but seriously fuck the fucking olympics
The toll the Olympic industry takes on host cities is made worse because it’s so predictable. Their destructive impact is documented in an extensive study of the seven most recent cities (Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London) chosen to host the Summer Games. It was released in June by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), based in Geneva, Switzerland.
The worst abuses COHRE documents have taken place under the most repressive regimes. Beijing will displace 1.5 million people to host the 2008 Games, as it doubles the already frenzied pace of its urban redevelopment. Often without notice, officials cut off electricity and water to convince residents to leave. If that’s unsuccessful, garbage and sewage are allowed to pile up in entryways. Left without recourse, a few residents threatened suicide. Some succeed; others are arrested for creating public disturbances.
Beijing’s brutality is hardly unique. COHRE details how South Korea’s military dictatorship cleared out 720,000 people for the 1988 Seoul Games. Private security forces roamed the streets at night, using rape, beatings and arson to break community resistance.
But it doesn’t take a one-party state to bring out the jackboots when the Olympics come to town. Atlanta gained notoriety among Olympic watchers when it declared the central business district a “sanitized corridor” and had police pre-print arrest citations, with the words “African-American,” “Male,” and “Homeless” already filled in. In the lead-up to the games the city arrested about 9,000 people, a “crime” that has significant implications because people with criminal records are not eligible for public housing. Some of the homeless were given one-way bus tickets out of town.
What mass-produced arrest citations and bulldozers don’t accomplish the market’s invisible hand usually does. Real-estate speculation and ballooning rents push out vulnerable populations with inescapable regularity. Barcelona, touted as the most successful recent games, registered a 240 percent increase in new house prices in the run-up to the Olympics.
In Chicago, the recent fate of public housing gives Fleming reason to fear the Olympics. “We’ve always called Mayor Daley Slobodan Milosevic,” Fleming says. “The same thing is taking place — except it’s urban and economic cleansing. We’re watching this city be re-segregated by forces of greed.”
In 1999, Daley took back the Chicago Housing Authority from the federal government and subsequently destroyed entire blocks of the city’s infamous public-housing towers, packing people off to shoddy rental units without tracking where those evicted went. If the relocation plan was next to nonexistent, the blueprint for the destroyed sites was all too clear. Townhouses starting at $500,000 now sit on the land that was once the infamous Cabrini-Green housing project.
Fleming and other housing advocates see the city’s Olympic bid as a way to speed up gentrification on the city’s mid-south side, the six mile gap between the middle-class island of Hyde Park and downtown. Between 2,500 and 6,000 condos and apartments would be converted from Daley’s proposed 6,000-unit Olympic Village. No specifics have been released on what percentage will be affordable vs. market-rate, but Daley established a 10-percent rule in the affordable-housing law he pushed through the council in May. Using that as a guide suggests the games would net the city a whopping 600 affordable units at best, in a city where almost half of its 1.1 million households live in housing they cannot afford.