Monday, September 28, 2009

The Olympics bid

I was expecting Obama to make a "surprise" visit to Copenhagen the very last minute to help Chicago get the Olympics, but, although he is actually going the last minute, it won't be a surprise visit.

What is the significance? For one thing, since no other President of the U.S.A. has taken it so personal as to go plead to the IOC to get the Olympics, I would be very surprised if the IOC slights him making the visit a wasted effort.

Ever since I came to live in Chicago in 2003, I have been thinking that this great city has turned into something like "the greatest hidden city". What I mean by that is that most people think they know what Chicago is all about, and since the city has declined in worldwide influence, that the city is less interesting. While the influence decline is true, it has experienced a positive evolution; that's perhaps why I keep seeing that new visitors get a pleasant surprise.

Chicago has had the same chain of lake front parks it has ever had, and you can go to the same historic markers people went 50 or 60 years ago, but the visits are nicer today. It is not just Millenium Park, but other less specific things. A friend of mine came this summer, and I took him on a bicycle tour of the city, that in itself was a great novelty to him. He was absolutely impressed with what we saw and where we went; but I doubt a tour like ours could have been practical only 10 years ago, with much higher crime rates, fewer bike lanes, when the buses didn't have the racks, when you couldn't just go to a rent-a-bike and had to have your own. The very popular Segway tours didn't exist until 2004 or so, I think. While the view from the Sears (Willis) Tower is still the same, although it doesn't look as impressive today because while it was the tallest building in the world, today is merely the fifth; but it didn't have the all-glass balconies it has since this summer. Try stepping on clear glass 400 meters above the street level!. A friend from New York was marveled at how "new" the buildings look. I kept telling him that that was nonsense, because the buildings were even older than those in New York on average, but he insisted that he knows they are older, but they look newer. It helps that Chicago is depopulating very slowly, and the new work technologies require less physical presence, which means that the city is becoming less stressful (that is, the same world-class infrastructure is enjoyed by slightly fewer people). This may explain this new phenomenon in which affluent people who used to live in the suburbs is coming to live in the city proper; that provides for renovated neighborhoods with lots of fun things to do. There are other things as well, that make this a "hidden city". For example, 40+ years ago when African Americans where considered nothing short of second class citizens, they were making Jazz and Blues that still reverberate today, and the places where they did this were not touristic attractions back then. There is a very large collection of small factors that make visiting Chicago a much nicer place to visit today, consistently exceeding expectations.

But this city has always had many worldwide attractions. And for events such as Olympics, it is helpful that Chicago has lots of ethnic communities and not just the usual, many peoples from all over the world will feel at home here, much more than in Rio de Janeiro or Madrid.

I have the feeling that the time is not right for Madrid. If something can be objected of Chicago is that the USA has had many Olympics (LA 84 + 12y to Atlanta 96, + 20y tentatively to Chicago), but then if Madrid would be chosen, Europe would have three Olympics (Greece 2004, London 2012, Madrid 2016), almost consecutively, and Spain two Olympics within 24 years. That, I think, is the most important advantage of Rio de Janeiro, that the Olympics have never gone to South America. But I don't think Rio will get it. To begin with, violence and crime are very serious problems, and it remains to be seen whether Rio would really benefit from all the infrastructure that would be needed for the Olympics. Chicago, on the other hand, regardless of whether it wins the Olympics bid or not, has already begun to execute the urban plans for the areas where infrastructure for the Olympics would be built, getting the Olympics or not, Chicago already knows what to do with those areas. And for sure that after the games we can put to good use any infrastructure that would be built for the Olympics. Regarding existing infrastructure, it is true that Rio de Janeiro's is enough, but Chicago's is superb.

Some people in this city has been short sighted about the Olympics. They are right in that we certainly don't need to incur risks nor expenses to continue to make this city great, but like I said, today's Chicago is much better than what the people think it is, thus, nothing better than this opportunity for the city to be rediscovered. Coming back to my assertion that Chicago is the "greatest hidden city", ever since Obama was elected, I have been saying that he would help the city to be re-discovered. Among other things, he not just claims Chicago to be his home, but he is also the only unapologetic urbanite President in recent history, that is, he is a proud Chicagoan. I am sure the First Lady and the President will be a very effective one-two punch on behalf of the city, as you know, I met Barack Obama before he was famous, and even back then he was "charming", someone you would like to stop to talk to even if he is a total stranger and you are in a hurry, as it happened to me. And we talked precisely about the personality of Chicago, how this is a place like no other. From what our mutual neighbors who also know Mrs. Obama say, she is charming too.

About how Olympic bids are won or lost, I don't know of any back room negotiations and deals, not even whether they happen. But I am sure of something: The IOC is in the show business. They want to make sure that their show is going to get promotion. Now that the visit has been announced, the members of the IOC will have a chance to check for themselves the showmanship (i.e. "charm") of the people who would promote these Olympic Games, like I said, Mrs. and Mr. Obama Chicago are ideal for this. Then, it remains to be seen the level of committment, and by the mere virtue of the president taking a pause of his hectic schedule when his top political priorities are being debated to go plead for the city of Chicago represents a guarantee that he cares. Mayor Daley, has more than proved total commitment.

Disclaimer: I provide an informal service of "Bed and Breakfast" for work mates, I call myself "Chicagrafo" because I discovered my skills for photography here, and I am thinking about providing an informal guided tour service, not just the city as a whole, but featuring historic places such as Hyde Park, the University of Chicago, and the Obama's place, all within short walking distance from the place to stay!


Anonymous said...

Just consider all the $$$$ to Chicago that would not need justification coming from Fed + taxing local businesses and people.

Did you know that olympics are net negative NPV. Lots of data show how Olympics are very bad from an economic perspective. However, there is political benefit.

FYI - it took Montreal 30 years to pay off its debt from the Olympics

You would see your taxes increase to build out the infrastructure for the games. Lest you forget you already have the highest sales taxes in the country. If you want the city to provide an unlimited guaranty to cover costs, then I want transparency ... I want to know who's bidding on jobs, how the selection is made and who gets it.

Highest sales tax in the country, one of the higest property tax rates, ridiculous parking rates, constant revenue generating operations like red light cameras and crosswalk will just see more of this crap if the city gets it. Better hope Rio gets it, they need it a lot more than you do.

However, maybe China is sponsoring this, and as a quid pro quo they are guaranteed a fair amount of Gold medals, following which they will write off a substantial part of the loans

Jack Bauer

Eddie said...

Mr. Bauer, I can accept your assertion that Olympics have net negative present value. If you look at it from the point of view of the direct revenues the city would collect from the games themselves. But you are missing my point, I am sorry to say, entirely:

Chicago is a great city that people don't really know about. That's why I think promotion will help the city, and the influx of tourists and attention due to the games will be important in the long run.

That's why your opinion seems penny-wise and dollar-foolish

Anonymous said...

In that case you do not understand my point. The net negative NPV takes into account the revenues that will come from increased tourism. It could take 15 - 30 years to breakeven. The increased benefits that Chicago will see due to tourism etc will be negligible compared to the costs and the pain to the residents.

This has been proven by many studies

Olympics is like buying a new expensive Hummer. There is excitement for the first 30 days, when you want to show it off. Then you realize that it is a pain in the butt for everyone in general

Anonymous said...

Also, what made you think I look at the revenues from the games themselves. I said Montreal too 30 years to Break even. Seriously, you should respect the other guy more