Les Olympiades: WTF?

No other part of Paris has undergone such a radical transformation as the 13th arrondissement in the last 50 years, and nowhere is this more visible than at the Olympiades development, celebrating its 40th birthday this year. But have these transformations been successful?

Rarely has a shopping centre been less appropriately named than the Centre Commercial Oslo. Sandwiched at the heart of the Olympiades development, it is home to a strip of Asian restaurants and stores. Alongside the original signage – sporting hellenic-inspired font in Greek blues and whites – Chinese lanterns hang from the false ceilings, and gaudy baubles flash in shop windows.

These befuddling contrasts though are typical of the Olympiades development, and provide much of its charm, although I’m not sure that this word is appropriate in this setting. There was no deliberate aim to confuse here – the shopping centre was baptised Oslo simply because it was once an Olympic host city. Surrounding this facility are towers named Sapporo, Mexico, and Tokyo, and housing blocks labelled Rome, Grenoble and Squaw Valley.

The Olympic theme was a marketing tool, but there was also initially a plan to incorporate a vast complex of sporting facilities into the development, making the Olympiades an environment that would inspire healthy living. Without leaving the development, or stepping into the streets of Paris that surrounded the city within the city, residents would have been able to access gymnasiums, swimming pools and athletics tracks. The final result though was far from these initial plans.

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