Blue-Green Olympics: Chicago can still go for the gold standard

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My... What disappointing news out of Copenhagen today as the International Olympics Committee voted down Chicago's bid to host the 2016 games in the first ballot.  

Yeah: "first ballot"---ouch! Stunning for a city that generally knows how to line up and deliver votes....

And I am more than a bit deflated that our fair city will not have the challenge and opportunity to invest in truly green infrastructure, polices and practices, and to show how a new way of living in a dense urban environment. Like Chicago did with the 1893 World's Fair: developing new approaches to clean water, effective waste management, clean air and open space, and provided the platform for building our Lake Front, parks and forest preserve system.

A serious amount of work went into setting the stage for a genuinely innovative "green games" in Chicago in 2016.

The work that went into the bid package, and the subsequent work like the very high level Greening the Olympics Summit just two weeks ago, needn't go to waste. While the IOC did not embrace it, the Chicago bid lays out a compelling view of how the built environment can interact with the broader natural, urban and economic environment. The concepts developed for the City can and should continue to move forward.

Instead of monuments, the bid focused on things that are far more valuable in modern civic life: cleaner water, stronger building codes that emphasize efficiency and green technologies, and from the Olympic Village a new, dense, vibrant and smartly designed neighborhood that opens the way for further conscientious development along the shore of Lake Michigan. The bid package envisioned a "Blue/Green" games that would deepen the city's embrace of Lake Michigan (the blue) with a focus on clean water, open space and ecological improvement minimal impact (green). It's an embrace of green infrastructure and developing technologies to minimize the footprint of hundreds of thousands of people at the games.

Truth be told, I served on the green advisory committee that helped evaluate aspects of the bid package. One of my colleagues was part of a working group that evaluated impacts on the city's beloved parks system. And NRDC took part in the greening sports summit with a presentation outlining some of the great work we are doing with Major League Baseball, the US Open, the NFL and others. While the games won't be coming, we hope that NRDC will be able to help move some of the noble goals of the failed bid into the day-to-day management of Chicago in the future. We continue to reap the fruits of decisions and developments left over from the Columbian Exposition (World's Fair of 1893) and the redevelopment after the great Chicago fire. I hope that the effort to attract the Olympics will stimulate the continuous planning and commitments to improve the City of Chicago and its health, safety and future vibrancy.

To be frank, as Mayor Daley likes to say, we NEED to implement the "Blue/Green" vision.

We need to improve our infrastructure of open space, clean energy, innovative housing, improved parks and clean water.  A good place to start would be by cleaning the Chicago River, and cease dumping live human waste into the water that flows by homes, businesses, kayaks and communities. Follow that with much needed upgrades to the Chicago Transit Authority and a continued focus on making the lake available to all of the city's citizens and we needn't be limited by creating Blue/Green games for the world---we can become the world's Blue/Green city instead!

Olympics Banner on the Chicago River image by jmogs via Flickr