02 October 2009

Extremely local news: Congratulations, Rio

Were we being selfish? Hell yeah, we were being selfish, but can you blame us? A neighborhood that can't so much as pave a sidewalk without demands for a series of community meetings suddenly had an Olympic stadium plunked down in the middle of our collective back yard without any warning or say-so. What were we supposed to do, prostrate ourselves in thanks to His Royal Highness the Mayor? Here, the ward that pitched a mayoral contender against his father?

In retrospect, we probably should have stated off with a hearty laugh at such a thought, before the protests began.

The optimists leaped early into offense, and the key word was "transportation." It was taken for granted by virtually everyone I know who supported the Olympic bid at the outset all those years ago that the south side would finally be blessed with more and better public transportation infrastructure. No more creaky, ancient Metra cars hogging the old Illinois Central right of way, no more Green line speeding through Bronzeville and then terminating miles from the action on the "wrong" side of Washington Park. There would be more L lines, aptly named Gold, Silver, maybe even Bronze. There would be bus rapid transit along specially repaved streets. There would be light rail and high-speed rail and monorail and lord only knows what other kinds of rail. And there'd probably be miles and miles of bike paths, too, of course, they would add, if I happened to be in earshot. As though that was the only thing that really mattered to me, but how could I argue with substantial transit improvements?

Then the bid came out, and it included no such thing.

The wailing commenced in earnest, and a few minds were changed right away. "They promised us better transportation! What happened?" But if you'd been paying attention, you'd have noticed that they promised us nothing, only a big ol' stadium where the athletic fields used to be and a booming real-estate market that would only have benefited those already rich enough to play Gentrifiers of Catan. But all the fancy condos in the world still can't seem to bring us a Jewel or a Dominick's, or a movie theater, or a place even to freakin' buy some clothes.

Still, hopes were high. We couldn't possibly hope to host the 2016 Olympics without some improvements to transit, right? Even the IOC said as much, and still the plans remained essentially unchanged. Chicago's legacy to the world in the 21st century was going to be street closures for special bus routes and extra train cars borrowed from other transit agencies across the country. Seriously. That was it.

Still the enthusiasm. Olympics this, Olympics that. X would be good for the Olympics. The Olympics would promote Y. If we get the Olympics, then we'll get Z. The Olympics will save us all!

I was skeptical, pessimistic, and increasingly worried. I know others shared my sentiment after the promise, explicit or otherwise, of better transit fell through the floor. We were accused of being selfish. We just didn't want to share Washington Park with the world, was that it?

Damn straight we didn't want to share Washington Park. What was ever in it for us anyway?

Now after our latest, somewhat more disgraceful exit from the world stage, are we finally free to sit around, grumble, sign petitions, and eat our socialist arugula in peace? Probably not, given that it's our last crop: the community garden is going to be razed soon by the University of Chicago, to much outrage, nevermind that it's the university's property in the first place. If you ask me, we've no business on the world stage anyway, being such a grumbly and disagreeable lot. It's all in the spirit of impassioned academic discourse, of course, but that makes for lousy sound bites and terrible sportscasting. No, we'd rather meet the world on our own terms, and possibly argue with it for a while. If we can't, then we'd at least better get an L or BRT line out of the deal.

So congratulations Rio de Janeiro, first South American host city of the Olympics. Better luck (and better planning) next time to ourselves here in Chicago.


At 02 October, 2009 16:18, Blogger Dingbat said...

I nearly spat out my coffee at "Gentrifiers of Catan." Brilliant.

At 02 October, 2009 19:29, Blogger Eric Allix Rogers said...

That's a good explanation for how things unfolded. I straddled the fence until the bid book came out, but the architecture was horrendously uninspired, there was no transportation planning, and they were going to close the lakefront. No siree, Bob. It was very gratifying to hear many of my coworkers cheering when the news broke.

At 03 October, 2009 01:07, Blogger Steven Vance said...

I think you wrote your best entry ever here.
I like that you understand the bid had no provisions for transportation improvements and that the additional vehicles and rolling stock would be borrowed from other transit agencies (the military spent $1.5 million to pay their enlisted to drive in buses from around the country to Atlanta, and the US DOT paid $17 milion for their "rental" and operation).

Learning the IOC eliminated Chicago from voting excited me this morning. It all happened on my bike commute to work on a bike lane that the Olympics would grind away to make room for "Olympic Lanes" for buses (okay, I speculate, but I believe that a likely scenario).


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