The curious new twist that Boston Olympics boosters – now including Mayor Marty Walsh – have added to their pitch is that an Olympics bid would be a terrific way to plan for Boston’s future. From the story linked above:
preparing for an Olympic bid could be a powerful motivator to “push us to really do a comprehensive plan on what the future of Boston will look like,” Walsh said.
Well, a comprehensive plan for Boston’s future is a good idea. And an Olympics bid would certainly be a motivator to do a particular kind of plan, namely, the plan that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) demands. The big problem here is that the IOC’s priorities are not likely to line up with those of the city of Boston most of the time. For a demonstration of why this is so, check out jconway’s excellent post detailing his experience working on Chicago’s unsuccessful bid.
For another explanation of why a “Boston’s future” plan probably doesn’t line up with a “Boston 2024″ plan, check out today’s Globe’s op-ed page. Economist Andrew Zimbalist has done some actual research into how cities fare when they bid for the Olympics. And, to the above point, he sensibly points out:
If Boston wants to plan properly for its future, it must have a lengthy discussion about the city’s developmental, architectural, environmental, and financial possibilities. Beginning that conversation with the need to create more than 30 competition venues — plus an Olympic village, a media center, and special traveling lanes for IOC officials — is not the way to do this planning.
One venue that will have to be built is the Olympic Stadium, with an 80,000-person capacity. There are no venues in greater Boston that will meet IOC standards. The stadium needs a track and a field, plus all the luxury accoutrements of a modern sports facility. It will also need some 20 acres of land, complete with special access roads and parking. Such a stadium is likely to cost upwards of $1 billion.
Where would it go? Is it wise to sacrifice these 20 acres for the next several decades? What would be its use when the 17-day event is over? Perhaps the New England Revolution could play there, but the capacity would have to be reduced to 25,000 and the track removed. London is spending more than $320 million to “remodel” its Olympic Stadium for the West Ham soccer club.
Pretty good questions. But wait, you say – didn’t LA and Barcelona do pretty well? Yes. Zimbalist explains why.
Los Angeles 1984 is one exception. Back then, Los Angeles was the only bidder. City officials told the IOC that it would only host if the IOC guaranteed the organizing committee against any losses. The Los Angeles plan was to use the existing sports infrastructure (plus a few smaller, privately-funded venues), and Peter Ueberroth, the head of the organizing committee, introduced a new corporate sponsorship model to help cover operating expenses.
Barcelona 1992 is another exception. The city began to develop a plan for its renovation after the death of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. The plan had several components, including the opening of the city to the sea. Crucially, the plan preexisted the bid to host the Olympics, and the Olympics were fit into the plan, reversing the typical sequence.
I love LA’s idea of getting the IOC to guarantee losses. Let’s start by seeing if we can get them to sign onto that. I also love what Barcelona did, namely, create a plan regardless of the Olympics, and then, if an Olympics bid can be worked into it, great. But that’s not at all what’s on the table in Boston right now.
So, let me be clear. My position isn’t “no Olympics, no way, no how.” My position is that the future of Boston should not be planned around a 17-day party for the 1%, to be held ten years from now, whose requirements are dictated by a shadowy cabal of mysterious international jet-setters (a/k/a the IOC). That strikes me as an absolutely terrible way to plan for the future of actual Bostonians who live here year round.