a migrant workers' hostel that houses 300 people — mostly immigrants from West Africa — on the site which straddles the districts of Saint-Denis and Saint-Ouen.
The hostel, and everything within a 500-metre radius of it, is set to be knocked down in 2020, to make way for 15,000 athletes and officials.
Solideo, the public company overseeing building projects for the Olympics, has promised to build two new hostels in its place by 2022. But until then the 
workers' future is uncertain.
Diallo complained that the temporary housing offered by the authorities was in an industrial zone, far from public transport, with no shops, bakeries, cafes or access for the disabled.
He vowed that the workers would not budge unless they got a better deal.
“The Olympic Games will bring atmosphere, jobs and the renovation of neighbourhoods,” said Diallo. “But we want all to joyfully take part in this celebration and it is not the case for now.” 
'We have no choice'
A law on the Olympics adopted by parliament in 2018 allows for expropriations in extreme cases.
But Benoit Pinguet, who is in charge of institutional relations at Solideo, assured the company was trying to find “peaceful resolutions” and said that 64 percent of the land needed for the village had already been acquired.
People work in a community garden in Saint-Ouen, northern suburbs of Paris, on February 12, 2018. Photo: AFP
The location of the village will be of great convenience for the athletes, in close proximity to the Stade de France that will host the athletics and opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the aquatics centre.
But local businesses are worried.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said a manager at the City Beast sports complex, which employs a dozen people. “We were starting to get established and then they told us to leave by December 31 and we don't have a choice.”
Public works company Alliance Entreprise has been located the area for the last 13 years. “We're close to our clients and want to stay in the area. But the owner said we had to leave,” said a staff member.
Meanwhile, the local engineering school Supmeca will be cut in two by the Olympics, with an internal road set to be opened up to traffic and its student residence and refectory earmarked for demolition.
Felix, a student from northern France who pays 280 euros a month to live on campus, said he was worried he would never find off-site accommodation at that 
price so close to the capital.
“France lacks specialised engineers. We need to develop the school and this is more important than this wretched property operation,” Alain Rivere, the director of Supmeca, complained.
Sources involved in the construction assured that the students would be rehoused “in the same price range” and that the school would profit in the long run, with a new residence and dining hall set to be built after the Games.
An image of the building site of the Olympic village on August 2, 2017. Photo: AFP
'On the losing side' 
But residents also have other concerns, including the likely upsurge in pollution and traffic, which is already heavy in the densely populated Seine-Saint-Denis region.
A new exit from the A86 motorway will be built next to a school.
“We should be the main winners of these urban transformations but at the moment we are a bit on the losing side in terms of pollution,” said Cecile Gintrac, a resident of Saint-Denis who sits on the Paris 2024 oversight committee.
Patrick Braouezec, a senior local official, insisted however that locals would be the big winners of the Games, with overhead power lines in the area set to be buried underground and a major new railway station planned for the area, along with 2,200 new lodgings.
He said that the Olympic village would be transformed afterwards into a “true neighbourhood” and not just housing complexes of the type built for the 1992 Games in Barcelona, 2012 Games in London or the upcoming 2020 Games in Tokyo.

Member comments

  1. All wrong. People and businesses having to move for sport. The same happened in London. What a crazy society it is now.

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‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.