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How will NATO, G-8 summits help Chicago?

Updated: March 21, 2012 8:06AM

What’s in it for Chicago?

I am pondering that question, three months before the ballyhooed NATO/G-8 international summits blow into our already Windy City.

The summits’ cheerleaders claim that the May 19-21 meetings will bring in thousands, including heads of states, foreign ministers and diplomats; as many as 3,000 foreign journalists; tourism dollars, and priceless prestige.

Yet Chicagoans have been deluged with headlines that inspire trepidation, fear, even terror. Thousands of Occupiers, anarchists and other dissidents are promising, some threatening, to descend on the city to exercise their First Amendment chops.

Last Tuesday’s headline: “Cops Gearing Up for Summits.” Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has purchased 3,057 “face shields” to protect police officers, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The accompanying photo of a shiny, eggshell-blue riot helmet resembled something out of “Star Wars: Episode 97.”

“Rioters known to attend NATO and G-8 meetings have been known to throw bags of urine and bags of feces at police,” Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields told the Sun-Times.

So why are we doing this?

That day I attended a luncheon briefing featuring presenters from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. These diplomatic types declined to weigh in on the potential for havoc. Instead, they offered up meaty details about the summit’s agenda. Most of the session was off the record, but they did open up a bit about my chief query: “What’s in it for Chicago?”

A big upside is the chance to rehabilitate our image in foreign eyes, said Richard Longworth, a longtime foreign correspondent and now a senior fellow at the Council. Chicago “is still pretty much unknown in the world,” he said. “It’s still ‘bang, bang, Al Capone.’ ”

The old Big Shoulders Chicago of industrial might is gone, added Longworth, who has written extensively on globalization. “If we are going to play in this global league, there are lots of things that we must do to target our investments and resources.”

Chicago offers “amazing talent” steeped in global affairs, added Rachel Bronson, a Council vice president. Until now, “there has been no place to talk about global policy issues and how what’s going on out there is driven from here, and how it affects here. And I think we have a lot to say about it.”

For example, one summit topic will be food security. Chicago has a deep reservoir of experts and activists who work on food challenges in our own backyard, like eliminating food deserts, and boosting hunger alleviation.

And Chicago’s legendary ethnic diversity is “one of the reasons the [Obama] administration wanted the summits here,” Bronson noted. About 80 nations will be represented, from Poland to Greece to Turkey.

“Everybody has a community here,” she said, and this will be a chance to strengthen those ties.

Nice notions.

While the dignitaries at McCormick Place are conferring over lofty affairs, let’s hope the rest of us are not dodging chaos in the streets.

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