Finish line for Boston 2024
Athenian give-and-take ends Olympic bid
BOSTON’S DREAMS OF Olympic glory are over.
Did we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Did we blow a transformational opportunity, with all that talk that the US entry for the 2024 Summer Games would be the odds-on favorite to win the bid?
Boston 2024 boosters argued that a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Boston was getting tripped up by parochial naysayers who are always against any change or big idea. By their reckoning, these get-off-my-lawn NIMBYs would presumably be happy if the Puritans were still running things and baking crocks of beans over open hearths.
But what played out seemed to be just the opposite of that. Far from being small-minded killjoys, Bostonians proved to be a pretty forward-looking, sophisticated lot. We asked a lot of questions, didn’t settle for half-baked answers, and weren’t overly wowed by the shiny objects the US Olympic Committee dangled in front of us.
The Olympics can be exciting to watch. Almost everyone would say the prospect of a massive global audience fixing its gaze on our humble hamlet was thrilling. But that wasn’t enough to convince residents and political leaders to organize regional planning for the next decade around that idea, and potentially put taxpayers on the hook for enormous cost overruns not covered by the elaborate layers of insurance Boston 2024 was scrambling to assemble.
What if the problem for the Olympic gods wasn’t that we are a bunch of parochial rubes, but rather that we are not?
There were loads of reasons to be skeptical about the bid. The local organizing committee made one misstep after another, but the real questions had to do with whether the mammoth undertaking of a modern Olympics in a place like Boston makes fiscal sense.
Even the messaging often didn’t add up. Supporters alternately scolded skeptics to get on board with a great idea, or insisted instead that people reserve judgment until the full plan was presented. The latter proved laughable because the plan was still not fully formed at the time of its demise earlier today, with locations still not identified for the aquatics center, velodrome, and 1-million-square-foot media center.
There will be lots of attempts at regional psychologizing, to interpret what the withdrawal of the Boston 2024 bid says about the city’s willingness to be bold or its insecurities about thinking big.
But this is not a ruinous ending. Boston has assets that are the envy of most US cities and that rival those of competitor cities on the world stage. We are a center of the knowledge economy at a time when the global economy is rewarding ideas and innovation like never before. There are lots of ways to build off this.
The dark cloud of the Big Dig seemed to loom over the Olympic process as a huge cautionary tale. Assurances that a multibillion-dollar sports spectacle would come in on budget were hard to sell to a region that had seen this movie before — and watched that part of it end badly.