The 2016 Summer Olympics is about to complete its first week of competition as Rio de Janeiro plays hosts. It is the first time the Olympics have taken place in South America.
It was not long ago that Chicago put in an aggressive bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, led by former Mayor Richard Daley and a group of high-profile investors. President Obama had great things to say about Chicago, his adopted hometown. So did first lady Michelle Obama, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side.
Politicians, business leaders and sports figures lobbied hard for Chicago in the way this city knows best. But when the announcement came for the first round elimination, Chicago was given the quick boot. Daley, city and business leaders were speechless. The torch was passed to Rio for the first time in Olympic history.
That seems so long ago because so much has happened since 2009. Daley is no longer the city’s mayor. He has since been replaced by Rahm Emanuel, who is dealing with a series of problems that the Olympics would not have shielded. Many columnists have noted that if Chicago did win the bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Daley most likely would still be mayor. I agree that Daley would have stuck around for this occasion, cutting the ribbon and viewing the torch rising above Second City.
But the devastating defeat was probably too much for Daley to bear. He most likely knew the problems that now grip the city were inevitable. It was time for him to pass the torch to Emanuel.
But the Summer Olympics proposal for Chicago had plenty of critics. Opponents predicted that this mammoth undertaking would lose money, as has been the case for other Olympic sites. What lasting effect would the Olympics have on the neighborhoods of Chicago? The critics pointed out that it would have little effect.
I had mixed feelings when Daley and his investors put on a full-court press to bring the Olympics to Chicago. On one hand, we would have had people from all over the world here and Chicago could have been shown in a more positive light. Maybe some of that glow could trickle into neighborhoods that were marked by crime and poverty. Other neighborhoods may have not shared those problems but were usually ignored by City Hall. Maybe the Olympics could give these sections of the city a boost, I thought.
But after the shock of Chicago’s quick departure from the Olympic bidding, I began to realize that was a pipe dream. City planners said that old Michael Reese Hospital site would have been a prime site for the Olympic Village. The city had purchased the land for $86 million. Other proposals would have included a tennis center for Lincoln Park. Canoeing and kayaking would have taken place just north of Northerly Island. Rowing would have taken place near Monroe Harbor. Beach volleyball was proposed for that location as well.
Cycling was being considered at Douglas Park on the city’s West Side. The largest proposal would have been an 80,000-seat track and field stadium for Washington Park on the South Side. The stadium would have played host to opening and closing ceremonies. Organizers also said that an aquatics center would have been at Washington Park. Diving and swimming events would also take place there.
After the Olympics, the main stadium was to be deconstructed and replaced with a smaller 10,000-seat venue.
But I did not hear anything about Chicago’s Southwest Side or the southwest suburbs. Perhaps Toyota Park in Bridgeview would have been utilized, but I’m not so sure about that. It was never mentioned in the original proposals.
My thoughts are that although it would have been historic, the problems that currently seize Chicago and the state would not change. And we could even be even more broke than we are now. The pension crisis, budget woes, a pending Chicago Public School strike, and investigations about a series of police shootings would be greeting visitors to Chicago for the Olympics.
Some problems can’t be washed away. Take Rio, for instance. They have the glorious beaches, parties and beautiful people. But peel away that veil and there is rising crime and poverty. A lack of organization has created long lines to get into events. That is tough for the visitors waiting under a hot sun.
So, I believe we are better off. The Obama Library will be coming to Jackson Park and should draw more tourists and attention to sections of the city that are overlooked. Hopefully, it will help nearby Washington Park.
No changes were planned for the city’s Southwest Side or southwest suburbs. But maybe that is OK. Local municipalities will work hard for their communities. That will not change. I would rather see involved communities because that will mean more in the long term as the torch leaves Rio.
Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.