Why Cities Want the Olympics

You'd think, given New York's recent, painful experience, that the last thing any city would want to do is put itself through the marathon effort of bidding for the Summer Olympic Games.
July 2007

You'd think, given New York's recent, painful experience, that the last thing any city would want to do is put itself through the marathon effort of bidding for the Summer Olympic Games. But, of course, you'd be wrong. Cities are already gathering at the 2016 starting line. The likeliest place for bids to come undone is over the showcase stadium. Even with new sports stadiums, most cities don't have a facility big enough for Olympic-size track-and-field events, so they have to build one. And, as everyone knows, the politics of building stadiums is as tough as any in big cities today. Quite a few places seem crazy enough to go through this misery. Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco are among those showing a serious interest because, for all the expense and grief, the Olympics is seen as the ultimate urban showcase. But there's also a side benefit. Like other high-stakes urban endeavors (think of a Super Bowl or national political convention), an Olympics creates a deadline that helps cities push through improvements that might have taken decades otherwise, if they were undertaken at all. In addition to building a stadium, Atlanta, home to the 1996 Olympics, created a major downtown park, spruced up streets and developed a handful of other venues.


If you're a really bad driver, you may want to avoid the Chicago suburb of Lake in the Hills. It's considering charging motorists' insurance companies when the police respond to a traffic accident. If it does levy a fee for police services, it won't be the first to do so. About 50 cities and small towns around the country charge insurance companies for police officers' time when they show up at traffic accidents, the Chicago Tribune reported recently. One reason is that in some of these cities, a majority of accidents involve out- of-town drivers. The governments view their fees as a way of passing along the cost, since passers-by don't pay the taxes that support local police departments. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because charging for misfortune is common among city-owned ambulance services. The twist in Lake in the Hills: It would charge only out-of- towners, not residents, for police services. Given the town's location, on several commuting routes to Interstate 90, responding to several hundred fender benders a year "is really a disproportionate drain on our resources," the town attorney told the Tribune. Not surprisingly, insurance companies have responded coolly to the idea.


Some neighborhoods attract an unusual number of small-time entrepreneurs. One reason seems to be that, for all their independent ways, the self-employed like to hang out together. One such neighborhood is Keswick in Baltimore, although few call it that. Most residents call it Alonsoville, after a popular bar and grill called Alonso's. But they really ought to call it Evergreen, which is the name of a coffee shop where many of the solos meet each morning to talk about business. According to the Baltimore Sun, nearly a third of the homes in Alonsoville have at least one business owner, which is more than twice the national rate. Part of the attraction seems to be the neighborhood itself, a place of ample, older homes that, until recently, were still moderately priced--residences that might be pleasant to work in as well as live. The mixed-use nature of the neighborhood is a draw, with small office buildings, stores and restaurants serving as gathering places. But a big part seems to be the presence of the other solos. That is key because it's lonely being on your own. Hence, the importance of morning coffee at the Evergreen.