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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 »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

‘No’ to Olympics in Jackson Park

The Jackson Park Advisory Council, which voted last month against siting Olympic venues in the park, will hold a public meeting with the Chicago 2016 Olympic committee’s new community representative September 10.

The Council has never been consulted about Chicago 2016 plans to site field hockey competitions in heavily-used soccer fields south of the Jackson Park lagoon, said Ross Petersen.

JPAC voted at its July meeting to oppose “as ill-advised and inappropriate the siting of Olympic venues in Jackson Park.”

Petersen estimates that several thousand people use the soccer fields each weekend for AYSO, high school, and Latin American league games. The Olympics “would displace a solid group of established users, and limit or prevent access to a large area for up to three years” – including preparation and restoration time – he said.

The Olympic venue would also threaten sensitive natural areas that border the fields, he said. The Bobolinks Meadows and Woods feature dozens of tall grass and wildflower species native to Illinois woodlands, supporting a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. The nature sanctuary is now a restricted area for birding, walking, and nature study.

Petersen suggested that rather than taking over an existing park, the Olympics should consider sites like the now-vacant former USX steel mill south of 79th Street on the lake, where new parkland has been proposed.

Following what Petersen said were numerous invitations from the JPAC, Chicago 2016 is sending its new community representative, Gyata Kimmons, to discuss plans and answer questions at JPAC’s monthly meeting, Monday, September 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jackson Park fieldhouse, 6401 S. Stony Island.

Meanwhile, the parks committee of the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference met with a Chicago Parks District representative on August 21, committee chair Gary Ossewaarde reported.

HPKCC leaders noted community concerns about “continuing lack of community involvement” and “strong fears and opposition” from many community members, reflecting specific questions as well as “the feeling that giving Washington and Jackson Parks to the Olympics violated the public trust and the purpose of the parks, and took what belongs to the citizens,” according to Ossewaarde.

HPKCC has not taken a position on Olympic committee proposals for local parks.



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