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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 »

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.”

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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