What you need to know about NATO in Chicago

This weekend’s Wisch List column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

What you need to know about NATO in Chicago


May 12, 2012

As you’ve likely heard, NATO is coming.

Even if it might not know exactly where it’s coming to.

Next weekend, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will roll into Chicago for its May 20-21 summit. However, if a video released last week by NATO’s in-house television news channel had its say, the international dignitaries might instead be bound for central Illinois.

Or Hawaii.

“More than 60 heads of state and government will meet to discuss matters of security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area,” a narrator said during the five-minute video as images of Chicago rolled across the screen. “And so, the leaders of the member nations of the organization created by the 1949 Washington treaty will meet in the capital of Illinois this time.”

Springfield says hello.

Later, the narrator added about Chicago, “There was a good reason for this choice. The decision was made by the American president, Barack Obama, who wanted this event to take place in the city he grew up in.”

Honolulu says aloha.

Regardless of what NATO’s video might say, its summit is indeed coming to Chicago along with expected loads of controversy, traffic and protesters. Here’s a primer to get you up to speed about how NATO’s arrival will impact the Windy City.

So, what is NATO?

Described as an intergovernmental military alliance, NATO was formed following the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on April 4, 1949, in Washington, D.C.

The organization – which is based in Brussels, Belgium, and has 28 members across North America and Europe – operates as a collective in which each member agrees to help defend the others in case of attack by an external party. It’s estimated that the combined military budgets of NATO’s members constitutes more than 70 percent of the world’s defense spending.

Steer clear of city driving

If you’re planning to drive into downtown Chicago on May 19-21, transportation experts have offered the following advice: Don’t.

But, if for some reason you must, be sure to avoid the expressways that feed into the Loop and downtown on Saturday, May 19 (summit eve) and on May 20-21 when NATO leaders will meet at McCormick Place and nearby locations. According to city officials, portions of several major thoroughfares – the Stevenson Expressway, Lake Shore Drive, the Kennedy Expressway and the streets near the lakefront Museum Campus – will be closed during the summit.

The road closings are supposed to be wrapped up in time for rush hour on Monday evening, but with a motorcade of more than 50 vehicles set to drive delegates to O’Hare sometime that afternoon, don’t count on it.

Additionally, transit officials say rail commuters should expect to see a heightened level of security similar to what airline passengers face.

Tourist hotspots closed

Roadways won’t be the only Chicago closures. The Adler Planetarium, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Shedd Aquarium will all be closed from May 19-21. The Field Museum will be closed on Sunday.

Also expect the Magnificent Mile to be bottlenecked for much of the weekend. On Sunday, a protest rally and march is scheduled along Michigan Avenue, while a debate involving protesters will be held at the Pritzker Military Library near Millennium Park on Friday.

Casual Friday (through Monday)

Speaking of protestors, if you happen to be walking around downtown Chicago next weekend, it may be wise to dress down.
Some companies in the Loop are going so far as to encourage employees to ditch their business suits and instead “look like a protester” to reduce the chance that they will become targets of those involved in the protests. Might be better to work from home.

However, even with all the security, traffic and protest headaches expected for the NATO summit, there is one silver lining.

At least the G-8 Summit isn’t coming to town, too.