The Bassin de la Villette and the canals at the northeastern gate of the city were for generations the centre of a densely populated working-class district, whose main source of employment were the La Villette abattoirs and meat market. These have long gone, replaced by the huge complex of La Villette, a postmodern park of science, art and music.

The Villette complex stands at the junction of the Ourcq and St-Denis canals. The first was built by Napoleon to bring fresh water into the city; the second is an extension of the Canal St-Martin built as a short cut to the great western loop of the Seine around Paris. The canals have undergone extensive renovation, and derelict sections of the quais have been made more appealing to cyclists, rollerbladers and pedestrians. A major new arts centre, Le 104, has also helped to regenerate the area.

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