The Ourcq canal, the new festive tourism destination in eastern Paris

In twenty years, I have seen the neighborhood completely change. When I arrived, in 2016, there was nothing“, observes Kai Lorch. This tall German man, a former watchmaking executive, bought the French beer brand Demory Paris in 2009, before setting up a brewery in a warehouse on Rue de Paris, on the border between Bobigny and Pantin. “I wanted to make my own beer. So I left everything to come here“, he says.

© Seine-Saint-Denis Tourism

The map of L’Ourcq, cultural and creative Grand Paris

A party to celebrate the birth of the neighborhood

Like around thirty other actors in the district, Kai Lorch joined the initiative of the departmental tourism committee of Seine-Saint-Denis: giving an identity to this territory which extends from Grande Prairie to Bobigny, up to ‘at the Halle de la Villette, to make it an outing destination in its own right. By first creating a celebration, June 15, presented as “the birth certificate of the district“, baptized “L’Ourcq Grand cultural and creative Paris“. Shows, exhibitions, this weekend plans a dense program. Guided walks will also be offered to discover the different places, the architectural and industrial heritage, and urban agriculture. Walking, cycle paths, cruises… gentle mobility is favored. This founding day will be held a few weeks before the Summer of the Canal festival, the 17th edition of which takes place from July 6 to August 11. In 2023, 18,235 passengers took the river shuttles between Bondy and Parc de la Villette.

“Culture ribbon”

We are working here on a real Copernican revolution to change the center of gravity of Paris in terms of culture and leisure.“, explains Vincent Chartier, head of north-east Paris at Seine-Saint-Denis Tourisme. “All along the canal, you have an ecosystem of places that offer a real ribbon of culture. We can say that we are in one of the largest cultural river districts in Europe. We are going to propose a rebalancing between the west and east of Paris“, he summarizes.

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General stores in Pantin

We need to make the neighborhood known

The transformation of this neighborhood into “cool and contemporary new Paris” as Seine-Saint-Denis Tourisme designates, is not recent. The movement was started by the creation of the large hall of La Villette in 1985. “The area around the canal then begins to deindustrialize. Little by little, places of culture and creative industries are establishing themselves“, says Vincent Chartier, who lists the highlights of the metamorphosis: the arrival of the National Dance Center in 2004, that of the Thaddaeus Ropac gallery, in a former factory on Avenue du Général Leclerc, in 2012, then that of the communications agency BETC, in 2016. “In its wake, cultural barges, third places, artisan brewers, restaurants, art schools like Esmod have arrived. A little further, on the Romainville side, the Fiminco foundation has created a cultural district on the former industrial wasteland of 11,000 square meters of the Roussel-Uclaf pharmaceutical laboratories“, continues Vincent Chartier.

BETC, for its part, has made the former General Stores its headquarters and a cultural center, with completely free programming, focused on emerging creation. “It is one of the first economic players to have taken the gamble of crossing the ring road to settle in Pantin“, underlines Julia Dartois, director of General Stores. The group is also a major player in the new graphic identity that the Ourcq canal district wants to give itself, by coordinating the creation of a map of leisure places published for the first time in 2021 and updated in 2023. It also publishes a “Guide to Greater Parisians” with Enlarge your Paris, to be published soon.

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We need to make the neighborhood known, to bring in Parisians and foreign tourists

The objective for Seine-Saint-Denis Tourisme is to bring together all these actors behind a common image to give visibility to this district. Beyond the catchy phrases, the issue is very concrete. No less than 15 million foreign visitors are expected for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. A stone’s throw from Pantin, the Parc de la Villette will be one of the highlights of celebrations with the France club and the large Parc des Nations. “It’s a pivotal year with the Olympics. We hope that this summer, everyone will realize the richness of this neighborhood“, underlines Lorenza Vincent-Labats, coordinator of L’Ourcq Grand Paris cultural and creative.

We need to make the neighborhood known, to bring in Parisians and foreign tourists“, underlines Simon-Yves Rocher, operations director of Dock B. This hybrid place of 1,300 meters, combining coworking space, performance hall and restaurant, occupies part of the ground floor of the General Stores. “We took the gamble of moving to Pantin in 2018. Since 2022, we have opened a concert hall with 600 seats. With only a local audience, it is not enough to keep such a space alive. But one of the biggest assets of the neighborhood is the great diversity of places and possible activities..”

An alternative to Parisian over-tourism

But, in the longer term, “the idea is also to democratize culture and to circulate audiences between different places“, adds Vincent Chartier. Another advantage for him: “Many sites are starting to fall victim to over-tourism in Paris, which is the world’s leading destination. Our idea is to create new tourist attraction centers to extend length of stay and better distribute visitor flows.“, he points out.

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Over 4km along the canal, the Ourcq district has 30 cultural venues, offers 15 festivals, 30 exhibitions and 400 shows.
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