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Paris wants to make the Seine swimmable for the Olympics and the public

“The cities of the world are reconquering their rivers,” said Anne Hidalgo, Paris mayor and the Socialist Party’s presidential candidate.

For decades, the Seine was the smelly companion of the City of Lights.

Declared biologically dead in the 1960s, the river only ever appeared to awaken when floods threatened to spill brown mud water onto the Parisian cobblestone sidewalks. Advances in wastewater treatment have helped. But swimming has been officially banned since 1923. More than two-thirds of all French have a negative perception of the river.

And yet when French officials unveiled their ambitions for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris this month, the Seine was treated like a resurrected national monument, “the most beautiful avenue of the capital” and a place of “unlimited possibilities.”

In a break from tradition, the Opening Ceremonies won’t take place in a stadium. Instead, Olympic athletes and officials will float down the river, waving from more than 160 boats, as an estimated 600,000 spectators watch from stands and streets between the Austerlitz bridge and the Eiffel Tower. In the following weeks, some athletes may not just float on the Seine, but also in it. The river is expected to accommodate the Olympic open water marathons and the triathlons. Once the athletes are gone, officials want to open the river to everyone, reports the Washington Post.

According to this vision, the Olympics would celebrate a turnaround in the river’s fortunes that has been decades in the making. But getting there will still require a final sprint. To date, the Seine’s cleanup has already meant that fish the length of dinghies have returned to the river. Authorities estimate more than $1 billion will be needed before people can safely follow.

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