Can the Olympics Rejuvenate One of France’s Poorest Corners?

Parisians are already grumbling about the crowds for this summer’s Olympics. They envision sweaty tourists jamming the subway cars, making the hell of commuting even more, well, hellish. They are planning their summer escapes; at worst a “télétravail” schedule to work from home.

But not Ivan Buyukocakm. Glancing out at a corner known for drug dealing near his family’s kebab shop in the low-income district just north of Paris, he sees the upcoming Olympics as heralding something totally different: opportunity.

“They are redoing the streets and refurbishing buildings,” said Mr. Buyukocakm, as a woman in a thin coat dragged a grocery trolley toward a dilapidated housing project. “This area is going to be improved. Life could get better.”

That is the hope anyway. French officials have made a lofty promise for the 2024 Olympics: To leverage the 4.5 billion euros being spent on infrastructure for the games to transform one of the country’s most notorious suburbs, Seine-Saint-Denis.

A dense, 90-square-mile department northeast of Paris, it encompasses 40 small cities and has for generations been synonymous with poverty, immigration and crime. Now it will be home to an Olympic Village that, it is hoped, will provide an economic jolt when the games start in July and lasting revitalization once the athletes move out.

Just up the street from Mr. Buyukocakm’s shop, work is advancing on a pharaonic, 52-acre project to turn former industrial lands into a new neighborhood of high rises that promise to be filled with offices, restaurants and shops. Nearby, a new 5,000-seat Aquatic Center will become a sports hub for locals.

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