Monday, August 18, 2008

Why and How Chicago Can Land the Olympics

I going to put my bias right on the table South Side style. I think Chicago should get the 2016 Olympics, but they don't deserve it -- yet. The city's proposal isn't green enough.

Chicago is vying for the games with Rio de Janiero, Madrid and Toyko. At this point, I think Rio has the best chance. It will represent a vibrant, growing continent and when was the last time anyone hosted the Olympics in South America? While Toyko has great transportation, it may fall short since Beijing got it this year and it may be too soon to head back to Asia for the IOC.

Then what's my argument for the Second City (actually now the Third City, since Los Angeles passed it up in population)?

Thinking like Mayor Richard Daley, the games would bring major economic development to the South Side of the city. A rail-industrial-public housing corridor that roughly follows State Street south could be revitalized with middle-class housing, more parks and viable neighborhoods. This strip, only blocks from the lake and its abundant park space, would provide more housing for thousands -- all within minutes of the Loop and served by reliable public transit.

As sports columnist George Vecsey put it in The New York Times, ``the fuzzy word infrastructure can be used to justify tax-supported projects.''

But Chicago won't succeed in its bid until it addresses a number of flaws in its proposal:

-- It will need to pump millions into transportation infrastructure to get people from venue to venue. I'm assuming that venues will be spread out over a huge area, probably ranging from the United Center and UIC on the West Side to the temporary stadium near Hyde Park and other facilities at Northwestern, Northeastern Illinois University and Loyola to the north. While the red line can connect a lot of those venues, there's no good way of getting to the McCormick Place/Solider Field area from downtown. A light-rail system would be perfect.

-- It's not forward-thinking enough. The temporary stadium in Washington Park should be replaced with a permanent venue that will seat at least 80,000. Suppose Chicago wanted to host the World Cup or promote the world's most popular sport? It can and should, but can't do it with the relatively dinky Solider Field. Chicago has always thought big, but for this Olympics proposal, it hasn't thought big enough. Look at what the Chinese did for the opening ceremony. Chicago can top that, although they need to put some more world-class facilities on paper.

-- Utilize more of the architectural community. My gosh, the skyscraper was invented in Chicago and is one of the best places on earth to see more than 100 years of high-rise masterpieces, not including the gem Millennium Park. Be bold. Chicago architects are busy designing the fastest-growing cities in the world, why not the Olympics? I haven't seen any truly stunning designs yet and there's no lack of talent working the drawing boards of Chicago architectural firms.

-- The proposal isn't green enough. Why can't every building produce its own power? This can be the first "carbon-neutral" Olympics powered by pollution-free fuel-cell buses. Again, we have the technical know-how to do this. From Argonne National Lab to the Chicago Center for Green Technology, we already have the intellectual infrastructure.

-- There's not enough connectivity. The great thing about Chicago is that city planners chose a plan and largely stuck to it. The Burnham Plan of 1909 created open lakefront and grand boulevards. Montgomery Ward sued to keep the lakefront free of commercial interests. The IC railyards were built over to hide them and created one of the most splendid urban spaces on the planet. What unifying element will connect all of the far-flung venues to downtown?

In creating the first Green Olympics, Chicago will position itself well for the 21st Century. It will provide more middle/lower-class housing. Transportation will be improved. Jobs will be created. It will gain a first-class, large outdoor venue (Solider Field is pathetic). It will create buildings that are environmentally sustainable.

You can do this, Mayor Daley!

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