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An Olympic Guarantee You Can Count On

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If Chicago wins the 2016 Olympics, many will question whether the city's guarantee to cover any financial setbacks from the Games will ultimately hurt taxpayers. But there's one sure-fire guarantee we won't have to question in terms of the Olympics' impact on Chicago: people will be displaced and parts of the city will be forever changed.

The Olympic Games have displaced
more than two million people in the last 20 years, disproportionately affecting minorities and the poor, according to a 2007 report by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, known as COHRE.

The impact of the 1996 Olympics on housing in Atlanta should provide a number of lessons for Chicago. According to COHRE, the 1996 Olympics accelerated gentrification in Atlanta, spurred the arrests of thousands of homeless individuals and coincided with the demolition of public housing. In COHRE's background paper on the legacy of the 1996 Olympics, Anita Beaty, director of the Metropolitan Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, said the Olympics gave Atlanta officials an ideal tool to lure middle-class, white suburbanites downtown. For years, they settled in suburban Atlanta towns rather than that city's central business district. "What better way to draw those suburbanites to the downtown area than to host the mega event being imagined?" Beaty asked.

In the wake of the Atlanta Olympics, new neighborhoods emerged and thousands of new residents settled near Centennial Olympic Park. In 2000, just four years after the closing ceremonies, the vast majority of residents in the area immediately surrounding the park had moved there within the previous five years, according to an analysis by The Chicago Reporter.

In Chicago, a similar framework is forming. The demolition of public housing has opened once-isolated areas to billions of dollars in residential and commercial development and several Chicago communities, including neighborhoods surrounding some of the proposed Olympic venues, have been in transition for years. From 2000 to 2007, the area surrounding Michael Reese Hospital, site of the proposed Olympic Village, experienced the greatest level of residential movement, according to an analysis by The Chicago Reporter.

But even if Chicago doesn't win the 2016 Olympics, dramatic changes will occur on the South Side where city officials and developers already control much of the land surrounding Michael Reese and Washington Park, where the Olympic stadium would be constructed.

The City of Chicago already owns more than 400 properties within roughly two blocks of Washington Park. And city officials have already said they will move ahead with plans to redevelop the Michael Reese site whether or not Chicago gets the Games. That plan calls for a mix of affordable, market-rate, student and senior housing, as Fran Spielman reported back in July.

In addition, Draper and Kramer has announced plans to redevelop the massive Lake Meadows development, which sits just south of the Michael Reese site. Factor in the demolition of the Ida B. Wells and Madden Park public housing developments and what we're witnessing is the clearing of two miles of lakefront property from McCormick Place to Oakwood Boulevard.

While the city and developers are promising to designate a percentage of the new development for low- to moderate-income families, it is a near-certainty that it will cost more to live in that area in the coming years. And, as a result, many of the current residents there will likely have to find someplace else to live.