By María D. Valderrama
Saint-Denis, France, Aug 17 (EFE).- With two years to go until the Olympic Games come to Paris, residents of the French capital’s economically deprived suburbs are campaigning against the construction of costly infrastructure that they say threatens green space and affordable housing.
“It’s a load of crap,” blurts Serge Begun, a resident of Dugny, in the northeastern Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, as he walks his dog through Aire des Vents, a local park.
A dozen cranes are working on the construction of the Olympic media village that will become 1,300 houses the neighborhood will “inherit”.
“Half the park has been taken away for buildings, even though there is space to construct around (the park). It’s incomprehensible. They’ve cut down trees, they’ve planted some small ones that are not suitable and have already burned down this summer,” Begun adds.
Just a few meters from him, smoke rises from the remains of a new plantation.
The area, which hosts the annual Fête de l’Humanité, is listed on the European Union’s Natura 2000 network due to its important biodiversity.
The construction of the media village has already devoured seven hectares of green space and angered residents.
The Olympic budget has rocketed from the 6.8 billion euros announced in 2018 to 8.3 billion euros and could rise further if the government includes new security measures following chaotic scenes at the Stade de France, also located in Saint-Denis, during the Champions League final in May.
Paris 2024 organizers have committed to making the Games climate-positive.
To that end, 95% of events will take place in existing infrastructure, while new buildings will be used to accommodate Olympians and Paralympians. Those villages will later be transformed into environmentally-friendly neighborhoods for local residents.
Solideo, a public entity, has been charged with overseeing the infrastructural developments for the Olympic Games, which will be held from July 26 to August 11, 2024.
Residents and environmental platforms have lobbied for more oversight, and are demanding that the eco-friendly neighborhoods are affordable, given that the land was acquired at a low price.
The developer has already encountered issues. When organizers began to plan for the future media city — which is being built on former military grounds — they found it to be too small.
“They contemplated expanding by taking space from the park but we told them we would take them to court, so they stuck with the space the French shooting federation had available, which is what they had proposed in the beginning,” Arthur, a Saint-Denis local and one of the more prominent faces of the campaign group Saccage 2024 (roughly “pillage” or “loot” in English), tells Efe.
For years the group has closely monitored the changes being made to the neighborhood to accommodate Paris 2024.
“We know from the experience of other host cities that the Games are an excuse to expedite housing projects that would not otherwise go ahead,” he says, pointing to the so-called Grand Paris plans to expand the city.
Opponents of the Olympic Games have scored the odd goal in their battle against the event.
A Paris court put the brakes on plans to destroy a 4,000-square meter garden to build an Olympic pool after it considered the project to have severe consequences for the local biodiversity.
The gardens are home to allotments, where local growers cultivate tomatoes, grapes, figs and peppers.