Chicago’s Vulnerable Breathe a Sigh of Relief as Olympic Flame is Extinguished

By Guest Columnist Oct 05, 2009

by guest blogger Burke Bindbeutel. photo © John Sisson / Heavy favorite Chicago lost its 2016 Olympics bid to Rio de Janeiro last Friday. While city boosters wept and anti-Obama pundits celebrated, most residents breathed a sigh of relief. In the runup to the decision, the bid’s popularity had gone downhill. 86 percent of Chicagoans opposed the Olympics if they cost the city any money at all; understandable, given Chicago’s track record at finishing big projects on time and on budget. As the Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky notes, "In Chicago, people know that the question isn’t whether city projects will go over budget, but by how much." The desires of the public notwithstanding, $48.2 million of taxpayer money at the city and state levels is already spent, with another $2 billion already lined up, in preparation for the Games. Meanwhile, huge swaths of Chicago have seen services gutted, even as the city’s sales tax has risen to the nation’s highest, 10.25 percent. Maybe a big pageant would be the right excuse to raise enough funds to fight urban decay, as Blair Kamin assumes, but Olympic cities are more likely to use preparations to fight urban residents. Even though the proposed Olympic Stadium in the black neighborhood Washington Park was meant to be temporary, the influx of cash would have permanently changed the southeast side. Housing prices and construction costs would skyrocket, as they did in Los Angeles in 1984 and Atlanta in 1996. Even now that Chicago won’t get the games, the schemes to control the lakefront continue. Most ominous of all is the image makeover that Olympic cities always undergo. Gang sweeps in Atlanta and L.A., a halt to industrial activity in Beijing, and a massacre of nonviolent protesters in Mexico City were all costs of getting ready for the cameras. And what would Chicago have suffered for the Games? Thousands of Chicagoans already live under 24-hour police surveillance. The city is on an Amnesty International list of human rights violators due to a police-torture scandal. The 1968 Democratic National Convention caused the infamous Battle of Balbo, a police massacre of protesters on live national television. Since the Olympics are so highly politicized, and its host cities so eager to present a harmonious front, a never-before-seen security buildup would have gripped the city and squeezed. The Windy City can thank No Games Chicago for their efforts to blow out this torch. Burke Bindbeutel is a writer and prospective law student living in West Oakland. He is publisher of Occidents Will Happen