Chicagoans are just two days away from knowing if their city will get the 2016 Summer Olympics. The vote by the International Olympic Committee Friday will end more than three years of work and a $50 million bid effort. Polls show residents are divided. Today, we have two stories of how that divided opinion is playing out in Washington Park on the South Side. It’s the area most affected if the Games come, and one young Chicagoans thinks that effect will be negative.
Community Organizer Says Olympics Will Bring Long-Awaited Improvements
At first, South Side resident Ebonee Stevenson was excited about Chicago as the potential 2016 host city.
STEVENSON: I thought it would be a great point to get residents actively engaged in sort of thinking about what the neighborhood should look like with the Olympics or without the Olympics.
Then she weighed in city politics with its tradition of haves and have-nots, and her optimism waned. Stevenson works with a community group called Southside Together Organizing for Power, or STOP; her group joined in with the anti-Olympics effort-No Games Chicago.
Stevenson says promises of Olympic accountability don’t resonate with her.
STEVENSON: Given the history that Mayor Daley has with the south side communities-with Washington Park, with Woodlawn with tearing down the public housing, the Plan for Transformation, I don’t think we can trust our current mayor and city council.
Stevenson and I sit in front of the Washington Park field house on King Drive. She’s with her two-year-old nephew. Stevenson is 28 years old and a bright-eyed idealist. She spent part of her childhood in Washington Park and nearby Woodlawn.
Two years ago she visited Atlanta, site of the 1996 Olympics. She wanted to hear from low-income residents there. One mother’s story stuck out.
STEVENSON: She hasn’t seen her son since the Olympics came to Atlanta because he was, when they rounded up all of the homeless people and he was mentally ill. She has no idea where her son is to this day.
According to Switzerland-based nonprofit Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, the Atlanta Olympics displaced 68,000 people – most of them black. But earlier this year Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin dismissed that criticism when I asked her about displacement. She says neighborhoods were rebuilt, a claim that is challenged by Atlanta Olympic critics, who say housing prices soared and pushed people out.
As Stevenson surveys this Washington Park African-American community, she worries. Then she takes action. She helped organize an Olympic youth summit this past weekend – not for athletes but for young people concerned about the Games, like this teenage male anticipating increased police presence in Washington Park.
Stevenson herself is thinking about affordable housing.
STEVENSON: My main fear is just that Washington Park will…it will be completely different. The people who’ve been a part of this neighborhood since children. The people who’ve grown up here, who’ve raised kids here, who go to church in this neighborhood, who are really foundation of community won’t be really able to afford to be here.
She fast forwards to 2016 and fears this elite vision:
STEVENSON: There’ll probably be a Whole Foods on the corner of 55th King Drive. There’ll probably be some workout center or things like that. But there won’t be housing that’s really affordable to people. There’ll be high price condos. And condos that won’t even be affordable to middle-class people but only affordable to high-income people.
As Stevenson’s gone to anti-Olympic rallies and passed out literature on the issue, she’s learned some community lessons. Regardless if the Games come to this South Side venue, residents have learned to put their concerns on a public stage, and to push their vision for the city.