Mindful Metropolis’s Jacob Wheeler reviews the Olympic possibilities in the September issue:
Will Chicago’s bid for the 2016 games adorn the Windy City in beautiful rings or lock it in handcuffs?
Imagine two glorious weeks of summer when the entire world comes to nearby Chicago — which is our local city, judging by the number of Illinois license plates in Leelanau County during the summer. Imagine August whitecaps on Lake Michigan and sunbathers on North Avenue Beach, and hearing those attractions described in countless languages. Imagine kings and heads of state, Brazilian soccer gods and Greco-Roman wrestlers shopping together on Michigan Avenue. Imagine the world’s greatest amateur athletes pursuing the pinnacle of their dreams, in our city. Imagine President Barack Obama, his hair turned a wise grey, returning home to Hyde Park with only months left in his second term, to ring in the 2016 Olympics.
Like that night in Grant Park last November, and like the World’s Fair in 1893, this metropolis on the lake would once again command the world’s attention. The Olympic torch, that symbol of progress and sport, would pass so close that we’d feel its heat. We’d smile when the Parisians admired our lakefront, the Scandinavians took photos of our solar panels and rooftop gardens and the New Yorkers admitted that perhaps they had underestimated “flyover country”.
But then imagine opening your eyes to a hazy, Dickens-like scene. It’s the dead of winter and the snow is falling, wet and heavy. Weary and disgruntled Chicago citizens are plowing their own streets, filling their own potholes and policing their own neighborhoods. The city is broke, and no longer provides these services. Families are packing up and moving further west, unable to afford to live in the once-working-class neighborhoods where Olympic venues were built. The few who still go downtown carry bags of quarters with them, to pay the parking meters, the toll collectors on Halsted, the lifeguards and the attendants at Millennium Park. The city lost so much money back in the summer of 2016 that City Hall was forced to sell off assets and privatize everything. The 21st century equivalent of Tiny Tim can no longer visit the beach, bike what’s left of the Lake Shore Trail or play in the park.
Imagine that all the money Mayor Daley promised would flow into the city’s coffers from corporate sponsors, advertising, ticket sales and tourism never came close to what Chicago spent to build the venues and Olympic Village, cater to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) needs and provide security for the world’s stage. To balance budgets in the aftermath, the city shut down bus lines, schools and hospitals.
You get the picture. Two pictures actually — two opposite visions of what winning the right to host the 2016 Olympics would mean for Chicago.
A giant door will either open wide or slam shut for Chicago when the IOC gathers in Copenhagen on October 2 to choose between the Windy City, Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro. That decision will forever change one of those cities.