Concern Olympics could displace residents

August 7, 2008 7:19:56 PM PDT
If Chicago wins the 2016 Olympic bid thousands of residents on the city's South Side could be forced to relocate. Thursday, dozens of community activists launched a campaign to protect homes and jobs.In Beijing, the government displaced about 1.5 million residents to make room for Olympic venues. In Seoul, South Korea, the number was closer to 750,000 people. In this country, the most recent Olympic cities, Atlanta and Los Angeles, displaced tens of thousands of residents.

Chicago community activists are demanding the city protect residents from a similar fate. They call themselves Communities for an Equitable Olympics, or C.E.O., and they demonstrated Thursday in front of the emergency room at the soon-to-be-closed Michael Reese Hospital, perhaps to stress the urgency of their demands. On the eve of the start of the Olympics in China, they want to make sure Chicago leaders include their concerns while bidding for the 2016 Games.

"I am the face of the people who will be hurt and displaced if we don't get a seat at the table," said Denise Dixon, C.E.O.

The Chicago 2016 committee recently announced plans to build the proposed Olympic Village for the 2016 Games on the 37 acres of property where the hospital now sits. The group is concerned that thousands of residents in nearby high-rise units would be displaced in the process.

Residents near Washington Park, where the proposed Olympic stadium would be built, are also concerned they could be moved out. They use Atlanta as an example. The city displaced several thousand residents to make way for Olympic venues in 1996. They have never returned.

Jay Travis is executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

"We can't just prioritize the needs of the affluent. There are long-term stakeholders in this neighborhood who deserve to be here and to enjoy the benefits of the neighborhood now that things are starting to move in a different direction," said Travis.

Leaders of the group say they support Chicago's bid for the Olympics, but they want to ensure they are included in the plan by having city leaders sign an agreement that would guarantee affordable housing at the Michael Reese site regardless of whether the city is chosen to host the Olympics.

"At this point we are writing out own community benefits agreement that we can present to them. But we can't present anything until we get to the table," said Dixon.

Chicago 2016 committee members are in Beijing and have been unavailable to comment on the group's demands. But the group is planning more demonstrations in the coming weeks. They vow to keep the pressure on until they have a seat at the table.


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