Friday, October 17, 2008

North side NIMBYs at it again

Just in time for Halloween, the old ladies of Chicago's Near North Side are at it again.

Back in the 60's and 70's they bought their plush homes in the sky on streets like Delaware, Chestnut, and Clark.  Now that a new generation wants a taste of that life, it's all hands on deck for a fight against change.

The latest target of their elderly invective is the proposed residential tower at 111 West Chestnut Street.  A recent article in the Chicago Journal outlined the typical bogus grievances about congestion and neighborhood character and oh... a new one -- sewer capacity.

It's the usual crowd of people who already have their high-rise lifestyles trying to keep anyone else from having it; or worse -- marginalizing their view!  

It's hard to argue that a building with just 59 residences will have much of an impact on traffic, but the geriatric gentrifiers have dragged that old saw out of the complaint toolshed.  They're also claiming that the building's residents will clog the buses and subways, too.

But most of the complaints are about "neighborhood character."  The old ladies are afraid that if anyone else is let in things might change.  Because, you know, the neighborhood has never changed before.  And it's exactly the same today as it was before all those old ladies got their dee-lux apartments in the sky-high-high.  

So what are they trying to preserve?

A quick look at 111 West Chestnut's current state reveals... plastic Walgreen's bags.  A brick.  Sand.  Dirt.  McDonald's cups.  And what maybe an adult diaper.

If that's the neighborhood character they're so desperate to cling to, I say bring on the cranes and bulldozers.  We're a movin' on up!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Chicago's chances of landing the 2016 Games

Exactly one year from now we'll know if Chicago will host the 2016 Olympic Games.  A lot of work has been poured into the city's Olympic effort in the last few years, but are we any closer to getting the games now than we were when we started?

Transit isn't up to snuff.  Though there are signs that things are getting better, it's only because most of the system seems to be under perpetual construction.  Forget about the billion dollars spend on the Brown Line which will still be crowded when all those dollars are spent.  It's the Blue Line shut downs and bus shuttles that are the real embarrassment and leave a bad taste in visiting mouths.

Hizzonor wants an express train to the airport, just like they have in Hong Kong and most other hubs of civilization.  But that would mean DOING something, and this isn't the Chicago of the 1890's.  There are no visionaries left.  No risk-takers.  No leaders.  Daley's old man could get it done.  The son... not so much.

It's not strange to place such importance on transportation when hosting a major international event like the Olympics.  Beijing built two entirely new modern subway lines.  Chicago is going to try to make due with the same creaky routes we've had since the middle of the last century.  Not because they are good, but because the leadership is bad.

Here's a cultural exercise I actually participated in once:

  • Step one: Leave your hotel in Hong Kong and ride the Airport Express train to HKG.
  • Step two: Sleep on the flight from HKG to ORD.
  • Step three: Ride the Blue Line from ORD to home.

It'll leave you wondering which city is part of the Third World.

The importance of transportation cannot be underestimated.  Crain's recently reported that Tokyo is in the lead for the 2016 games in large part because of its transportation network.  Tokyo's competing subway companies move 23,000,000 people each day.  That's 20 times more than the CTA.  Tokyo can absorb the Olympic Games without blinking.  For Chicago it will be a hardship that the city must convince the IOC it wants.

Here's what's coming up:

  • February 2, 2009: The final filing deadline for the candidate cities.
  • April, 2009: The International Olympic Committee visits to inspect Chicago.
  • October 2, 2009: The announcement is made in Copenhagen.
April of 2009 will be a magical time to be in Chicago.  There will be flowers everywhere, the streets will be smooth and perfect, and the trains will run on time.  Mayor Daley will make sure of it.  It's the biggest, most important, event the average person will never see.  But at least we'll benefit from the crumbs for a while.

At this point there are varying theories about which city is ahead in the contest, but by all estimates Chicago isn't it.  The two front-runners at this point at Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro.

Tokyo scores well in all the technical categories.  But awarding the games to Asia so soon after the Beijing Olympics seems unlikely.

Rio is on top because the Beijing games demonstrated that a Third World city can host a successful Olympics, and because there has never been an Olympic Games in South America.  

Chicago... Well, Chicago is in the middle of America.  And these days European bureaucrats hate America.  They love the notion of the care-free 1950's Happy Days America, and the one that saves their butts from military problems around the world.  But liking America is not politically correct in Europe.   And Europe matters because of the 115 people who will decide which city gets the 2016 Olympic Games, the majority are from Europe.  There are only three Americans on the committee, and they don't even get to vote.

This may be over before it even started.