Tomorrow, the city of Chicago will find out whether it has won the chance to compete on the world stage for the 2016 Olympic Games.
If Chicago beats Los Angeles and wins the U.S. nomination, it will vie against such illustrious cities as Madrid, Tokyo, and Rio de Janeiro for the honor of hosting the Games. The winner of that competition, to be announced in 2009, will have to undergo a world of change to prepare for this immensely popular, but extraordinarily expensive, spectacle of sport.
Chicago’s proposal calls for an Olympic stadium with 80,000 seats to be built just west of campus in Washington Park. After the Games, the stadium would be partially deconstructed and converted into a 5,000-seat amphitheater for community use. Similarly, the Athletes’ Village would be turned into a mixed-income housing complex, offering new opportunities for an entire neighborhood on the South Side. The city would finally have the impetus to make much-needed enhancements to area infrastructure, such as improving street lights, repaving roads, and adding parking.
In addition, the large-scale construction projects and influx of an estimated six million tourists would galvanize slumbering sectors of the South Side economy, creating new businesses and hundreds of jobs. Higher population density would increase consumer options, bringing new restaurants, boutiques, and grocery stores. Although some local residents worry about being priced out of their neighborhoods, Hank Webber, U of C vice president of Community and Government Affairs, has praised the plans as “extraordinarily positive.” He believes that the Olympics would provide a unique chance to jumpstart community development, and we share his optimism.
No matter what happens tomorrow, the people of Chicago can be winners if city officials still strive to improve the areas identified by the bid proposal. The Olympic planning process has prompted the city to assess the needs of normally neglected neighborhoods, and top urban architects should continue to investigate innovative ways of raising the South Side to a world-class standard.
The areas around Washington Park need better roads and economic revitalization, regardless of whether a multi-million dollar stadium becomes the new next-door neighbor. Mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago’s philanthropic community should keep the prosperity of these areas among their top priorities, regardless of where in the world the Olympics happen to take place. Such a game plan will not only allow city strategists to capitalize on this golden opportunity but also allow the people of the South Side to benefit from vital economic assistance.