In the gardens of north-eastern Paris, between crack, trafficking and the presence of wandering lonely men, few walkers and families venture out. Olivier Ansart, the president of the Association for the follow-up of the development of Paris Nord-Est (ASA-PNE), looks back on the origins of this situation and outlines solutions to remedy it.
When did you notice the deterioration of the situation in certain parks and gardens in the North-East?
OLIVIER ANSART. From 2012-2013. And then everything accelerated in 2015 with the migratory pressure, and the successive camps in the 18th, 19th and 10th arrondissements. Quickly half a dozen parks, in a small geographic area, found themselves populated by lonely men. This is the case of the Rosa-Luxemburg gardens (18th century), or of the Girafe square, rue du Département (18th century) which are even now, on Fridays, places of prayer. Eole, long before recent events, had to deal with the problem of crack for many, many years. As for the Louise-de-Marillac garden (18th century), Place de la Chapelle, however recently redesigned as part of the work on the urban oasis, it is completely handed over to cigarette traffickers. Children’s games have been withdrawn, and not one has set foot there for a long time. These different groups of men, even when they are not engaged in illegal activities, have indeed taken over the green spaces on a massive scale. The inhabitants are waiting for solutions that do not come.
The City has made several commitments to this issue. No positive results were felt?
Very occasionally, there have been small improvements. In Rosa-Luxemburg, which now benefits from guarding, the children’s play area has been preserved a little and the neutralization of a footbridge which housed the traffic had some effects. The drugs have disappeared, but the wandering men are present in great numbers. The Giraffe Square is in total perdition: the animal sculptures which amused the children have been totally degraded, like the rest of the places, moreover. The brand new Chapelle-Charbon park (Editor’s note: inaugurated in July 2020) is the only place families can go. The City knows that it has no room for error in this new space, and it is investing in it! It is efficiently guarded, well designed and maintained. Children, like walkers and athletes have their place there.
What solutions would you find effective to win back the squares?
The first: permanent guarding, with appointed agents, which is no longer the case since the City decided to pool the surveillance of green spaces by calling on private companies. There are certainly patrols, but more is needed to manage the issues on a daily basis. With regard to trafficking, increased resources are also needed: the DPSP (Editor’s note: the security service of the City of Paris) is not able to intervene effectively. Migrants, finally, who stagnate in the parks, should be taken care of, included in a follow-up route… But they are left to be abandoned. And when there is a concentration of these vulnerable men, the smugglers are never far away. The City should look the situation in the face: it is not with a few activities, educational farms, that the problems will disappear.