Chicago is known for its winner-take-all politics, so its loss of the 2016 Olympics a stunner—especially when it was the first one eliminated in the final sweepstakes against Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, and Tokyo. Even the last-minute deployment of favorite son and daughter Barack and Michelle Obama to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Copenhagen failed to win the high-stakes bid. Rio de Janeiro, the first city in South America to host the games, was chosen by the IOC on Oct. 2.
During the three-year planning period in Chicago, Mayor Richard M. Daley put together a strong team of former planners from his administration to lead the effort. Many local architectural firms provided pro bono design services for various venues in hopes of garnering the prestige-laden commissions that would have come with a win. Chicago's presentation to the IOC stressed sport and the city's ethnic diversity rather than iconic architecture, which defined 2008's Beijing Olympics.
With no need for an 80,000-seat Olympic stadium, local preservationists are relieved that a Frederick Law Olmstead–designed meadow just blocks from the Obama's Chicago home will not become a construction site. But the fate of a large swath of land already being cleared for the now-unneeded Olympic Village poses a more difficult planning dilemma. Formerly the site of Michael Reese Hospital, a Sasaki Associates-designed landscape has already been bulldozed, and a complex of Walter Gropius buildings is slated for demolition. With no 2016 impetus to finance the development, the current economy offers no reason to continue with site preparation.