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Chicago is a finalist for the 2016 Summer Olympics because it has the infrastructure, history and potential capital to put on a world-class games that would erase the embarrassment of the Athens Games, notoriously mis-managed. Well, the people invented the damn event, give 'em a break.

The thought of a huge event like the Olympics — some 10 to 15,000 athletes, twice as many press and media, and 20 times as many out-of-town spectators — makes many Chicagoans cringe. Twitch, even. It would be like the Gay Games times a thousand, only with uglier shot-putters.

Not only that, but historically, big events have been an excuse to wipe out entire neighborhoods and transform neighborhoods. Ask Chicagoans who remember what Greek Town and the Warehouse District used to look like before the Democratic National Convention in 1996. Or ask someone from Philly or South Jersey what the Admiral Wilson looked like before the Republican National Convention in 2000, when they wiped out most of the strip clubs and whorehouses and just threw up a big concrete wall to block the rest from view.

Conversely, after Athens 2004, the city left the athlete housing to become affordable worker housing.

So the question is, how would Chicago use its Olympics? For good, or for evil?

Personally, I don't care one way or the other if Chicago gets the Olympics. I don't think it would bring enough money, at the end of the day, to truly justify the immense resources we would have to invest in luring the event and building the necessary infrastructure. Nor am I that peculiar type of booster who thinks hosting an Olympics is the only way we can hope to qualify as world class.

But also: I don't think hosting an Olympics would lead to mass gentrification, would spoil "our Chicago," or be such a headache that it would drive us out of the city.

But an Olympics, an event like the Olympics which would be used as a justification for over $5 billion in construction and development spending and facelifting parts of our landscape to render them unrecognizable, can be used for good or evil. Good: affordable housing, mixed development, keeping money in the neighborhoods. Evil: wipe out more of the South Side.

Although some see the Mayor's focus on the South Side as the locus for an Olympics as an election-time gambit on the heels of his "defense" of economic development in predominately black neighborhoods by vetoing the Big Box Ordinance, it is just as likely that it's a maneuver to strike again at the area that used to be known as the "Black Belt" — that strip from the South Loop down to Hyde Park along State Street.

The housing complex being planned for the athletes would include thousands of units along the Lakefront — and after city funds are used at least as seed money in this development, what will happen to these housing units? Well, they'll become private condos sold off to the highest bidder, at a time when the Chicagoland housing market is becoming increasingly saturated with condominiums already wildly over-valued.

The $1 billion collapsible stadium, which would be built over Washington Park, is an interesting choice. Washington Park, of course, is what cuts Hyde Park off from what is increasingly trickling Englewood. Plopping a complex for an Olympic village, and all the infrastructural and support changes that would require (drive around Hyde Park recently?) means carving out into Hyde Park, the way the Democratic National Convention rehab carved into the Warehouse District and East Garfield Park. Now, would the Mayor — and, most likely, his successor, since this Daley most likely will not make it to 2016 in office — make sure that whatever revenue flows into this area stays in this area?

Whatever the case, Chicagoans can't sit back and let this administration do what the administrations of other cities have done: plan for the Olympics in secret, bringing business interests in together to the exclusion of people in the community. If we are going to host this huge event that could permanently change a significant part of our city, we have to make sure that neighborhood people — not just some bogus committees drafted by loyal aldermen — are a real part of it and that we all profit from it, and that what changes in our city changes in order to benefit those who give a little up.

If we don't, if a group doesn't come together to make sure that any planning committee is accountable to the public, then we're just giving a little bit more of our city up to the developers and the interests and the government and saying, yet again, that Chicago isn't us — it's them, up there, in the rarified air.

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Cliff / September 27, 2006 4:07 PM

Great article. The balance of good and bad the Olypmics brings a city is easy to see and tough to justify. My familiy lives near Atlanta and we remember the inconvience of the demolition and construction from the 1996 Olympics. The city demolished swaths of public housing to build athletic housing that reverted back to public housing afterwards. But this displaces the residents until the event is done, and in Atlanta they built highrises that are near the center of the city but are away from amenities like grocery stores and banking. Isolation of an economic demographic doesn't solve the problem.

The monstrosity that became Turner Field (as if Ted Turner needs another monument to his ego) tore up south Altanta neighborhoods and divided those neighbors, much like the Kennedy expressway here in Chicago. Those divided neighborhoods in Atlanta are now dying a slow death from economic isolation.

I moved to Chicago over 3 years ago. I love living in Chicago. Chicago doesn't need the Olympics to be a world class city. It already is one.


About the Author(s)

Richard F. Carnahan is a true South Side Sox fan who's played a bit part in Chicago politics more than once over the years. Contact him at

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