Monday, March 30, 2009

People who screech “no” usually don’t have enough vision to see the future

There is one thing I have learned during just over two decades of covering public policy and attempts to implement major projects – there’s always someone who will screech “no.”

And while I’m not saying that every objector is a crackpot, the fact is that there are people whose objection is centered around the fact that they don’t want anything in their “backyard.”

THEY’RE THE “NIMBY” crowd – they will scream “no” just because it will be the only time anyone will pay attention to them.

So if you get the impression that the people who are opposed to bringing the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago are not swaying me to their side, you’d be correct.

And if you figure out that I think a new group calling itself “No Games Chicago” is a batch of Facebook fans with way too much free time on their hands, you’d be correct. There are those among us who would like this rendition of an Olympic Stadium for Chicago to remain just a dream. Illustration provided by Chicago 2016.

But these people are going to get their moment of public attention – their 15 minutes of fame, so to speak – this week, when the International Olympic Committee makes its trip to Chicago to give our home city the once-over to see if we are worthy of hosting the summer Olympics to be held seven years from now.

THESE PEOPLE USE a weblog and a Facebook page to promote their idea, which if you don’t give it much thought sounds so noble.

“Better Housing – Schools – Buses and Trains.”

They’re trying to push the idea that the money spent to give Chicago some quickie cosmetic improvements and build (or upgrade) the athletic facilities required for an international spectacle such as the Olympics would be better put to use to upgrade education, housing and public transportation for the masses.

Now I know some people are going to read this commentary and respond that my cynicism has made me snotty (if not elitist). But whenever a major project that would significantly alter the face of the city is put forth, you will always get some local resident who will complain that they don’t want change, and would rather see the money go elsewhere.

IN FACT, THEY will always cite schools or hospitals or mass transit or something along those lines as a better use for the money that would have paid for construction.

I’m skeptical, in part because even if we did put that money into these areas, there’s the likelihood that these people would complain that we’re still not spending enough. This is empty rhetoric, nothing more.

But another problem is that we, the people of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs that comprise the metropolitan area, can’t often agree on what constitutes “improvement” in those areas.

We could take some of this construction money and try to direct it to the Chicago Public Schools. But what about those people who don’t put their kids in the public school system? They’re going to complain that they’re not getting a share of this money.

OR EVEN IF they’re in public school systems, what if they’re in the suburban areas (roughly two of every three Chicago-area residents live in a suburb, rather than the city proper)? Is there a guarantee that every single one of the 129 municipalities of Cook County (just over 260 if you count the five collar counties as well) would get money for their school systems?

Put money into mass transit? What about people who don’t want to use mass transit, and who view the very concept as some sort of “communist plot” to take away a person’s automobile (some people really are that paranoid)?

My point is that when these people cite their mantra (“Better Housing – Schools – Buses and Trains”) all through this week, we need to keep in mind that it is a false promise.

There’s also the fact that the Olympic Games, if they truly come to Chicago, have the ability to force Chicago officials to confront certain problems that confront public policy and public life.

WHILE IT WOULD be nice if city officials were willing to confront these problems without the motivation of having the world’s eyes on the city for a couple of weeks in the future, the reality is that it likely will take such an event as an Olympics to provide the impetus.

Take the streets around Washington Park that recently got repaved so that they would not look so decrepit when Olympic officials see the site being considered for a primary Olympic Stadium in Chicago.

Critics complain that other Chicago streets should have received repairs first because they are in worse shape. But would we really be better off if those South Side streets near the stadium site had not been fixed up.

I doubt it’s a matter of Olympic-related streets being repaired out of order. Likely, nothing would have happened if not for the Olympic impetus.

THERE’S ALSO THE fact that this particular group is going to get far more attention than it deserves, just because the Olympics officials will be in town.

On what do I base this observation?

I note their presence on Facebook, where they describe their site as “a spot to bring together all those opposed to Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics.” Yet all they had (at least as far as Sunday afternoon is concerned) is 740 “members.” That’s out of the many millions of people who decide to waste their time on their computers with Facebook.

So excuse me for thinking these are a few hundred people who can’t see into the future far enough for the potential benefits that an international spectacle as the Olympics could bring to the metropolitan area.

BECAUSE THE BOTTOM line is that the Olympics themselves will lose money. That fact is well documented from past Olympics. But that is if you base your perspective solely on the gate receipts raised from tickets sold to the events themselves.

An event such as the Olympics is more about using the presence of the athletic events in our hometown to provide the motivation for many improvements to the community.

Even if the construction is originally done just for the two weeks of the Olympics, they can then be reused for decades to come for purposes that will improve the quality of life in our city.

For that reason, we all ought to be in favor of the idea.


EDITOR’S NOTES: If you’re absolutely determined to grouse about the 2016 Olympic Games, here is a Facebook site ( and a weblog ( for you.

Is Barack Obama truly the key to the Olympic Games being awarded to Chicago some seven years (,daley-obama-chicago-olympics-032809.article) from now?

The “Just Say ‘No’” types will always exist (, regardless of the issue.

No comments: