72
  • Emailarticle
  • Writecomment

Urbanizing Sport

Imagining the sight of a Chicago 2016

By JOSEPH VALERIO
ON ARCHITECTURE

Urbanizing Sport

Imagining the sight of a Chicago 2016

By Joseph Valerio

    As I write, it’s September 9, 2009. By the time this is published, it will be known whether Chicago will host the 2016 Olympics. This is what is or what might have been.
    The plan for Chicago 2016 reconsiders the relationship between the Olympic Games and the host city. It has become a modern tradition to either build an Olympic City or distribute the venues throughout a region. Beijing and Munich are examples of building an Olympic City in an outlying area. In comparison, Los Angeles and Atlanta distributed their venues throughout their respective regions. The effect in either case has been long travel distances for athletes, the Olympic staff, the media and the spectators.
    Not surprisingly, the urban design of Chicago offered the 2016 planners an opportunity to plot a very different approach to the Olympics. This is what makes Chicago different from Tokyo, Madrid, Rio and the host cities from the past 40 years. Three critical qualities distinguish Chicago: lakefront parks, the central location of the city’s hotel district and the future site of the Olympic Village and an extensive public transportation network.
    First, the hundreds of acres of lakefront parks stretching from Lincoln Park on the north to Washington Park on the south already contain important venues. These include Soldier Field, McCormick Place (renamed the Lake Michigan Sports Complex for the Games) and the rowing venue stretching from Chicago Yacht Club on the north to the Shedd Aquarium on the south. These large, open spaces can be used to build new or temporary venues. The tennis venue will be built in Lincoln Park, while the swim hall and 100,000-seat Olympic Stadium will be built in Washington Park. All told, the lakefront parks will house 30 Olympic venues.
    Second, at the north/south midpoint of this string of parks is Chicago’s central area, with thousands of hotel rooms. McCormick Place, which will house 11 venues and the media center, is nearby. Just south of McCormick Place, the Olympic Village will rise on a tract of land that once was part of Chicago’s expansive lakefront railroad yards.
    Finally, Chicago has a rich transportation network that connects the region to Chicago’s central area. This creates possibilities not open to other cities. Chicago can require all spectators to travel to games on public transportation and can clear the streets and roadways by requiring its citizens to use public transportation. The remnants of Chicago’s lakefront railroad yards create a dedicated busway
connecting the Olympic Village with McCormick Place and Grant Park.
     Considering that six additional venues are located in or around Douglas Park, all but five Olympic venues are located within a five-mile radius. As a result, 90 percent of the athletes will be within 15 minutes of their venues. Forty-five percent of the athletes will be within a 15-minute walk of their venues. Combine that with the proximity of the hotel zone, and it’s clear that Chicago is a city whose bones were designed to host just such an event.
    These are all metrics, and the metrics are important, but the
soul of the Summer Games lies in its connection to people, the people of the city and those visiting, whether they are athletes, the Olympic family, the media or visitors. Imagine this:
   • Hundreds of runners are lined up on Columbus Drive, with Buckingham Fountain in the background, to begin the marathon.
   • The rowers are at rest, their hands on their oars; they begin
to move, timing the crossing of the starting line, and then the race is on. They are rowing across the face of the city, from the mouth of the Chicago River to the Shedd Aquarium, with Michigan Avenue, a wall of historic and modern buildings, as their backdrop.
   • The archers are on their marks. They stretch their bows and
the arrows fly to their targets. In the distance is the BP tower and Illinois Center.
   • People gather at the United Center, now part of the Douglas
Park District, walking past Michael Jordan’s statue and into the building to see gymnastics, basketball, handball and boxing.
   • Walking across Northerly Island, Chicago’s downtown
shimmering in the distance, spectators gather for the beach volleyball and kayak and sailing venues.
    • Finally, the venerable Soldier Field, with its meaning and
history, will play host to football as the world defines it.
     Chicago was made to hold the Olympics. The brilliant planning of Daniel Burnham and William Bennett, who 100 years ago authored the Plan of Chicago, transformed an industrial city into a world city. The Olympics in 2016 may be their final legacy.

Published: October 11, 2009
Issue: November 2009 Sports Issue

Comments

Imagining the sight of a Chicago 2016
Why didn't you disclose to your readers that the author of this pro-Olympics piece is the owner of a Chicago architecture firm, someone salivating at the Olympic money trough? If I had known who he was I wouldn't have wasted my time reading his sales pitch. Publishing an article by someone with such a glaring conflict of interest is bad enough but keeping it a secret from your readers is a betrayal of journalistic ethics. Should we look forward to an article in Chicago Life about why now is a great time to buy a new car, written (undisclosed) by the owner of an auto dealership?
Irritated by your lack of disclosure, Oct-23-2009