To the east of Paris, this emerging district wants to become a cultural reference in Europe


Augustin Delaporte

Published on

May 19, 2024 at 8:02 a.m.

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It was a gray desert east of Paris. A succession of industrial wastelands clustered together along the Ourcq canal, corrupted by crack. Then color emerged again. First in small steps, spontaneously or through vandal artists. It then spread over the water like wildfire. Culture had found its new playground in Puppet. A laboratory to try, create, reinvent oneself. Today, its actors want to unite. With a crazy ambition: “to change the center of gravity of Paris”.

Land of explorers

“It’s a revolution that started forty years ago with the construction of the Parc de la Villette on the site of the former slaughterhouses. A revival in the east, driven at the time by a strong political will. Then, as is often the case in neighborhoods that have fallen into disrepair, it’s the culture that allowed a rebirth. There was land available, it was cheaper than elsewhere, so some people tried their luck. This helped to gradually change the image of the district,” rewinds Vincent Chartier, in charge of communications for Seine-Saint-Denis Tourisme.

For a handful of years, new buildings have been springing up along the canal. (©AD / news Paris)

Kai Lorch was one of them. The former German executive, who took over the “Demory Paris” brand in 2009, decided to set up his brewery in Bobigny in 2016. He remembers: “in a few years, the decor was turned upside down. We must remember that in the 2010s, it was a bet to come and settle here. It was inexpensive, and we were happy to be able to settle in a city and not in an industrial area, but there was practically nothing.”

The walls overlooking the canal are also witnesses to this transformation. “Some of the vandal artists, who brought the neighborhood back to life illegally, are now world-famous and receive orders for urban frescoes to be created in the area. Graffiti is part of the canal’s DNA. Vandal artists and street artists coexist there,” we are told at Seine-Saint-Denis Tourisme.

Place of life of peripheral cultures

In line with this alternative identityArnaud Perrine, president of the Glazart electronic club, set up a green wasteland with free accessthen an “open air” in the middle of Covid, both directly under the ring road (the Jardin21 and the Kilomètre25) and facing the canal.

“It was a kind of dump. From a cadastral point of view, the place just didn’t exist. At the time, we were told it was crazy to open at a time when everyone was closing. In fact, we were devoured by success,” he smiles.

National Dance Center, Philharmonie de Paris, Cabaret Sauvage, etc. As at KM25, culture and celebration overflow all along the canal. It remained to build bridges.

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The emergence of a new district, without administrative borders

In this sense, and under the leadership of the departmental tourism development agency, thirty cultural places recently came together to form a collective and thus build in the coming years “one of the largest river-cultural districts in Europe”, stretching from the Maison de la Culture in Bobigny to the Rotonde Stalingrad (19th).

American artist BK Foxx created a fresco representing actress Marion Cotillard along the canal. (©AD / news Paris)

For that, the BETC advertising agency, which occupies the offices of the Magasins Généraux creation center in Pantin, designed a digital identity with a logo and a website, in particular. “We will find the district’s agenda there, like a showcase of its excitement,” comments Lorenza Vincent-Lasbats, culture project manager at Seine-Saint-Denis Tourisme. The neighborhood map, called “au fil de l’Ourcq” and which dates from 2021, has been updated and widely distributed.

The thirty cultural places in the district
The thirty cultural places in the “L’Ourcq, cultural and creative Grand Paris” district. » (©SSD Tourisme)

The operations director of the hybrid venue Dock B, Simon-Yves Rocher, agrees. “At first glance, we don’t necessarily see the link between the Fiminco Foundation and us, who are in the catering business and who have a very rap-oriented program. But on the communication aspect, it offers the public a broader understanding of the neighborhood. In the same day, a person may want to consume culture in several ways.”

A festive birth certificate planned for June 2024

To tease the impact of this new alliance and introduce its assets to those who do not know the neighborhood, a big free party will take place on June 14 and 15. “It will converge towards the Place de la Pointe in Pantin and will be a perfect appetizer with a taste of coming back,” says Seine-Saint-Denis Tourisme.

For Vincent Chartier, this new district will be a response to overtourism, with an east/west rebalancing of the capital. “We also hope to address an international audience during the JOP, with the Archi-Folies de la Villette in particular, these 20 ephemeral pavilions designed by architecture schools and dedicated to foreign federations. »

Other avenues for the future are also being considered: signage in public spaces, discounts between locations and, who knows, maybe one day, a dedicated association. To carry the new colors of the neighborhood high, well beyond the canal.

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