Work has begun on the construction of the home of the 2024 Olympic Games, to be hosted in Paris. The development is part of a broader government plan to reinvigorate the poorest urban area in the country.
The Olympic village, which will house some 15,000 athletes and officials, is being built in the Seine-Saint-Denis area north of Paris, part of the urban fringe which has suffered from social tensions and neglect for years.
The project is controversial locally because it will force the relocation of residents, businesses and even schools in the area where the village is to be constructed.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe launched the works, which are set to last over three years, in the suburb of Saint-Ouen.
After the games the authorities plan to reconfigure the area into a new neighbourhood that will offer a total of 3,000 homes and also increase local participation in sports.
“It needs to last”
“If we want the Games to be a success, we must make sure that all this organisation, all this financing and this mobilisation does not just vanish when the Olympic flame goes out,” said Philippe as he launched the works.
“It needs to last,” he added.
Legacy is now a huge aspect of Olympic developments, especially after the success of the London 2012 Olympics which helped breathe new life into Stratford in the east of the English capital.
There have already been protests locally against the French Olympic village project, which requires the clearing of a zone that is home to over 20 businesses, three schools, a hotel, a student residence and a hostel for foreign workers.
“We have been here for 40 years and now there is no longer any space for us,” Boubacar Diallo, who represents foreign workers living in a residence, told the AFP news agency.
Two new residences should be finished by 2022 to house all those affected. But the residents are rejecting the temporary housing on offer until they are completed.
Responding to the criticism, Solideo, the public company overseeing all the works, insisted the local area would get a boost.
“What is going to happen over the next 3-4 years is compensation for what has not happened the last 30 years,” the company says.
The budget for the games amounts to €6.8 billion, 1.5 billion of which will come from the state.
The authorities have long expressed concern over the stark disparities in the Paris area, with wealthy citizens concentrated in the centre but northern areas far less well-off.
A report in June said rising property prices had widened the gap between rich and poor in the Paris region, where the number of people living in poverty has increased.