3) Chicago 2016: Sustainability’s First Practical Synthesis.

While we may have lost our Bid to host the Olympics, the proposal changed our metropolis. This article describes how our thinking started to change; preparing us for breakthroughs in solving incessant problems. Here’s how the aftermath, actually, looks good.

Overview: The Smarts of Sustainability. As Chicago’s Bid developed, it was clear financial backing from our governments was totally inadequate; putting us at a competitive disadvantage. Worse, China spent lavishly on the Beijing Games; vastly raising expectations from Bidders and creating a doubly tough act for us to follow.

Left to manufacture new devices, Chicago’s Bid assembled its assets strategically to update the Olympic movement with sustainable practices. Proposing innovations that would achieve multiple benefits at less cost, the Windy City’s Bid would one-up the competition by “greening” the Games cost-effectively while also redeveloping communities. With a most impressive Bid and the final pitch being made by a President with spectacular international popularity, many observers thought Chicago looked like the sure winner. While the curious politics of international alliances surprised many, our Bid probably changed the world and certainly changed how we solve problems.

 

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This is a logo owned by United States Olympic Committee (USOC) for Chicago bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. As with most donated consulting services, the Bid’s advertising was first-rate. The logo and its use in ad campaigns captured Chicago’s reputation for innovation and enterprise. As for repeating the right-hand graphic from the Introduction of this “Citizens Guide”, it reinforces the point that winning the Bid (and subsequent legal contract with the International Olympic Committee to host the Games) would have made a real-life test for integrating environmental, fiscal and economic sustainability … perhaps more effectively than legislation.

 

To simplify how the Chicago Bid was smarter and its lessons for the region, this article will describe the acronym FEESS: the Fiscal, Environmental and the Economic Systems of Sustainability.

Before outlining the FEESS, we will review the civic energy that made the Bid possible and how it brought city and suburbs together on a mutual project. This we explore first – a bit on the lighter side – as the ……

Miracle of mutual municipal make-overs. Led by Mayor Daley, civic and suburban leaders agreed the Olympics were important for the region and came together as if this were a mutual project. Everyone agreed that thrusting Chicago on to the Olympics’ global stage would benefit the suburbs. (To understand how this seems a miracle, try to recount a previous event in which these factions had vigorous agreement over something costing money.) Two suburban leaders served on the Bid’s Executive Committee and recruited participation.

Let’s put this in perspective. While the historians have yet to write their books on Richard M. Daley, I expect most to say Daley’s single greatest contribution was his genius in repositioning Chicago in the mind of the world and in the mind of suburban mayors who, historically, were suspicious of Chicago’s power.

Recall when rails and transit entered their deathly financial free-fall in the 1970s, their only help was a regional sales tax. Yet, the suburbs minimized it; fearing Chicago would benefit more. So how did relations change? Suburban support for the Bid was a by-product of Daley’s founding the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus in the mid-1990s. Recognizing then that the suburbs held economic sway, Daley also saw Chicago ascending again as the metropolis’ economic engine. So in founding the Caucus, Daley sought a regional balance where city and suburb could improve in commerce and livability. It was the beginning of a collaboration we will test in today’s crisis of looming bankruptcies in state and local government.

While the Bid was not the municipal love-fest Chicagoland needs, it is a start. The Bid made municipal amends because it helped the suburbs while costing them very little directly when compared to the economic benefits. It was a win-win. Will we recreate Daley’s astute politics during the looming fiscal crises? Will this standard of cooperation lead us to a prosperous future?

Answers depend on how well we craft an economic win-win in coordinating tax policies and transportation regionally so everyone benefits. (We’ll explore that more in 2011 within the CCC activity “What’s Our Deal?”)

While the Bid may have been a modest milestone in our city-suburb balance, the Bid also showed the civic movement had gelled significantly.

Two groups -- Commerce and Designers -- gave the Bid vital support. Mayor Daley and his most able lieutenants drove the Bid to its completion. But the Bid’s innovations resulted mostly from the input of two civic groups. Key was the revitalized participation of commerce. Also largely serving as volunteers, design consultants helped us picture how the Games would advance our city.

First, most global corporations headquartered here needed only a little persuasion to understand the marketing opportunities of thrusting Chicago so prominently on to the world stage so intensely for two weeks. In addition to lending expertise and twisting arms, corporate chieftains brought in a very large share of the initial $50 million that shaped the Bid.

While global retail giants like McDonalds viewed the Games more as a marketing expense, the “giving back” to this civic project is more interesting and better represented by Pat Ryan, the Bid’s Co-Chair. His main business (an insurance underwriter) would not benefit from the Olympics; so his motivation was more altruistic. Corporate civic commitment is particularly impressive given that the patricians of commerce also were soliciting simultaneously for the Centennial celebration of the 1909 Plan of Chicago.

Designers helped us picture a sustainable future. Among the tons of volunteer services adding to this civic triumph, most prominent were the star-architects who drew-up several high-profile venues. Other consultants meticulously planned the Olympic Village, the four campuses for sports venues and tied it all together within an improved transit network; making us into modernized, mobile metropolis.

And, did we ever look cool! Here are examples of how their craft can help us imagine Chicagoland’s future as a global player.

 

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These early conceptual drawings illustrate the central planning goal of the Games: tie together the Olympics stadiums with the updated transit infrastructure of a global city. These drawings are from the city-sponsored exhibit during the Burnham Centennial entitled “Big. Bold. Visionary. Chicago Considers The Next Century.” To continue this discussion, this article in the "Guide" now looks at integrating the systems of the future.

 

What are the FEESS? Next, we look at how the 2016 Bid was the first practical synthesis of what we will call the FEESS: the Fiscal, Environmental and Economic Systems of Sustainability. Let’s outline each in that order.

How do you get from “whatever-it-costs” to Chicago’s Common Cents? Budgets for the Olympics should be an Extreme Sport. The most extreme champion is China. Its Central Committee spent whatever-it-costs to show that China had arrived on the global stage. Independent analyses claim $40 billion was spent. For the 2004 Athens Games, some $12 billion was spent. Athens’ costs are slightly less than London’s 2012 projections; creating what appears as a plateau for staging costs. Losses weigh in around $4 billion for Athens and perhaps $6 billion for London; not including “extras”, such as security (a national cost) and infrastructure (a capital expense with long-term benefits) that, typically, are paid by national governments.

Compare these large figures to the sensible Americans. The Los Angeles 1984 Games netted a profit of almost $1 billion and Atlanta boasted $200 million plus in 1996.

In light of America’s success stories, Mayor Daley made a consistent, credible claim that staging 2016 would not cost taxpayers. After all, we could sell more tickets: the U.S. has five times more people than Britain and 35 times more than Greece. But, credibility was undermined by a financially derelict state and a federal government forbidding guarantees. Plus, Americans inherently suspect too-good-to-be-true promises from politicians. So while polls of Chicagoans strongly favored hosting the Olympics, they gradually disbelieved the Game’s proposed neutral fiscal impact.

From this curious cocktail of politics, there is a potential positive: the Chicago Bid indicates taxpayers may be filled less with illusion. Let us recall that one of the main problems in governing is citizens increasingly have expected something-for- nothing… or something close to that. But, could this delusion be changing?

Why Fiscal might be the new Financial of Taxpayers. While Daley’s team did a good job of selling how benefits would exceed costs, taxpayers still sensed they would have to pony-up for the net loss and, at least implicitly, that much again in interest. (Most homeowners know their interest on a 30-year mortgage equals the original debt.) Hence, the Games’ net loss would cost doubly in subtracting from daily services.

If there was this growing perception that Chicago’s month in the Olympic limelight actually would cause an unbalanced budget for two or three decades, then it shows taxpayers were weighing costs and benefits. Of course, it is hard to know with certainty what the body politic is really thinking. So instead, let us see how some single costs create multiple benefits. (This, I point out, is the main case for integrating sustainability.)

Let’s structure that large topic by looking at the two EEs in FEESS, the Environmental and Economic development benefits.

Environmental starts us thinking about sustainable systems. Chicago pitched its Bid as the first “Blue-Green Olympics.” Let’s consider it as an effort to merge the preliminary principles of sustainability into a concrete proposal and how that works as the 21st Century model for “The City That Works.”

 

The only mini-exhibit in CAF's Model City that focused exclusively on the future, the Blue-Green Olympic Games also continued Daley’s goal of Chicago becoming the biggest “Green” city. But the “Blue” Games added a helpful dimension because the rest of the world is far closer to water shortages than Chicago (since we tap the world’s largest supply of freshwater.) So by highlighting water conservation, our Blue-Green Games countered the global impression of resource-rich Americans as slow to conserve natural resources and strengthened Chicago’s image as a global leader in sustainability. img

 

While taxpayers might be relieved that Chicago did not take on Olympic-sized debt, there is a downside: we also lost the strongest motivation for updating our urban transit system. As an extreme example of preparing for the Olympics, Beijing’s system grew from 4 lines to 11 and almost doubled the number of stations. (Its management company also did such a good job that it just won contracts to manage four major systems in Europe and Asia.) Also quickly, Athens’ Metro raised the bar for southern European standards. London has added improvements faster than any other advanced system.

Back home, Chicago’s transit systems (mostly CTA and urban METRA stops) would have been updated in 6 quick years while adding the circulators and connectors the regional system almost cannot live anymore without. One hope for the Bid was that Chicagoland’s transit -- once one of the world’s top 10 -- would have the incentive to return to that status. Since we now must manufacture another motivation to do the right thing, maybe economics has an answer.

Economics justifies investment. Because Chicago’s Bid was not a government project like our competitors, we had to sell the benefits as if in the marketplace. Our Bid made more economic sense; producing more good for the dollars spent. And its economics made sense in three ways:

• improved transit (already discussed, but added to briefly below);
• increased tourism (an obvious benefit not requiring explanation); and,
• sustainable community development (also explained briefly.)

Transit improves micro-economic sustainability greatly. Recent research completed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago reveals that families in transit-rich neighborhoods (meaning they are more compact and have alternatives to using the automobile) spend around 10% less of their gross income on transportation. This is good news, especially for families with teenagers. If you consider that 10% is all a business needs to grow over time, then multiply that times the households in your neighborhood. Suddenly, you imagine how sustainable transportation adds to savings. In this decade of crushing debt, savings is likely to be the most important factor in increasing middle class households.

The Bid’s other contribution to sustainable community development was to make more compact communities near three venues. Two venues would have helped Chicago’s poorest, depopulated neighborhoods (Washington Park and North Lawndale.) The third (near Michael Reese Hospital) underwent mid-century urban renewal and largely failed to stimulate nearby growth without increasing public subsidies; indicating that renewal needs a more sustainable model.

 

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In an effort to overcome the 1960s' model of perpetual government-dependence for renewing communities, the left photo of a preliminary plan for the Olympic Village (on the Reese site) shows improvements also moving southward. This offers a framework with a mixing of land uses (mostly commercial and residential and its retail) that increases the chances of future renewal with minimal government support. The photo on the right (a video screen) is, perhaps, an optimistic rendition showing how the Washington Park Olympic venue (which included the main stadium) and the University of Chicago Hospitals would compactly build-out whole blocks that, today, often are more than 60% vacant. The lesson is: try to do more renewal with less.

 

Using public dollars cost-effectively to stimulate private redevelopment of neighborhoods remains a missing ingredient in the region’s transition to sustainable growth. Yet, the Bid’s emphasis on improving transit while making more compact urban neighborhoods allows more residents to ride the transit and reduce its operating subsidies. Improving efficiency-of-mobility was important to our Bid. Greater compactness represents a higher level of planning so urban neighborhoods can be rebuilt sustainably. And having introduced compactness as a cost-effective principle, the Bid opens possibilities to help their brethren in the suburbs henceforth.

The Sisters of Sustainability Strike Again. To define better how transit requires a smaller operating subsidy if coupled with redeveloping nearby neighborhoods compactly, the Bid created the 2016 Fund for Chicago Neighborhoods. This collaboration of regional philanthropists made economic development planning grants. For one grant, the Metropolitan Planning Council analyzed and mapped data for those neighborhoods that would gain the most from the Olympic venues. MPC’s “Community Databook” remains a useful model to match transit investments with compact redevelopment. As you can read in the next two paragraphs, this MPC/2016 collaboration is another example of the Sisters of Sustainability working together.

Lori Healey was Executive Director of the 2016 Olympic bid. She recently had served a combined four years as Mayor Daley’s Chief of Staff and as the City’s top planning official. She symbolizes the part of Sustainable Susan for “The City That Works.” (To see how all this works together, recall also that MPC’s President, Mary Sue Barrett, was Mayor Daley’s policy chief in the mid-1990s and recently became another “sister” anointed by CCC.)

 

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This photo further symbolizes the unified support of civic groups for Chicago’s 2016 Bid. The Chicago Architecture Foundation sponsored this forum so Executive Director of the Bid, Lori Healey, could organize further support. She was introduced by Lynn Osmond, CAF’s President, sitting to the right. Ms. Healey is a multi-term Trustee and former Chair of CAF. Behind them is CAF’s exhibit celebrating the Centennial of The 1909 Plan of Chicago. The portrait of Daniel Burnham appears to be observing the 21st Century rendition of his leadership. Asking if the mantel has passed to the composite we call Sustainable Susan, this author assigns hopeful symbolism to this photo.

 

Summary

While environmentalists talk about the abstract values of sustainability and while some local officials recognize they need to build fiscally sustainable infrastructure that reduces costs, Chicago 2016 was the first attempt to synthesize sustainable principles to serve Chicago and, perhaps, the region. While the Bid did not always square with this vague notion of sustainability (sometimes due to International Olympic Committee requirements), the Bid remains the most concrete Plan for the region as it grapples with a new Century and economy using green-ness or sustainability as our guide.

To watch how some of these ideas were developed, watch for 2011 updates to this “Guide” and its section “Idea People and Entrepreneurs”.

Click here to go back to the Citizens Guide page and read more...