October 4, 2009

Olympic-Sized Opportunity

As you may have already heard, Chicago lost its bid for the 2012 Olympics. Yet, I have been relatively silent until just before the news broke - mostly because many of my colleagues were ardent supporters. But now, since it's happened, I can honestly say....

...I'm extremely grateful we didn't get the Olympics.

Part of my rationale was simply that we had greater issues to spend time and money on - an extremely dysfunctional school system; a decaying system of public transportation; and other ills that deserved our time and attention. It would have taken extra effort to bring our city up to speed to accommodate what would have been a major-league event. It seemed the wrong priority - this should have been an effort to mobilize resources to create an Olympic-class city.

Instead, what we got was a mayor's last-chance bid at creating a legacy - a legacy that was, well, mixed, at best. Our priorities were misplaced, and our judgments were off. (Yes, I'm including myself in that - I will never say I told you so, because either way, I could still be wrong). During this period, a gentleman from one of the various initiatives that arose around the Olympics during this time attempted to convince me that, amongst other things, the reason that auto manufacturers were failing was not due to pensions, or lower sales....but because they hadn't adopted social media as their primary marketing tool.

That's the kind of thinking that was happening - let's avoid the dirty work, and simply focus on the feel-good, oblivious to the facts. And although I'm all about feeling good, it's essentially dishonest to avoid the painful truth - that Chicago has a long way to go towards being an Olympic-class city.

I'm proud of my city, don't get me wrong - but this reminded me of my time in St. Louis, back in 2004 - rather than celebrate its successes, including an increasing retention of younger residents; greater opportunities for entrepreneurship and small businesses; and an increasing amount of development. What we got - celebrations of a century old World's Fair and a two-century old expedition.

But here's where I'm going to take a different approach with those who are disappointed - rather than cry over lost opportunities, do what a very wise man proclaimed on Twitter. Take the energy, the enthusiasm, and the sheer drive to win...and focus on volunteering in your neighborhood. Your schools. Your community centers. They need time and talent, and there are plenty of ways to find opportunities (like @ChicagoCares and @VolunteerSpot on Twitter). In fact, you can even encourage you and your friends to join the Chicago e-Democracy Forum (more details can be found here).

Because, quite frankly, having people who care enough about the city to give back their time and efforts says much more about our character than sponsoring the Olympic games ever could.

1 comment:

Contrapuntist said...

Yes, I agree. Part me felt it would be really cool until I woke up and realized what kind of traffic hell the city would have to deal with for the 4-5 weeks in 2016. I can only imagine the painful commute to downtown. Plus, this city already has enough construction without preparing for an Olympic games.

Most importantly, I agree with you about the city avoiding the dirty work. Although some things could have been taken care of, there is PLENTY that would have been ignored. Hopefully, real city improvements will come to fruition.