Why I’m Against The 2016 Summer Olympics in Chicago?


I guess with the Today Show doing a piece on Chicago’s Olympic bid for the 2016 Summer Games earlier this week, it solidified that the rest of the country was aware of the city’s bid.  And I guess it was the beginning of the country’s rallying cry to the International Olympic Committee for the Games to be held on U.S. soil.  

Who gives a flying crap? 

Honestly, most black South Siders aren’t in favor of the Games.  Let me tell you why. 

Primarily, this will be the “final solution” to regentrification on my side of town.  Just in May when I went home and got my car towed and was traveling west on 35th street coming from Cottage Grove and I actually saw random white people walking up down the street as if they lived there and I—ohhhhhhh, that’s right, they DO live there.  Not to mention that they long since had torn down the high rise public housing that had been abandoned as long as I could remember visible from about 41st and Lake Shore Drive on Lake Park Ave.  And to actually see the Ida B. Wells Homes torn down was somewhat of a landmark gone to me.  

aerial shot of ida b wells
The square sets of buildings are the original Ida B. Wells Row Houses. The slanted mid-rises were built a bit later. The diagonal street is Vincennes and 39th Street is just off the camera shot.

And I was partial to it simply because my mother used to live at 667 E. 37th Place from the third grade through high school.  Not saying that she ever wanted to live there again, but the fact that the Ida B. Wells homes were row houses partially built by black laborers in 1941 and housed many of the World War II veterans and their families when the war was over and much like the Altgeld Garden Homes of the very, very Far South Side on 137th, these homes were solid and sturdily built.  Placing them next door to each other and providing yard space meant that they were refurbishable.  They did so with Altgeld Gardens on 137th and with Lowden Homes on 95th street.  I actually watched them vacate all of Lowden Homes (which was built in front of the working class subdivision of Princeton Park) and place sod and air conditioning units in all of the houses and redo the basketball court.  Not saying that I’d jump at the opportunity to live in public housing, but seeing where it used to be, people should be more than thankful for such a roof over their head. 

historical ida b. wells photos
Early photos of Ida B. Wells Housing. Date unknown and street corner unknown.

And that’s the way it should be.  As I continue on my tangent, black folk handled public housing in a weird way psychologically.  If something went wrong with their house, such as plumbing we’d immediately make everyone aware that we don’t own it and how “they” making reference to the city, needs to come fix they ish.  But when it would come down to gangs and misplaced displays of hypermasculinity, people would be ready to fight and start shooting over what housing project they came from.  We laid claim to property we never owned!  Hell, didn’t even pay rent on it! 

Said all that to say that now instead of rundown and unkempt housing projects that still boasted the swing set that my mother played on back in the late 50s, there are now homes priced in the mid-200s to the mid 300s being built on those old plots—ready made for subdivision living.   

The full length shot of Robert Taylor Homes stretching into Stateway in the far in looking north toward downtown Chicago.

It was more than a shock to see a Starbucks Coffee house next door to a Jimmy Johns placed smack dab on the corner of 35th and State Street where Robert Taylor highrises would loom to the south and Stateway would tower to the north split in two with Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) with its minimalist architecture of Mies van der Rohe almost fitting into the staid design of the projects.  Further north on State Chicagoans could be treated to Dearborn Homes, short mid rises, and Harrold Ickes Homes on the south side of Cermak and Hilliard Homes on the north side of 22nd Street, finally ending the near three mile stretch of continuous housing projects. 

In some respects I’m glad they tore ‘em down.  I never saw the reason why some of these complexes still had buildings in tact when on the roll occupancy had long since fallen below the 40% mark, meaning that whole buildings were completely empty—but open to squatters and God knows what other dregs of society set up camp.  I was told by some friends who lived off of King Drive and 35th—not in Ida B. Wells, but that during the 90s that the four or so block jaunt between King Drive and State street provided the perfect Pythagorean trajectory from the rooftops and top floors of Robert Taylor to pick off people with assault and assassin weapons down below in Ida B. Wells. 

So, of course none of the Olympiads will have to contend with this at all. 

bronzeville statue
Bronzeville Welcome statue that faces north toward downtown Chicago at approx. 29th and King Drive.

It’s somewhat a sad note that this near South Side of Bronzeville, which boasts a bronze statue of a man somewhere about 29th and King Drive carrying a suitcase bound for the Promised Land of Chicago has turned into Buppyville.  From approximately 1910, beginning with the census that year until the 1950s, Chicago’s black population boomed and the first destination for many blacks was this small corridor between State Street and Cottage Grove from about 55th to about 22nd give or take a few blocks to the north, east and south—but not the west: that was Bridgeport and even as late at the 1990s racial tensions flared with the severe beating of Lenard Clark. 

This was the 2nd Ward at the time, now 1st ward of the city and since the 1915 elections, had boasted a black alderman, the first being Oscar De Priest.  HAHAHAHA!!! How times change!  They elected a white alderperson for the first time in the last city wide election in 2007. 

As our metropolitan cities beginning to move back toward the white side of the color spectrum, we face an interesting urban crisis.  If I can do a bit more of a history, permit me: 

During the 70s and the 80s, at least in the north, major cities began to see more and more black city council members and most major cities through the 70s and 80s and early 90s had elected their first black mayor: Chicago, Gary, Ind., Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C. (although I still wonder if the claim can be made that D.C. is still a southern city on the basis that it’s south of the Mason-Dixon line and that it was once very legal to trade slaves within the District).  But particularly for the cities in the Rust Belt from Chicago east to perhaps Pittsburgh and north to cities like Buffalo and the Roc (Rochester) and all the industrial cities inbetween,  most of them were facing industrial collapse headed into the 80s and most certainly during the 80s. 

Perhaps, one could chalk this up to Reagonomics I’m sure, but many of these northern cities were seeing new urban phenomena of street gangs and yes, crack/cocaine was hitting the streets during this time.  Isn’t it ironic that many of these cities had substantial black leadership at the time in which to blame the crisis on?  So what did the white folk do—ducked their heads from the flying bullets and headed for the suburbs with a quickness. 

I mean, by the early 90s living in the city was not what was up.  I remember reading murder statistics for Chicago in the early 90s and one year Chicago had well over 700 murders—WTF?!?!?  It’s a wonder I wasn’t shot on the bus headed to school.  I personally remember trying not to match red and black or blue and black colors together for fear of being approached by gang members or being mistaken for someone else. 

harold washington
Late Chicago Mayor Harrold Washington the night of the 1983 election winning the mayoral seat.

Harrold Washington, who many believe was killed on purpose and the coroner just reported heart attack, was instrumental in keeping Chicago together through the 1980s when other northern industrialized cities were in financial and strategic panic mode trying to keep everything together.  Fact of the matter is that Mayor Daley is running off of the juices and long term plans of Washington.  Much of the city beautification that has taken place and public school plans were the result of Washington holding it together.  Although, I’m not convinced that Washington would have handled the public housing in quite the same manner. 

It’s more than evident that Daley’s had been planning for the Olympics long before most of us were aware.  Now the flower pots in the middle of the major streets, Millennium Park, the old Meigs Field scandal and the whole CTA debacle begin to make sense.    As far as the human toll, what happens is that these same people who once occupied the projects unfortunately get Section 8 vouchers and still fail to understand the value of taking care of their own property.  Some will come into mixed income housing, which sounds like an idea that should work, but many of the former housing project residents just don’t get it! 

Or even worse, they and other miscreants head out to the suburbs.  They continue doing the same type of stuff that they did in the city, but out in suburbs with police forces of maybe TEN cops who are more than ill prepared to deal with the sudden influx of violence and drug sales.  Unlike other municipalities I’ve observed where often times the county is the predominant law enforcement for the smaller suburbs, or even in places like Jacksonville, Fla. or Nashville, Tenn. where the county has been consolidate into the city (or vice versa) and the Metropolitan police, or the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is the singular law enforcement for the whole county, Cook County’s collar cities all have, for the most part individual police departments. 

Artist rendering of the Chicago Olympic Stadium in Washington Park for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

I said all that to say that the Summer Olympics, if held in Chicago, seems to mostly affect negatively people of color.  Sure it may provide jobs for some local teens and others when it comes to concession stands and what not, but the Olympic Stadium is slated to be built approximately ¾ of a mile from where I live, or about 7 or 8 blocks in Washington Park, the western border for the Hyde Park neighborhood and I wonder just how many no-bid contracts Daley would end up letting slide to his cronies (I mean this guy already has the truck scandal underneath him and now the parking meter scandal and we keep friggin’ electing him!!!).   I doubt many black or Latino contractors would get the jobs building this massive 100,000+ seat stadium.  

Also, west of Cottage Grove, on 51st on the north, 59th on the south and King Drive on the west, most of the building owners are black, and I just wonder when property values skyrocket because they’d be literally across the street from the Olympics and then property taxes rise, just how are they going to be able to pay them and would not white real estate investors be laying in the wait to scoop what’s left after the dust settles. 

In all honesty, I’m really hoping Chicago doesn’t get the bid at all. 

How would you feel if your city were to get the Olympics in their backyard?  Do you think that it would be a positive or a negative?  Do you think the foreigners would treat the South Siders with respect, or even vice versa?  Have you noticed a whitening of a urban landscape or is that just a figment of my imagination?  Annnnnnd again, who actually read all of this? 🙂

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

8 thoughts on “Why I’m Against The 2016 Summer Olympics in Chicago?

  1. no its not your imagination. one year ago, when I was an architecture major, there was a lot of talk about returning to the older ideas of city planning. one of the very popular movements in the design community right now is the idea of sustainability and post-modern design. Basically with the push for more sustainable environments, the design community realizes that the suburban way of life (created after WWII for the sake of white flight) poses an environmental problem. people making long commutes everyday to and from the city is responsible for highway traffic which only allows more exhaust and fumes from cars into the environment. Also the backlash that arose over modern design and planning over the last couple decades has caused many to move back the way cities were planned before WWII, in a way that increases human interaction and community. (Modern design is often criticized for its inability to connect with the true human experience). In summation, this has caused many in the design community to feel that there is a need to return to the city. There is so much more i could say on this topic, but there is probably more information available on the internet. Also, check out this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1ZeXnmDZMQ

    1. @anonymous student

      Well, you totally opened my eyes on a topic i was wholly unfamiliar with. feel free to expound if you want.

  2. @anonymous student

    Thanks for the link to architectural city planning. After viewing the link, I watched a 6 min film from 2007 re the new urbanism

    While somewhat OT for Uppity’s post, city living is changing as we watch. The whole gentrification of ‘inner city’ (bad, poor, and generally nonwhite) neighborhoods is astonishing to witness. Many times it has been a conscious part of long-range planning that ‘holds’ unattractive urban areas for a future time as urban living convenience demands that ‘the gentry’ return to the city from which it fled after the WWII. Suburbia effectively insulated the adequately
    ‘middle-class’ returning soldiers’ families from ‘inner-city’ influences.

    There is a more insidious plan to closer-in city living–gated communities that effectively exclude former inner-city dwellers. Those citizens are shuttled off to decaying housing stock in suburban no-longer-attractive transportation costly areas.

    Planned obsolescence (1950s)that included real estate investor greed was sanctioned, and it has been allowed to run amok because of American consumerism. Consider the firm(s) that have privatized a community in Atlanta (and elsewhere). The gated, privatized community includes city services (garbage collection, street cleaning, etc.) that now wants to secede from the city so that ‘private’ taxes do not support the greater community from which it benefits.

    The public housing projects in Chicago, specifically satisfied the need to keep the Jim Crow era mandated ‘Black Belt’ intact AND hold valuable land for which private investors rake in windfall profits.

    A new phase of ‘urban renewal’ is happening. Good post Uppity!

    1. @CO

      He gets elected for the same reason Harold Washington was elected: it’s always like three or four blacks running against one white guy. And when Washington ran, it was Daley and Jane Byrne running for the Democratic nomination.

  3. UN,

    I hope you will write more about life in Chicago at some point. This post was very interesting. I visited Chicago this past December and I loved it! I (almost) even loved the 10 below temp. Lol

    Regarding the Olympics; it would be great for anyone with any political connections but for most it will most likly be a bad thing. Any neighborhodd that is on the edge before and near any Olympic sites would probably be lost to gentrification.

  4. This is an issue that I have noticed in Seattle. I just moved here, so of course everything is new to me. As I walked around neighborhoods on foot, trying to scope out places for rent (Craiglist offerings are just the tip of the iceberg), I noticed gentrification was occurring all around me. There were minorities who had clearly lived in the area for a while with new, white neighbors on either side of them. I told my girlfriend, “In 20 years, none of these people will be here, because they won’t be able to afford the property taxes.” Viewing this issue as an outsider, I’m completely ambivalent. I see it only as a natural progression, because I am not tied to the community.

    The town I left, Tucson, has been doing something similar. It is called the Rio Nuevo Program. Basically, all of the old, cheap housing around the downtown area was going to be torn down and replaced with fancy high rises and boutique shops. Fortunately, this economic crisis hit and the program was mismanaged, so the city pulled the plug on it. So far as I’m concerned, the issue for me is that the city’s history is being trampled underfoot by business interests that don’t care too much about the city’s story. The fact that the housing they planned to put it in would be in a price range that excludes most blacks and other minorities from purchasing is a tangent, so far as I’m concerned. To say otherwise, in my opinion, would be to assume there is a grand conspiracy, a conspiracy which I do not see evidence of just yet.

    I’m not going to weigh in on whether gentrification is right or wrong, because I can argue either side equally well. Yet, we can see the results of it if we look at cities like London and Paris. Poorer people are pushed to the periphery and are largely abandoned while wealthier people live in the city center, in safer neighborhoods. The issue, so far as I see it, is not one of race, but of justice and social responsibility. If we are going to literally reorder our cities, then we owe it to the people who are being displaced to take care of them. We have a moral duty, in my opinion, to ensure that all members of our society are cared for with respect and decency. Maybe moving some members of society out of the homes they have lived in violates this, maybe it doesn’t. Either way, more needs to be done to ensure the outcome is just for all involved.

    1. @ NotASeattlite

      Paris is a perfect example. They have completely mistreated the Muslims that have moved and relocated to France, and most of them have moved from Northern Africa and the few West African countries that used to be former French colonies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

      Ironic right.

      And the French government has played them all the way to the left and has left them to fend for themselves. So while we had housing projects in the American cities where the cops were afraid to go in, France has pockets of whole cities and smaller suburbs around Paris that are full of near slums.

      As I said, I’m not sure if I’m in favor or not of gentrification. Sure it looks nicer, I feel safe and wouldn’t mind walking down my hometown’s State Street, but as you said, at the expense of city history and the story, I’m mad as hell–and I’m not apologizing for it. The rich history of the African American story, as told in Black Boy and Native Son is now being lost. I mean, at least find some city money for a city sponsored Bronzeville Museum. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the DuSable Museum on the South Side, within the next FIVE years, Olympics or not in Chicago, there will be no vestiges of what used to be in the old “Black Belt.”

      Thanks for the comments bruh!

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