Paris 2024 Summer Olympics: the unprecedented alliance of ecological sobriety and competition

For a long time, the Olympic Games favoured excessive infrastructures over the environment, but now times have changed. The 2024 edition organised in Paris aims to ‘put ephemerality at the service of sustainability’. 

Compétition d'athlétisme

After Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo, to name but a few of the summer editions of the 21st century, Paris will host the next Olympic Games. In the summer of 2024, 10,500 Olympic athletes will arrive in the French capital to compete at 39 venues, most of which will be located in the Île-de-France region. Shortly afterwards, 4,400 Paralympic athletes will be expected at 17 dedicated sites. While 13.5 million tickets are expected to be sold for the competitions, organisers expect 600,000 spectators to attend the opening ceremony, which will not take place in a stadium but in the heart of Paris along the Seine.

 

 

Despite these impressive figures, this 2024 edition - eagerly awaited after the last Tokyo celebrations were disrupted by the health crisis - intends to turn its back on the excesses long associated with the Games. Its watchword is ‘sobriety’, but without cutting back on the spectacle. The Paris Olympics, which will cost 3.9 billion euros to organise and will be financed almost entirely by private funds, will take place on 95% of existing or temporary sites. In addition to highlighting the architectural wealth of the host country, the objective is to reduce the carbon impact of the event. Only two sports facilities will be built specifically for Paris 2024: the Saint-Denis Aquatic Centre and the Le Bourget climbing site.

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Carbon neutrality by 2050

However, the sites that are currently under construction are not limited to these two facilities: Solideo, a company that specialises in delivering Olympic venues is financing, developing and supervising the construction of 62 permanent Olympic infrastructures, for a total budget of 3.6 billion euros. These include the future Arena Porte de la Chapelle, a brand-new cultural centre in the north of Paris, and above all the nerve centre of the competition that is the Olympic Village and the Media Village, in Seine-Saint-Denis.

A total of 14 competition venues for 24 Olympic sports (out of 32) will be spread over a 10-kilometre radius around the Village. As a builder, Solideo claims three main strategic orientations: a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, a guarantee of urban comfort under the 2050 climate and a positive contribution of the urban project to biodiversity.

As a symbol of favouring eco-design, the proximity to the Seine was put to good use: 96% of the soil from the work site developing the public areas of the Olympic Village was evacuated by boat. These 210,163 tonnes of soil correspond to 10,4000 20-tonne lorries, which avoided traffic on Parisian roads.

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Reversibility at the service of residents

One of the major ambitions of the organisers is to ‘put ephemerality at the service of sustainability’, by integrating the second life of the new infrastructures right from the design phase. After some reversibility construction work, the Olympic Village and the Media Village will be converted from 2025 onwards into more than 3,500 family homes, but also into student accommodations, offices and activities.

In addition to the construction of schools and nurseries, other major developments are planned, such as the burial of high-voltage lines, or the setting up of noise reducing barriers and of a footbridge over the Seine. Parks and gardens, islands of greenery will encourage meetings between residents. With the emergence of these new neighbourhoods, the post-Olympic legacy is being put to use in urban development.

In the past, ‘several editions have succeeded in bringing long-term benefits to the host countries’, according to the American journalist Henry Grabar. As an urban planning specialist, he has closely studied the transformations brought about by hosting the Games. The 1964 Tokyo Games are a good example of the opportunity that such an event can represent. ‘For Japan, at the time, it was a real opportunity to show the world its modernity and to move away from its post-war image,’ he explains. ‘The Shikansen, a famous high-speed train system, was inaugurated for the opening of the Games, which provided the perfect pretext for accelerating the country's development.’

Putting an end to the excesses of the past

Over time, however, the myth of progress that was systematically associated with hosting the Games has eroded. From Athens to Sochi or Rio, there have been several ‘white elephants’ causing painful memories for the local population; this term refers to an expensive but little-used infrastructure that eventually becomes a financial burden for local authorities and their taxpayers, even if it is abandoned. This has damaged the attractiveness of the Games to such an extent that in 2014, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) almost ran out of candidates to assign the 2022 Winter Games, which were finally held in Beijing.

A few months later, in order to renew the interest of cities deterred by those astronomical organisational costs, the IOC introduced its ‘Agenda 2020’. This plan put forward a new philosophy to potential candidate cities: ‘to present a project that is consistent with long-term economic, social and environmental planning needs.’

‘Paris 2024 is the first test of this new strategy, which will show that the excesses of the past were not necessary,’ analyses Henry Grabar, for whom this model echoes the 1984 edition of the Los Angeles Games, marked by very little new construction. This sobriety, which was at the time motivated by the economy, will soon be back in the Californian megalopolis: at the forefront of the fight against climate change, Los Angeles will indeed succeed Paris in organising the future Summer Games, planned for 2028.

 

 

Credits : Shutterstock ; © Pichet / Legendre ; © Tokyo 2020