Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hail to the Blogosphere

I want to thank anonymous for posting a reply to my previous post. He or she help me realize that my language had not been precise enough and I hadn’t given enough back story to why I think that Willie B. Cochran’s election win, coupled with a win for Dorothy Tillman, would spell disaster for the Washington Park community in face of the impending Olympic stadium construction. So here goes. And thanks anonymous, and I hope you post again soon!

There is little evidence that big time events such as the Olympics or stadium construction have tangible economic benefits for the communities they impact. There are 3 reasons for this:
People ignore the reality of substitution when they claim that 500 million or 600 million or some gargantuan sum of money will be spent on the event or at the stadium. Families have fixed leisure budgets. Money spent on the Olympics or inside a stadium is money not spent on other leisure events or outside the stadium
The jobs created by stadium construction, the Olympics, and further stadium events will likely be seasonal, temporary, low wage, high turnover dead end jobs, unless the community mobilizes to make it not so.
The large amount of public funds (150 million from the city and 150 million just pledged by Rod “Don’t Stop Spending” Blago of state funds) used for such projects are generally diverted from more income generating activities or social services.
Losing the Great Meadow of Washington Park is a significant loss for the Washington Park community and the greater Mid-South community. That area is home to baseball, soccer, and cricket leagues, is used for summer festivals such as the Bud Billiken parade, and is an important recreational asset for as strained community. As one South Sider told me, “you take away that space, you’ll see crime double in this neighborhood.”
Dorothy Tillman has shown no skill in parleying large projects (Harold Washington Cultural Center, Jazz District, Federal Empowerment Zone) into community benefits.
While TWO started off as an organization seeking to challenge the status quo (including the university I ambiguously attend) to benefit Woodlawn residents, it has morphed into a social service organization more interested in partnership and “playing the game” then confrontational politics. As anonymous noted, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I can’t believe that TWO and the alderman that came out of its ranks is going to be able to challenge the Mayor to provide real community benefits for the Olympic project. This the Mayor’s baby, his legacy, the way he can “go out on top.” An organization that has donated money to his campaign is unlikely going to be able to part ranks with him if the benefits aren’t there.
It’s also not like there aren’t multiple construction projects going on in Woodlawn and Washington Park. The University has faced little pressure to ensure (for example) that its massive construction along 61st Street accrues real benefits to Woodlawn residents. Minority contract stipulations do not necessarily act as a proxy for local community benefits.

So that’s my worry. April 14th (I think) is the big day, and I’m not looking forward to it. Either we find out that Chicago is in the running, and we’re in for a long hard slog to get community benefits, or we find out that we’re not good enough for the Olympics.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello again Militant.

I personally haven't really decided whether I'd want the olympics here--I am leaning heavily toward the view that it would help the area. But ignoring the Olympics for now . . .

TWO and other leaders in Woodlawn did start off as opposition groups to the University. And in the 60s they "defeated" any plans toward spreading into Woodlawn. However, my issue is that defeating your enemy is not a victory. The decline of Woodlawn's population and the vacant lots that have sprung up in the intervening years seems to prove that.

As for Willie Cochran--the alternative was Troutman who has done nothing for Woodlawn over her many years representing the area. Her own campaign literature touted successfully bringing a gas station to Woodlawn--not a grocery store, not retail development, and little other development.

I do not want to see current residents priced out of Woodlawn (or Washington Park) but with no new development the area will remain predominately low income. That is not very enticing to large retailers or grocery chains. For small businesses, if any were interested, it seems the area's representative was not working to hard at helping them.

As for jobs--well paying jobs are not just handed to people because of need. I completely agree that anyone wanting to do business in the area--whether it is the olympics, retail, or developers--should commit to developing the people of the area. But all development starts with a foundation. For some that will mean working to develop skills in lower paying jobs and for others it may even mean proving themselves in positions they are over qualified for.

None of that happens though if there are no opportunities at all. With no opportunities those that can leave the area for better options will continue to do so.