Friday, June 12, 2009

Taking a stand

I've made a point in my adult life to carefully consider both sides of every issue and not cornering myself into any ideological corner. That's why I can't answer questions like "are you a liberal or a conservative" or "are you pro-life or pro-choice" or "what's your favorite reality show?"

I'm like Ringo Starr (definitely not my favorite Beatle) in "A Hard Day's Night" when he was asked by a reporter; "are you a mod or a rocker?" He considers it for a second and says: "I'm a mocker."

Going through some posts written in the five months since I started this blog, I've noticed that I have hardly taken a definitive position on anything. I've written things like; while it would be too bad to demolish St. Boniface, there might be no alternative or, maybe the Children's Museum in Daley Bicentennial Plaza is a good thing, maybe not.

What a dishrag!

That is why the I made a point the other day of coming out and saying that I wholeheartedly support the extension of the lakefront park to the city's borders, and highlighted it in boldface to boot.

The other day I came across a yes/no question on a forum on one of my new favorite websites "Forgotten Chicago" that asked; "are you in favor of the Olympics coming to Chicago?"

Whoa what a loaded question I thought. Honestly I've been thinking as most Chicago folks have about my answer to that question and like most, I can think of good reasons pro and good reasons con.

So I surprised myself this morning when on my bike ride to work a little light went off in my head.

"Yes..." I said to myself, "bring 'em on!"

Why, you might think would I support the mayor's boondoggle, a complete waste of time and money that promises if we are selected by the I.O.C., to tie up the city for years before the games and leave us in debt for many years after?

Good point. Wait, that's not very definitive of me.

I think Mayor Daley would have been remiss to let this opportunity slip by. Chicago didn't get to be a great city, (yes I truly believe it's a great city), by sitting back and resting on its laurels.

Detroit was once a boom town because of the automobile industry. They never expanded beyond making cars and today we see the result.

St. Louis was the most important city west of New York when they were the center of shipping on the Mississippi River. They could have continued their preeminence to this day had they done one thing, build a bridge spanning the river in the early 1850s. But because of the objections of the steamship lines they hesitated. Chicago on the other hand was heavily invested in the Illinois-Michigan Canal which connected the Great Lakes with the Mississippi. That did not prevent city officials from actively pursuing the railroads which stood to take significant business away from the Canal. In 1853 a bridge was built upstream from St. Louis connecting Davenport and Rock Island and the railroads that would ultimately cross the continent all came through Chicago, not St. Louis.

Not that hosting the Olympics will necessarily have the momentous effect of the railroads. But one never knows. I am always amazed when folks complain about forward thinking projects as being too expensive or too risky. Without people of foresight, without the risk takers, and the gamblers, Chicago would be a distant suburb of Kenosha. Sometimes we simply cannot afford NOT to take those risks.

Here's where I think the Olympics could benefit the city the most:

If done correctly, the transportation infrastructure could be greatly improved and expanded. People will need to get to and from venues and automobiles will not cut it. This will be a great opportunity to work on getting new, state of the art transportation systems jump-started, serving especially the neighborhoods on the South Side, where the major venues are planned and that are currently under served.

Again, if done correctly, improvements to the parks where the venue sights will be located can be made. Remember that Washington and Jackson Parks were the sites of the Columbian Exposition. They were returned to magnificence, (which has since faded a bit) after the Fair. I know this is wishful thinking but again let's be definitive.

The incredible visibility of the Olympics will put Chicago on the world stage in ways we can't even imagine. Yes, once more if done correctly and the Olympics come off well, the city will become a major tourist destination. Today tourists from all of the world who visit Chicago love this city. And the folks who have never been here still think that Al Capone reigns supreme. While we natives might take some perverse pride in that, it really doesn't help. We may poo poo tourism but let's face it, the factories, slaughterhouses and steel mills aren't contributing very much to the economy anymore. Tourism not only brings significant capital to the city, it also is great PR that attracts business.

These are benefits that may not be immediately realized. And there no doubt will be benefits that will not be foreseen until well after the torch is extinguished.

I do see some disheartening signs. The mayor in his single-mindedness about bringing the Games here has made some questionable policy decisions, especially related to preservation issues. I'd also like to see more focus on having venues built on the old South Works site in South Chicago rather than in Washington Park.

There I go again.

Let the record state that at 1:12am June 13, 2009, I am officially saying definitively, let the games begin.

Of course tomorrow is another day.

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