"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood ... Make big plans; aim high in hope and work."  
—Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1864-1912)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Highlights from my summer coverage of Chicago's 2016 Olympic Bid

The game is over, at least for Chicago, and my grant is over. I'll keep this blog up as a legacy to the work I did this summer, sharing South Side community stories and trying to give a unique perspective on both the city's fight for the 2016 Olympic Games and its internal struggle over how the Games would impact local infrastructure, taxpayers, and the gamut of public services from education to health care.

If you're visiting this blog for the first time and would like a sampling of what I wrote about this summer, here are links to several stories of which I am particularly proud:

Behind the bid: Ald. Manny Flores rethinks rallying-cry, “No free check!”
(August 21, 2009)

Burnham Plan Centennial invites comparisons to 2016 Olympic Bid
(August 14, 2009)

As bid for the 2016 Olympics heats up, Chicagoans find a natural refuge in Washington Park
(August 6, 2009)

Turnout is low among Washington Park residents at latest Olympics planning meeting (Saturday, July 25, 2009)

Olympics bring inspiration, challenges, to Washington Park Consortium (Sunday, June 28, 2009)

Thanks for reading! For more stories by me, please visit my body of clips at:
The University of Chicago News Office
The Chicago Studies Blog that Works

The Maroon
The San Diego Union-Tribune

Friday, October 2, 2009

Breaking News: Chicago Eliminated in First Round of IOC Voting

Chicago was eliminated in the first round of voting at the International Olympics Committee conference to select the host city for the 2016 Summer Games this morning at 10:30 local time. The IOC voted today in Copenhagen Denmark in 3 rounds; One city is eliminated in each round of voting. Chicago was the first to go, followed by Tokyo.

Throngs of Chicago 2016 supporters in Daley Plaza watched in silence, mouths held open, as Jacques Rogin, president of the IOC, announced the results and proceeded with voting to the second round. Tokyo was eliminated next.

Analysts projected a showdown between Chicago and Rio de Janeiro, the supposed favorite to win because a Games had never before been held in South America. Instead, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro will proceed to the final round. The decision is to be announced by 11:30 local time.

UPDATE: Rio de Janeiro, thought by many to be the favorite to win and Chicago's biggest competitor in the bid, won the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


As I type, government officials and Olympic bid committees from Chicago, Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro, among them President Barack Obama, are readying their final presentations to the International Olympics Committee. The IOC will vote for and select a host for the 2016 Summer Games between 11:30 a.m. and noon Chicago-time. No matter what the final decision brings the city, I had a lot of fun reporting on the politics, social and economic issues surrounding the bid, and I am thrilled that you took the time to read my blog.

I will be covering breaking news tomorrow morning at a block-party hosted by Aldermen Cochran, Preckwinkle, and Dowell at 52nd and Payne Drive, across from the site of the proposed Olympic Stadium in Washington Park. I hope to see you there.

Foot traffic is sparse at 55th and Indiana on a Saturday afternoon; should Chicago win the bid, tourists will frequent the Green Line CTA stop adjacent to this block to visit Washington Park

In the mean time, here is the link to an excellently written Washington Post story about the city's bid.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Olympics News Roundup: 9/29

President—and former Chicagoan—Barack Obama is flying to Copenhagen to meet the International Olympic Committee, in an about-face from his announcement last week that Michelle Obama will represent the White House for the Oct. 2 decision. Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to attend an Olympics conference ...

... But Chicagoans oppposed to the bid aren't alone in asking "What sacrifices must we make to host the Games?" According to USA Today, Obama's announcement that he will fly to Copenhagen to campaign for Chicago met with a flurry of criticism from some Americans, who suggested Obama's time would be better spent making policy decisions about healthcare and Afghanistan ...

... And Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich argues that Chicago's bid is really all about the city's need for love—and money.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chicago 2016 touts green spaces, water access, as hallmarks of the bid

If Bob Accarino has his way, and Chicago wins the 2016 Olympic bid, the Olympic Stadium seats will be recycled into 80,000 wheelchairs when the games are over. Accarino is the chief environmental sustainability consultant for Chicago 2016, the city's bid organizing committee, and he has made it his job to scout out innovative programs to make Chicago's bid more eco-friendly.

As the decision nears, Chicago 2016 has been highlighting the green and blue aspects of the city’s bid—from tree-planting programs to public service programs to bring clean water to the third world.

Accarino and the Chicago 2016 committee presented these plans and fleshed out the connections between sports and the environment at the Summit on Sport and Sustainability they hosted from Sept. 10-11 at the Hilton.

The Summit brought together environmental experts, sustainable development companies and the organizers of major sporting events like the Boston Marathon and the Super Bowl to discuss ways to reduce their environmental impact.

“We live in a city that has a strong history of being sensitive to the environment,” Pat Ryan, chairman of Chicago 2016, said at the Summit’s opening ceremony, citing the city’s sprawling public parklands and LED certified buildings. “We want the Games and the seven years leading up to the Games to leave a sustainable legacy for our environment for generations to come.”

All four candidate cities are proposing environmentally-conscious initiatives. Madrid, for example, has plans to expand parklands and bike-lanes by thousands of kilometers, Tokyo will “recycle” the venues it used to host the 1964 Games.

But according to Accarino, several features of Chicago’s plan distinguish it from the “green” competition. “We built upon the foundations the city already has… and came up with independent programs that can be initiated before, during, and after the Games.”

Most apparent about the bid’s commitment to environmental sustainability is how it wants to go beyond the color “green,” in name and in practice.

The bid touts itself as the “Blue-Green Games,” Accarino said, and makes clean water access a focal point. Because “Chicago is right on Lake Michigan, we have a responsibility not to cause any harm to local drinking water resources. Even though we have a lot of water, we should be looking at water as a precious resource.”

“The Olympic Games provides one of the largest marketing platforms in the world,” he added, and this compels the city’s bid to use the events to address world poverty issues.

Still, some critics of the bid have suggested that Chicago 2016’s proposals amount to little more than “green-washing,” and that the plans are too vague to be successful. But Accarino says the ambiguity over exactly what forms of renewable energy the bid would implement is an asset.

“One of the real technology challenges we’ve had in terms of transportation is that we don’t know what’s going to be around in 2016,” he explained. “We know we want to use [fuel-efficient cars,] but if we say we’re going to have all hydrogen vehicles, and they weren’t marketable by 2016, then that would be a real problem for us. We have to be somewhat general—we’re not sure if there will be electric vehicles or carbon vehicles or hybrids.”

One project Accarino supports that is not part of the Olympic bid, though it shares part of the bid’s name, is the Urban Lab “Eco Boulevard.” Urban Lab, a local urban design firm, used the increasing scarcity of clean water as the departure point for the ambitious project, which would convert a series of city streets into small parks filled with micro-organisms that clean stormwater and run-off. Urban Land designers are discussing these plans with city government.

“We realize that the Games here in Chicago would be a great catalyst for really innovative projects like that,” Accarino said. “Think about the CTA stops many people would take to go to the stadium, [55th St. and Garfield Blvd.] That could become a Blue-Green Blvd.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Olympics News Roundup: 9/11

First Lady Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama and head of the White House Office for Olympic Sport, both former Chicagoans, will be traveling to Copenhagen in October to be present for the IOC's final vote. Michelle announced her decision to attend Friday morning. Chicago 2016 and city officials have speculated that Chicago will secure the bid if President Barack Obama attends the IOC's October conference ...

... While back in Chicago, the City Council's finance committee recommended Wednesday that the full council approve Mayor Daley's plans to give the Olympic bid a full financial guarantee from city government. The ordinance up for approval, which was originally presented by Ald. Manny Flores (1st ward) as a $500 million spending cap but has since been amended, would require the bid's organizing committee to provide and publicize quarterly reports on spending and cost-overruns ...

... Yesterday Chicago 2016 kicked off its Summit on Sport and Sustainability, a two-day lecture and workshop series for environmentally-conscious organizations and sports managers. Keynote speakers who are scheduled to speak today include Robert Kennedy Jr. and Tony Blair ...

... And Chicagoans respond to the new audio advertisements for the bid playing on various CTA buses.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Is Chicago still game? The final 30 days will tell, say alderman, activist

Less than a month shy of the International Olympics Committee's Oct. 2 decision on who will host the 2016 Olympics, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington sat down with fourth ward Alderman Tony Preckwinkle, and Jay Travis, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization to talk TIFs, housing, and city finances.

Both Preckwinkle and Travis had information to clarify surrounding the increasingly complex relationship between Chicago 2016, the bid committee, City Hall and South Side communities.

Preckwinkle, who's ward contains the site of the Olympic Village and neighbors the sites of the Aquatic Center and Olympic Stadium, cautioned that decision is not "set in stone." Because there has never been an Olympics in South America, she explained, Rio has a particular advantage over the other cities vying for the bid, which include Tokyo and Madrid. Nonetheless, Preckwinkle pointed to the Civic Federation report, commissioned by the city council, as evidence that Chicago's bid has a firm financial foundation.

Travis, a community organizer and one of the founding members of the Communities for an Equitable Olympics (CEO 2016), thinks the Olympic bid stands to negatively impact her community, Bronzeville, if her neighbors don't do something about it. Bronzeville lies north of Washington Park, and would be host to the Olympic Village.

The event took place at the Chicago History Museum last Tuesday evening, Sep. 1. as part of the museum's In the K/Now speaker series. Chicago 2016 declined an invitation to send a representative to speak at the event.

"Displacement often occurs within neighborhoods that are within the Olympic footprint, and that displacement doesn't always happen because of the demolition of homes around Olympic venues. that displacement is caused by housing costs due to escalating rent values," Travis said. CEO 2016 has already played an instrumental role in drafting the Memorandum of Understanding, a document that binds Chicago 2016 officials to the promise to create affordable housing and jobs via the Olympics. But Travis said CEO 2016 is now filing a Freedom of Information Act request to learn about how the city plans to use TIF dollars and other public funds in the neighborhood venue sites.

"I would like more transparency around the use of public fund and public dollars," she said. "We've heard over and over and over that there will be no public funds, except the 500 million that the city is holding, and except for the 250 million that the state is holding. No money except for the TIF funding ... Where will that money be used?"

According to Preckwinkle, there will be a tax increment financing initiative, (TIF) for the Olympic Village in her ward, and there is a proposed TIF for Washington Park in the 20th ward. The TIF for the Olympic Village, she said, will be used to finance new water-mains and streets—infrastructure investments that the city would need to make to successfully redevelop the neighborhood, with or without the Olympics.

"But I think Jay is quite right," when it comes to the need for transparency, Preckwinkle added. The city council was able to pass an ordinance in support of the Memorandum of Understanding because, "not only were we able to build a consensus in City Council, but there were local groups building around the issue."

Travis acknowledged Preckwinkle's help in passing that ordinance, but is worried that it will not legally bind Chicago's Olympic Organizing Committee, which will not be formed until after Chicago wins the bid, to any of the promises for transparent finances, affordable housing or local job creation.

"There's an opportunity for the city, if the city should win the Games, to figure out how to do development in a way that doesn't displace people," Travis said. "But if we don't have the right checks and balances, the Olympics could exacerbate a lot of the issues that are already happening in our neighborhood in terms of displacement."