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A movement to reclaim urban waters? River Seine cleanup shows perks

Media Contact

Jeff Tyson

Paris is embarking on a costly cleanup of its iconic, yet long toxic, River Seine — aiming to make it suitable for swimming ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics. French officials hope the Seine cleanup will inspire other cities to reclaim urban waterways for safe recreation as the climate changes.

Catherine Kling

Tisch University Professor in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and faculty director at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability

Catherine Kling is a water quality monitoring expert and an environmental economist. Kling says improving waterway quality in cities has clear economic benefits and can make cities more resilient in the face of climate change.

Kling says:

“There’s increasing evidence that investments in improving water quality, particularly in or near urban areas, can return many times the investment to residents and appreciators of healthy waterways.  

“These returns show up in increased commercial activity in these locations, higher property values in nearby communities and, most importantly, improved quality of life for residents and visitors.

“Enhancing green spaces in the face of a rapidly changing climate is an economically sound adaptation strategy.” 

Jennifer Minner

Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor; Director of Just Places Lab, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

Jennifer Minner is a professor of city and regional planning. She says Paris provides a clear example of how mega-events such as the Olympics can spark positive, long-lasting effects in cities, but that too often such change is limited to high profile tourist destinations.

Minner says:

“For several decades there has been a growing emphasis on the creation of long-term, positive legacies in the footprint of mega-events. The clean-up of the Seine River is not unprecedented. There were major environmental remediation projects associated with the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and the 2016 Olympics in Rio. A vision of environmental transformation is also exemplified in the creation of the Shanghai Houtan Park for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. Not all of these efforts were equally successful. In the case of Rio de Janeiro, high profile promises famously fell short. Paris is on the hook to deliver, while the world looks on.

“The cleanup of urban waterways and remediation of contaminated lands has great import to the future of cities. In that sense, Paris is demonstrating how mega-events can create a positive long-lasting effect through infrastructural improvements. However, an issue common among mega-events is that the benefits of large-scale projects are typically concentrated in areas that are symbolic and high profile areas of cities that serve tourists.

“Whether the public resources used to support large-scale infrastructure projects for mega-events are equitably distributed or the most impactful approaches — and also whether they lead to issues of displacement through gentrification — are lingering questions in many host cities.”

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