Paris Hopes for Olympic Village

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In New York, Olympic supporters are hoping that the games would bring needed impetus to create new parks and waterfront neighborhoods. Paris is using its Olympic bid to promote a vision of a model 21st century city. WNYC's Andrea Bernstein took a look at the French city's bid for the 2012 games.

In the 1990’s, fueled by dot-com riches, land in industrial cities in the first world was gobbled up. As available land disappeared, developers and planners began eyeing some of the last available large tracts of land – railyards. In New York, a plan for a stadium began to form. In London, an Olympic Park. In Paris, an Olympic Village.

Depanafieux: Vous etes ici dans un arrondissement, une partie de Paris qui a 170,000 habitants

In a shed in the railyards in a northern neighborhood of Paris, City Councilor Francoise Depanafieu describes her neighborhood, known as La Batignole. There are 170,000 residents, she says, as many as in many of the larger cities in France. But the neighborhood is bisected by the rail yards. Jerome Lenfant, the Media Relations Director for Paris 2012, stand next to a large pole circled with five brightly colored neon Olympic rings.

L’Enfant:, As you see there are today warehouses and rail there will be tomorrow a ten hectare park and around this ten hectare park there will be houses, there will be schools, it will be a new city in the city of Paris.

In Paris, as in New York and London, for that matter, reclaiming rail yards is central to the Olympic bid. In all these cities, Olympic planners see brand new parks that will reconnect long-disused neighborhoods. But in Paris, there’s no stadium envisioned atop the rail yards. There are solar panels. Jerome Lenfant.

L’Enfant: Part of the rail yards will just disappear. The used part will be covered and on top you will have mirrors that will produce electricity, energy, for the village itself.

Jules de Heer was put in charge of developing environmental plans for the 2012 olympics. As he began to think about the village, he realized he could plan a model environmental neighborhood in the middle of one of the world’s largest cities

De Heer: Ca veut dire que toute l’energie du village sera entierement produit sur place.

What De Heer says, is all the energy for the Olympic village will be produced on site, making it the densest neighborhood in the world to have zero C02 emissions.

De Heer: On va recirculer casiment tout les eaux pluvial grises, eaux des bains et de cuisine.

The waste water from baths and kitchens would be cleaned and re-circulated. The black water from toilets would be treated on site. There are environmental visions for New York’s Olympic village, too. Organizers want it to rely on renewable energy sources, and minimize carbon dioxide emissions, and water use. But the plan isn’t as far reaching as the Paris design. NYC 2012 officials say Parisian planners have a luxury New Yorkers don’t – the Paris Olympic plan is two thirds financed by the national, regional, and local governments.

Where New York City is a net exporter of federal tax dollars, Paris, the seat of the national government, is a net importer.

Etienne Taubois, the Director of Sports Planning for Paris 2012 says the French expect their government to fund big projects.

Taubois: Actually sports is a very, very popular thing in France and the public institutions already do invest in sports and sports equipment so its normal, it’s the way it is here.

Indeed, outside Paris’s city hall, subway conductor Tomas Didier says he hopes the games do come to Paris. Even if it costs a lot of money?

Bernstein: Meme si ca coute chere? Didier: Pour l’argent je prefere qu’il le mette dans les jeux olympiques que dans des puissances nucleaire ou dans l’armament.

I’d rather they spend it on this, he says, than on nuclear power or armaments. It provides more of a benefit to all the people

Parisians do expect their government to provide state of the art services. During the recent national strike, the French were shocked at having to wait up to eight minutes for a metro, as opposed to the usual three.

Metro announcer: Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau.

This is a city with a long tradition of urban planning. More than 150 years ago, Baron Hausmann plotted out the wide boulevards. That plan is largely intact today, since the city was occupied, not bombed, during World War II.

A decade ago, France decided to build a stadium for the 1998 world soccer cup – the stade de france. The stadium is the site for all sorts of civic events – from ice car racing to opera.

The stadium is located on the northern edge of Paris, served by two train lines. According to Pasqual Simonin, the director of the authority that runs the stade de france, the stadium has never lost money

Au clair nous ne sommes pas un elephant blanc.

We are not, he said, a white elephant.

Paris 2012 spokesman Jerome Lenfant said the stadium was just another example of French savior faire – know how.

L’enfant: Et c’est un example, sans doute, sans arrogance, de savoir faire Francais en maters de conceptions et de gestion d’infrastructures.

Without arrogance, he said, the French know how to think up and build grand structures. Small ones, too. This is a country where cooks can clip off the top of a boiled egg, empty the shell, and fill it with foie gras. Attention to elegant details is evident in the Olympic proposal. The bid committee has been outfitted with Givenchy suits. Bridges over the river seine are lit up at night with five Olympic colors.

But all of this flair may have a downside for Paris’s Olympic hopes. One of the criteria for International Olympic Committee is that the Olympics will have a transformative effect on a host city. So I asked the Mayor of Paris, Bernard Delanoue, whether Paris wouldn’t do all these things – rebuild the north of Paris, build new sports facilities and parks, without the Olympics.

Delanoue: Paris a besoin des jeux, Paris a besoin des jeux. Et bien sur Paris est une ville qui gardera son identite son ame, son histoire, mais si nous acceuillons les jeux en 2012 cette ville aura totalement change par les jeux olympique.

Delanoue gave the politic answer. We do need the Olympics, he said. Though Paris will keep her identity, her soul, her history if we get the games, we will be totally changed.

London and New York may be able to make more of an argument for the transformative effects of the Olympic games. In London, that the Olympics will bring housing and economic regeneration to a poor neighborhood. In New York, that the Olympics will create new parks and open up access to the waterfront.

Outside Paris city hall, union worker Sylvie Villette wasn’t trying to argue the Olympics would change her city.

Villette: Je me suis rapelle de Cup de Monde de 1998 est c’etait fantastique quoi.

I remember the 1998 World Cup, she said, and it was fantastic. There was an extraordinary atmosphere.

Villette: J’etait a Paris et c’etait vraiment un ambience extraordinaire la ville etait colore c’etait vraiment chouette.

It was, she said, really cool. For WNYC, I’m Andrea Bernstein.



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