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Architectural Legacy Threatened

(Continued from Part 1: Parks)

There are parks, schools, and community institutions that could be impacted if the Olympic Village is built on the site of Michael Reese Hospital.

At 3113 S. Rhodes, Pershing East Elementary, a small Bauhaus-style gem, sits exactly where the Chicago 2016 bid book shows a “transport mall” the Village. Though the school does not appear in the bid book’s renderings, Chicago 2016 has reportedly said it will not be torn down. But questions from Newstips about whether it would be closed to accommodate construction were not answered.

On the same block, Lake Meadows Park will be paved for a parking lot, with subsequent restoration reportedly promised. A large wooded section of Burnham Park east of the village will be leveled to provide facilities for athletes, and the bid book shows a “security command and fire brigade” in the historic Olivet Baptist Church. A city spokesperson referred questions to Chicago 2016, which did not respond.

But the urgent concern of local preservationists is the imminent demolition of the hospital campus, much of it designed after World War II under the guidance of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, a seminal modernist architect. The campus includes the only buildings in Chicago designed by Gropius and is one of a small number of extensive Gropius projects in the world.

IIT architecture student Grahm Balkany was researching Gropius’s role when the city began moving to purchase the campus for an Olympic Village. So far he’s documented Gropius’s direct involvement in eight Reese buildings; he believes there are probably more. As the “guiding hand” to the hospital’s campus master plan, Gropius had a wide influence on its post-war expansion.

At the time Balkany went public with his preliminary findings, Chicago 2016 said no decisions had been made about what buildings to demolish. Since then, however, they’ve taken a hard line, citing an earlier agreement to preserve the original 1907 hospital building as if that precludes further consideration.

“We’re trying to show the world that we’re a world-class city, and the first thing we’re going to do is tear down a huge collection of buildings by arguably the greatest architect of the 20th century,” said Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago. “It’s kind of insane.”

Many of the most significant buildings are “perfectly adaptable,” he argues. Balkany points out that the Olympic Village will require a laundry, a clinic, and a main dining hall, all of which exist or could be served by Gropius buildings, which include large and small structures.

Instead, Chicago 2016 is planning 21 identical 12-story buildings — reminiscent to some of Robert Taylor Homes, except they’re placed on huge parking pedestals, like the new developments plaguing the Near North Side.

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Olympic Legacies: Give or Take?

Chicago’s historic parks and its rich architectural legacy are among the strongest selling points for promoters seeking to attract the 2016 Summer Olympics to this city.

In selling the games to Chicago’s residents, meanwhile, promises of park enhancements and sports programs for kids, as well as affordable housing, have been featured alongside visions of jobs and boom times.

But current plans put great burdens on parks, and they involve the imminent demolition of a major responsitory of the city’s historic architecture (see part two).

In many cases promised “legacy” facilities seem designed not to meet actual needs of current park users but to accommodate the requirements of Olympic planners. In many cases they involve taking away existing resources while promising residual benefits sometime in the future.

In some cases they involve taking away facilities that have been only recently built.

In Jackson Park, an Olympic field hockey venue is planned — on the site of a world-class track and football field next to Hyde Park Academy. It’s one of only three regulation tracks at Chicago schools.

The track and field opened just eight years ago, funded by a community-led drive which raised well over half a million dollars, including support from the National Football League.

“It’s eight years into a minimum 35-year lifespan,” said Ross Petersen, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council.

Under the current plan, the new track will be bulldozed, along with an adjacent baseball diamond, he said. Chicago 2016 has promised to rebuild it after the games, he said, although a permanent field hockey field facility has also been touted as a possible “legacy.”

The field hockey was moved to the school after the original proposal, using popular soccer fields near a lakefront nature sanctuary, led JPAC to vote against using the park for the Olympics. Petersen said the council is grateful for the site change, but when he asked at a recent meeting whether members wanted to pass a new resolution updating their stance, no one offered a motion.

In Douglas Park, recently rebuilt gymnasiums and a pool serving the Collins Highcampus — reportedly updated at a cost of $30 million — will be demolished to make way for a $37 million velodrome for bicycle racing. Afterwards a pool “may” be moved to the park from the South Side aquatics center, and Chicago 2016 promises to convert the highly specialized, elite outdoor venue into a year-round “multisport facility.”

In Lincoln Park, Chicago 2016 is touting a legacy of 20 new tennis courts after the Olympic tennis venue is taken down. They will replace 20 existing tennis courts.

Washington Park has attracted the most attention. There a $400 million temporary stadium for opening ceremonies and track events, along with a $100 million aquatic center featuring four pools, will be sited on the open meadow that dates to Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1870 design.

The thousand-acre park, listed on the National Registery of Historic Places, comprises one-seventh of the Chicago’s parkland and features 14 baseball diamonds, football and soccer fields, and cricket pitches. Under current plans, it will be closed for at least four years to accomodate the two-week 2016 extravaganza.

The Washington Park Advisory Council has endorsed the siting, although only a few of the 26 conditions it issued two years ago as requirements for its support have been addressed. But a number of community, citywide and national groups have opposed the use of the meadow for the stadium, including the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference, Friends of the Parks, Preservation Chicago and the National Association for Olmsted Parks.

NAOP objects that Chicago 2016 plans “threaten the park’s signature public open spaces and sweeping vistas, jeopardizing [the] integrity, significance and public use” of “a masterpiece of America’s preeminent landscape architect.” According to NAOP, “plans to tear down the stadium following the Olympics are unrealistic” — and even if they are carried out, the new ampitheater and aquatic center would “take a major open space and restrict its use to specific activities, and a much more limited user population.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Kreinberg’s Back: Police Riots, Fairs and Olympics

Lew Kreinberg’s back in town, and it’s like he never left.

The veteran organizer, rabble-rouser, and troublemaker is still irrepressible and reflexively provocative. Eight years ago he retired from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, the organization he co-founded in 1964, and moved to Mississippi.

“Katrina blew us out,” he says, and health problems followed, but now he and his wife are living in the South Loop, “the best address I’ve ever had,” and he’s back at JCUA as a volunteer.

At the moment what he’s exercised about is the upcoming reunion of Chicago riot cops sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police, celebrating the “thin blue line” that saved the city from “anarchy.”

“I was there,” he says. “It was cops hitting citizens in the head, smashing their heads like watermelons.

“You know what Governor Kerner’s commission called it? A police riot. You can’t spin a police riot. That’s not a proud moment in Chicago’s history. That was people’s heads getting smashed. It’s shameful.”

Chicago Copwatch and other police accountability groups have called a counterprotest of the FOP event for 6 p.m. Friday at Ashland and Lake.

The Fair and the Olympics

We asked about the current controversy over the Olympics — and what insights there might be gained from the successful campaign by community activists led by Kreinberg 25 years ago to stop a planned 1992 Chicago World’s Fair.

The fair was stopped “because of the transparency that was forced by the [Chicago] 1992 Committee,” he said, referring to the grassroots watchdog coalition he helped put together.

The World’s Fair Corporation “came in saying trust us,” he recalls. “They said they had it covered” — no public funds would be needed.

The first analysis showing the world’s fair could actually (indeed, easily) lose money was presented in The Neighborhood Works, the magazine of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, by editor Thom Clark based on Kreinberg’s research.

Subsequently, local foundations backed 1992 Committee research projects exploring the dangers of displacement and diversion of infrastructure spending and poking big holes in Fair Corporation projections of attendance and job creation.

When the fair planners rejected any discussion of alternative sites, it was clear that their real agenda was greasing the skids of development for their “new town in town.”

Cotton Candy

“It’s a hard thing, taking cotton candy out of the mouths of citizens,” Kreinberg said. “Nobody is against the Olympics, nobody is against a Worlds Fair, unless it’s some kind of nut like me who thinks the city is already overbuilt, who talks about limited growth.

“We made it clear that the money being spent on the world’s fair was money that would not be available for the needs of the neighborhoods. There’s only so much money. It’s a game of subtraction.”

They also made it clear that the fair was likely to lose money; after that, the debate was over who would pick up the tab. Mayor Harold Washington, a skeptic who replaced fair booster Jane Byrne, finally said that he was wildly enthusiastic about the idea — but the city could provide no financing, and would even have to charge the Fair Authority for the cost of police and other public services. When House Speaker Mike Madigan came out against state funding on June 20, 1985, the fair was declared dead.

While the world’s fair was the project of a group of business leaders who had to then enlist the support of elected officials, the Olympics seem to be the intiative of Mayor Richard Daley himself, who has marshalled business and civic support for his dream.

Back then there was a far more free-wheeling political environment — a City Council briefly freed from its role as rubber stamp and a feisty movement of community organizations, fresh from the principled confrontations of the civil rights movement and subsequent struggles.

Back then a broad grassroots coalition — nearly 50 groups joined the Chicago 1992 Committee — united around broad accountability concerns, and local foundations supported them; even major nonprofits on the official Fair Review Council began asking serious questions.

Today a small group, No Games Chicago, is organizing in explicit opposition to the Olympics, while groups in affected communities press separately for better benefit packages.

Back then there was also a deficit in the city’s budget — though nothing like the financial tsunami facing local government right now, with the state and city, schools, parks and transit all facing “doomsday” projections with big service cuts and layoffs, at the very moment the Mayor breaks his promise to limit public financial exposure to Olympic debt.

Kreinberg suggests paying particular attention to the Olympics budget. “Cost overruns are where these people make their money,” he points out.

“‘Trust me’ is a phrase that is always used in Chicago. Trust me, you’ll get affordable housing on Maxwell Street — but it will be for our relatives who don’t need it, so they can sell it and make money. Trust me on parking meters….This child of the Boss has not given us any reason to trust him at all.

“Trust — you have to earn it, you don’t proclaim it.”

Chicago 2016 pulls out of panel

After confirming their participation last month, Chicago 2016 called this morning to withdraw from tomorrow night’s Lawndale Alliance town meeting on the Olympics, organizer Valerie Leonard said.  The group’s neighborhood director Arnold Randall was to have appeared  with a representative of No Games Chicago for the first time.  (See Friday’s Newstip  for background.)

The Olympics organization said it would only participate in meetings sponsored by the Chicago Park District in conjunction with the Douglas Park Advisory Council, Leonard reported in a statement.

She said the most recent Douglas Park council meeting included no members of the council, a handful of North Lawndale residents, and a large contingent of bicyclists from outside the community pushing to make the proposed Olympic velodrome a permanent bicycling facility.  She said Lawndale residents spoke in favor of using the facility for “sports that are more culturally relevant to the current population.”

Olympics threaten Collins gym

[UPDATE: Chicago 2016 has cancelled its participation in the Lawndale town hall meeting – see Newstips 2.0.]

Will the 2016 Olympics force students in North Lawndale to give up their only high school gymnasium?

That’s one of the questions to be raised Tuesday, when representatives of Chicago 2016 and No Games Chicago meet publicly for the first time on a panel at a town hall sponsored by the Lawndale Alliance.

Lawndale residents only recently learned that Olympics planners intend to demolish the gymnasium of the Collins high school campus to make room for a $37 million, 6,000-seat indoor bicycle track in Douglas Park, said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.

The Collins school building, which houses the Collins Academy High School and a campus of North Lawndale College Prep, is the only building in North Lawndale that was built as a high school, Leonard said. Other high schools in the community share campuses with grammar schools and use park facilities for physical education and sports.

“When push comes to shove, it’s never the kids’ interests that come first,” she said. She’s concerned that, with sanctions recently threatened for the struggling North Lawndale College Prep, the high school building itself could be in jeopardy.

Chicago 2016 did not respond to a request for comment.

Chicago 2016 neighborhood director Arnold Randall will join Tom Tresser of No Games Chicago and 24th Ward Alderwoman Sharon Dixon at the Lawndale town hall meeting, Tuesday, May 12, 6 to 8 p.m. at Dvorak School, 3615 W. 16th.

The Olympics town hall is the first of three planned for this month by the Lawndale Alliance. On Tuesday, May 19, representatives of local nonprofits will discuss the foreclosure crisis and what the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program will mean for the community. On the next Tuesday, May 26, Leonard will give a report from available information on the seven TIFs impacting North Lawndale.

After agreeing to participate in the town hall meetings, the city’s Department of Community Development recently cancelled its participation, Leonard said.

Olympic parks use questioned

Chicago 2016′s plan for use of parkland is “completely inappropriate,” including “legacy projects” that are unneeded and unsustainable, said Erma Tranter of Friends of the Parks. Hosting the Olympics in Chicago “only makes sense if they change the venues,” she said.

“In all cases where they have a legacy project, we find it troubling and inappropriate, not needed in the neighborhood, and unsustainable by the park district,” she said.

Tranter will join Randy Neufeld of the Active Transportation Alliance and Arnold Randall and Robert Accarino of Chicago 2016 at the monthly Creative Living In The City lecture on Thursday, April 9 at 12:15 p.m. in the Claudia Cassidy Theater of the Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington.

Noting the Chicago Park District has been steadily cutting back on staff and programs for several years, Tranter said, “There’s a big question whether the park district will be able to maintain anything” left as “legacy.”

In Washington Park an outdoor swimming facility is planned — along with a permament 10,000-seat ampitheater in the historic South Open Green, which is now heavily used for softball, baseball, soccer and cricket. But Washington Park already has indoor and outdoor swimming facilities, and the park district has had trouble maintaining public access to the indoor pool, she said.

“There are places on the south and west side that no pools,” Tranter said. “Why not build it where it’s needed?”

At Douglas Park, a proposed velodrome will be turned into a community center. But it’s right next to a spacious historic field house which houses a cultural and community center — where the park district has cut staff and programming.

At Northerly Island a “legacy” white water rafting facility would undercut ten years of planning the create a nature area there, Tranter said.

Other concerns include a tennis facility near the bird sanctuary in Lincoln Park and a hockey field in Jackson Park.

Plans to close Monroe Harbor for four years of construction prior to the Olympics will cost the park district $20 million in docking fees, Tranter said. “How can they operate the park district?” she asked. “Where’s the money supposed to come from?”

Venue planning was “all done behind closed doors,” she said — and existing park space was used because it doesn’t involve acquisition costs. “They’re not taking unused land and leaving new facilities,” she said. “They’re cutting into the limited park space we have.”

FOTP was not consulted by Chicago 2016 until after plans were announced, Tranter said. Then they were told that community meetings will be held after the Olympic evaluation committee visit — and that it will still be possible to relocate venue sites.

Neufeld will present ATA’s vision of what the Olympics could mean for biking and transit, said Margo O’Hara. ATA is working on a comparison of transportation benefits of previous Olympics with Chicago 2016′s proposal.

The group was completely surprised to learn that a large portion of the lakefront bike path would be closed, she said.

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