Upcoming summits stir excitement

By Aviva Einhorn

As Chicago prepares for this May’s NATO and G8 summits, city officials are trying to keep their focus positive and avoid worry about the potential consequences protests could present.

Chicago organizations and institutions came together Jan. 25 at the Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., and disclosed plans to prepare residents for the summits, as well as initiatives to incorporate the international spirit into public programs.

Lori Healey, executive director of the G8 and NATO Host Committees, led the special meeting, which featured announcements including the unveiling of the city’s newest slogan, “Chicago 2012: The Global Crossroads.” Throughout the meeting, speakers emphasized the potential boost to the city’s economy and status because of the political, media and tourist crowds the summits are expected to draw.

“As many as 7,500 delegates from 80 nations will gather in Chicago [for the summits],” Healey said. “Additionally, an international press corps—perhaps totaling 3,000—will be in Chicago covering

these events.”

Representatives from the Chicago Public Schools, World Sport Chicago, League of Chicago Theatres and other organizations discussed their initiatives to incorporate the international collaboration within their programs.

CPS Program Coordinator David Blackmon spoke about specific additions to the schools’ curriculum that will prompt students’ involvement in the international climate the summits will bring to the city.

“One of our programs will be a video contest,” Blackmon said. “Students will compose videos about Chicago welcoming the delegates. The winning videos will provide insight into our city with what it means to be a Chicagoan while showing off

their talents.”

Marshall Bouton, president of the Chicago Council for Global Affairs, stressed the importance of the event for Chicago’s economy and tourism industry.

“There will be close to 3,000 journalists coming from around the world [and] we want to make sure these journalists not only write about the meeting, but have the opportunity to experience other parts of Chicago,” Bouton said. “Chicago ranks number 10 in U.S. cities in terms of international visitation, [and] we view this as a great opportunity because the economic impact of the visitors the summits will bring from abroad gives us the opportunity to put Chicago on the world stage.”

When the floor opened to questions, main concerns among audience members were possible protests and the

economic strain the summits could pose for the city.

Healey sharply dismissed the concerns and reiterated that the committee would maintain a positive focus and steer away from negative foresights. Her optimistic comments drew criticism from the audience.

“All the focus on negativity is unproductive,” Healey said. “Will there be issues and challenges? Let me just say we’re working with what I think is the best law enforcement and public safety team possible. The Secret Service, the Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Fire Department, our friends at the State [Department], everybody is working on this to ensure the city continues to operate with minimal impact.”

According to CBSLocal.com, Healey downplayed warnings from Jerry Roper, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, who told the Chicago Sun-Times that “stores along State Street in the Loop and Michigan Avenue on the Magnificent Mile should prepare for the worst should protests turn violent.”

In the same report, Roper cautioned that State Street and Michigan Avenue businesses should post 24-hour security outside their doors during the summits and have board-up services “on standby” should protesters shatter windows.

Felicia Davis, first deputy chief of staff to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, referenced the relations Chicago has maintained with its permanent Occupy Chicago movement as an example of the city’s ability to uphold civil relations with protesters.

“Recently, the mayor introduced some ordinances that raised some concern,” Davis said. “There was a lot of discussion with protest groups, and the final product was something that gave us the ability to ensure there’s a set of securement. The CPD is a world class police department and they are planning for Chicago’s response.”

Davis and other officials also spoke about “Notify Chicago,” a free instant messaging system with an online sign up that provides updated alerts regarding Chicago Transit Authority scheduling and street closures that might occur during the summits.

“I encourage everyone to sign up for Notify Chicago,” Davis said. “It’s the most easily accessible way for residents to get updates on bus scheduling and street closures.”

Davis also said there has been talk about recruiting police forces from outside of the city.“This will be the highest profile meeting Chicago has ever hosted,” said Don Welsh, president and CEO of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau.

According to the Chicago Host Committee, of all the anticipations and predictions, one thing is certain: Come May, the whole world will have its eyes on Chicago.