Olympics in Chicago 2016

It is potentially foolhardy to predict the future, even on the Orwellian internet that allows you to rewrite history as fast as you can type, but the fact of the matter is it is September 30 and Chicago has not been awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics but the POTUS is going to shill for the city at the IOC meeting in Copenhagen so I think we are the team to beat.

Some of my friends are totally against this, for reasons ranging from the obvious public cost and funding issues to the landmarks issues, which include permanent alteration of the most intact Frederick Law Olmsted landscape in Chicago – Washington Park – to demolition of a bunch of Walter Gropius buildings for the Olympic Village. Those issues are still there and they are not finalized, although the city is proceeding with the demolition for the Olympic Village with typical clumsiness, most recently half-demolishing the Laundry Building with a comically clumsy asbestos-abatement that involves a lot of plastic wrap blowing in the wind. Hmmm. Seems to defeat the purpose.

I was in the Bird’s Nest and outside the Water Cube this summer in Beijing. Heck, I saw them last summer from a distance. For Beijing it wasn’t about money, it was about pride. They ALMOST won the right for the 2000 games – that was a tough loss and they knocked it out of the park in terms of an event and promotion of the home nation and even the home city.

I guess it is pride that makes me lean toward wanting the Olympics. The funding issues don’t bother me – Millenium Park was four years late a hundreds of millions over budget and two weeks after it opened it didn’t matter. Every citizen felt a part of that place and made that place their own and the park is kicking off 20 times its construction cost in nearby rehab and development.

The landmark issues do bother me. Gropius is not my favorite architect, but he has a lot of the 20th century resting on his back and to have a near south side in an American city with a chunk of Mies on one side and a chunk of Gropius on the other side is an architectural historian’s fantasy island. Forget the Wiessenhofsiedlung: check out Michael Reese and IIT.

Washington Park is an area of concern. Our best bet after the temporary stadium goes is a 2,500 seat amphitheater that might disappear like the ha-ha of a Jacobean castle. Might. From some angles. I still don’t get why they can’t put it on the mostly empty blocks just east of the park – and closer to the ‘L.”

I traveled the world 23 years ago and everyone asked me whether Chicago was near Los Angeles or New York. And how was Al Capone. I came back and realized Chicago is as worthy of attention as any great city I have seen. It is what it is, and it is a city that can sit with Barcelona and Rio and Beijing and Athens and Rome and London and Seoul and Sydney.

22 years ago Le Monde said Chicago’s great contributions to world culture were the blues and architecture. Yes. Sure you got the wink-wink politics (that ain’t beanbag) and development deals that seem crafted out of Play-Doh in a nursery school and a funding scenario that looks like it is sailing off the edge of the earth and some real important historic resources that may – or may not – be ruined in the less-than-transparent process, but…

maybe sitting on that stage will remind others to make us realize what we have.

FRIDAY AM UPDATE: The decision is a few hours away. Eric Zorn’s piece in the Trib today nailed it: having the Olympics is like having a child. It doesn’t make practical or economic sense; it is about love. Colleague Craig Downs put it well on FB: if we get it I will be happy; if we don’t, I will be relieved. That’s about right.

10:22 AM. Apparently Chicago flubbed the final presentation. Rio is now the favorite.

11:37 AM. Totally flubbed it. We finished last. Yow. Now what are we gonna do with those Gropius buildings? Good news for Washington Park. And cricket.

12:23 PM. Rio wins. I guess that was sort of obvious in retrospect. Sex appeal. Nobody beats Rio in terms of sex appeal. Eric Zorn was right about the nature of the decision, just wrong about who the IOC wanted to impregnate.


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