This article was originally published in French by Ouest-France.
At the Parc de la Courneuve, the green lung of the Seine-Saint-Denis department*, the anti-Olympic front is mobilizing against development projects for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, calling them “an ecological aberration” to the detriment of the poorest department in France.
TN = translator’s note
Support for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games is not unanimous. Organized by several associations and citizen collectives, some hundred people gathered on Sunday on the Aire des Vents (windy place) in the city of Dugny to “save” this plot of the Georges-Valbon departmental park [TN: part of the Parc de la Courneuve], which is to host the media village and then will be transformed into an eco-neighborhood with 1,300 housing units and shops.
In this large 20-hectare lawn that traditionally hosts the Fête de l’Huma [TN: a big cultural festival organized by the newspaper l’Humanité], barriers have already been installed to mark the construction zone. “Look around you: scooters, couples strolling, joggers and children,” says Youcef Tatem, from the “Our Park is Not for Sale” collective (Notre parc n’est pas à vendre). “This is a popular park, [promoting] social cohesion. Why take it away from us?” asks the 74-year-old retiree, who fought in 2015 against the so-called ‘French style Central Park’ project, which entailed 2,000 buildings on the edge of the park designated as Natura 2000 [TN: the European Union’s designation for protected natural areas].
“Why turn this place into concrete? There is a lack of green spaces in the department, it is an ecological aberration,” argues Christian Bernard, from the city of Bondy, who has just completed his Sunday Nordic walking. For Anne Guyonnet, it is not a question of “being against the Olympics, which will make it possible to develop infrastructures in the department of Seine-Saint-Denis” but rather the question of the environmental impact which is the “big disaster,” according to the 50-year-old art project manager.
“The Olympics are no longer the popular festival where we watched the feats of Carl Lewis on TV,” argues this resident of the city of Blanc-Mesnil. Between handing out hot soup and leaflets, France Boulay says he used to take his children for walks on the Aire des Vents. “I think it’s a shame to sell a public good to real estate developers,” he regrets. For the former service agent, “it’s sufficient to accommodate the [Olympics] journalists in hotels in the Bourget area, as is the case at the Paris Air Show.”
The rally in Dugny is part of the “Toxic Tour” organized by Le comité de vigilance JO 2024 à Saint-Denis (the Saint-Denis Citizen Watchdog Committee of the 2024 Olympics). This is a series of guided tours of the Olympic sites of Seine-Saint-Denis, in order to show “the material impacts in terms of pollution, nuisances and public debt that the political decisions of the 2024 Olympics will have,” explains Marianna Kontos. Under the slogan of “2024 Paris Olympics—the polluting and looting of Seine-Saint-Denis,” the vigilance committee organized the tour’s first event in mid-November in the streets of the Saint-Ouen and Saint-Denis cities.
The anti-Olympics campaign’s tour stopped in front of the Olympic Village construction site and the Pleyel neighborhood. For over a year, residents and the parents of students from this neighborhood have been leading a legal battle against a highway interchange project to serve the Athletes’ Village. A highway entrance and exit ramp connecting the A1 and the A86 will be constructed near a group of schools attended by 700 children.
“They’re suffocating children in the name of the Olympics and to the detriment of the department. They don’t care about us because we are poor,” said Hamid Ouidir, the parent of a FCPE 93 (Federation of Parents’ Council in Seine-Saint-Denis) student, during a speech. “We are treated with contempt. The Solideo (the Olympics delivery authority) and the department government do not speak to us,” laments Benjamin Darras, a member of the Vivre à Pleyel (Living in Pleyel) association who, along with 14 other applicants, filed an appeal with the Council of State, France’s highest administrative court. They had initially won a battle to suspend the construction work, but in October the Paris Administrative Court of Appeal gave the green light for construction to resume.
In the city of Dugny, another group outraged by the Paris 2024 Olympic Games is Le collectif de la défense des jardins ouvriers d’Aubervilliers (Collective for the Defense of Aubervilliers Garden Allotments), united under the slogan: “We want pumpkins, not concrete!” One hectare of their vegetable garden, located in a very urbanized area, will disappear to be replaced by an aquatic training center and a Grand Paris station. The public establishment Grand Paris Aménagement (Grand Paris Development Agency), which owns the gardens, has promised “compensation.” “All these development projects are being done to the detriment of 93 [Seine-Saint-Denis]. One wonders what we will gain with the Olympics,” Hugo Coldeboeuf, from the Collective for the Defense of Garden Allotments, says bitterly.
*Departments are administrative divisions of France that are larger than cities but smaller than regions.