Two days before they announce the winner of the 2016 Olympics, the IOC has apparently not yet decided on a city. I know, I’m sure it’s hard; billions of dollars are at stake, after all. Years of work and whole careers are on the line. Large, powerful corporations are in the mix. And so in the off-chance any members of the committee are sitting in a Copenhagan hotel room surfing the web in an 11th-hour grab at opinions far and wide, let me add the emphatic voice of a humble young non-expert novelist to the cacophony: IOC, please don’t choose Chicago. Please, please, please, for the love of God, don’t choose Chicago.
More specificially: We don’t have enough money, our schools could probably use several billion dollars, you will necessarily bulldoze/destroy/gentrify an enormous swath of our city, the funding of the proposed village seems impossible and made up, the Tribune’s poll says that we’re totally on the fence (who wants to be in a relationship like that?), and as far as we can tell, you will end up costing far more money than you will generate for our economy.
I will be the first one to admit to a faint and difficult-to-define happiness at the initial thought of Chicago’s national and international profile continuing to swell in the wake of Obama’s victory. The Olympics would focus the world’s eyes here for the next seven years, and to me, that seems like a good thing. Property values would go up, jobs would in fact be created. I personally like swimming and watching swimming. But it takes about five minutes of thinking and reading to realize that Olympic budgets always, every time, swell far beyond what they are supposed to be. Add Mayor Daley’s pledge of taxpayer money to any shortfall, and you’ve got yourself a hot mess in the city of broad shoulders.
Two months ago, my wife began coming home from work with horror stories of what happens when public funding runs out. She’s a social worker, and because of the Illinois budget crisis over the summer, she and all the other employees at the nonprofit community center where she worked (those who weren’t laid off) were forced to turn away mentally ill clients who’d been coming for treatment and care, every day, for twenty years. I understand that state budgets and city budgets are different things, and right now it’s somewhat difficult to point to direct links of causation between this money and those services, but the point I’m making is a general one: the debates are all well and good in the abstract, but when it comes down to it–and this is how it often seems to come down–the arrival of the Olympics in Chicago will be an economic boom for some people and a Herculean gut-punch for many others. By “others,” I mean the city’s already-marginalized populations.
Why do that? Why send your giant machine to us? Or maybe I should turn my head and say it to Chicago people instead: why do this? Why ask for them to come? I just don’t get it. Professional sports are not underrepresented here; stadiums abound; despite being shamefully underrepresented in the media, hurdling is alive and well in our many local high schools. Just the other day I saw someone swimming in Lake Michigan; just the other day I saw someone do an interpretative gymnastic-dance routine on the corner of California and Diversey.
Maybe not the last thing, but still, IOC, I don’t get it. I don’t get you and what you want. This is a city, and on the streets of this city, people’s lives unfold. There are poor streets and there are rich streets, but they’re streets, and it’s a city. It’s not a playground.