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Monday, June 24, 2024

Olympic venue sparks renewed hopes for Paris drug hotspot

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Paris—The only new sports venue built in inner Paris for the Olympics this year will open its doors Sunday in an area of the capital hoping to shed its reputation for crack-dealing and crime.

The 8,000-seat Arena Porte de la Chapelle, which sits just inside the capital’s ring road, is a key part of regeneration efforts centred on one of Paris’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

The Porte de la Chapelle area was the scene of so-called “crack hill”, a meeting place for up to 300 addicts, which at its peak in 2020 became a symbol of the French capital’s drug problems.

Since then, police have stepped up patrols, while the hill has been relandscaped and planted with trees, disbursing the dealers and their customers.

“For the last two months, we’ve got far fewer addicts in the area because they’ve moved on,” the head of local residents’ association Vivre au 93 La Chapelle, Jean-Michel Metayer, told AFP.

Migrant camps that were also a constant feature under the raised sections of the ringroad and nearby A1 motorway have also been prevented from forming, under tactics decried by some charities.

“We all hope that the work changes the reputation of th area, which is not very good, above all to encourage shops to move in,” added Metayer. “It’s not easy to do your daily shopping around here.”

The Paris mayor’s office has made the new arena, which will be used for gymnastics and badminton during the July 26-August 11 Games, a core component of its 500-million-euro ($540 million) local overhaul.

‘Fantastic’

When launching her successful re-election campaign from Porte de la Chapelle in 2020, Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo acknowledged “the difficulty of living here because of the migrant camp and drug problems.”

Since then, the traffic-clogged main thoroughfare, which serves as a major route into central Paris, has been torn up.

The space for cars has been reduced, while granite-edged cycle lanes, footpaths and hundreds of trees have been added, reflecting the eco-minded political priorities of Hidalgo’s 10 years in power.

A new Chapelle Charbon park has been added. In late 2025, a university research site, Campus Condorcet, will open for to up to 4,500 people.

The arena—to be known as the Adidas Arena under a sponsorship deal with the sportswear brand—will become the home of the ambitious US-owned Paris Basketball club, which will play its first game in its new home on Sunday. AFP

“Porte de la Chapelle is an area that needs to be reborn, rebirthed, rejuvenated,” David Kahn, co-president of Paris Basketball, told AFP. “I believe that what the city is doing with Porte de la Chapelle is fantastic. It should be applauded.”

Long-term legacy?

Organizers of the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics are keen to present their Games as a low-budget model of sobriety, with almost all the sports set to take place in pre-existing or temporary infrastructure.

A new aquatics centre has also been built from scratch, a few kilometres (miles) away on the other side of the ringroad.

Other facilities, including the national Stade de France stadium, are being upgraded, while events such as skateboarding, beach volleyball or archery are set to take place in ephemeral venues scattered around the city.

Helping regenerate the Porte de la Chapelle area, as well as the nearby Saint-Ouen and Saint-Denis suburbs where other Olympics investments have been concentrated, is seen as one of the most promising legacy achievements of the Games.

But many local residents still need to be convinced.

“It’s great to put millions into improving the avenue, but that’s not going to resolve the security problems,” local bar manager Salim Aouchiche told AFP.

Metayer, from the local residents’ association, agrees.

“During the Games, there’ll be 40,000 police officers on duty. The question that lots of people are asking themselves is what will happen afterwards,” he added.

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