Olympics fever is here. Boston 2024, the nascent organizing committee, excitedly makes the case, trumpeting Boston’s existing infrastructure, collegiate atmosphere, sports-mad populace, lovely parks, and long history. And a just-released report by a legislative commission backs it up. It may be an “enormous task,” but a 2014 Olympics in Boston is definitely “feasible.
All nice and all largely irrelevant. Every city putting itself forward doubtless will be able to generate a similar list of self-serving platitudes. It’s time to cut to the chase and address the five real issues the International Olympic Committee cares about — issues on which Boston has a significant edge.
Absolutely! Russia just plumped $51 billion for the winter Olympics. Such breath-taking spending might scare off others, but as the $24 billion Big Dig proves, we’re up to the task! Consider our money-raising prowess: Crazy financing schemes, huge toll increases (you’ve got to love the genius of making east-west commuters pay for a north-south tunnel), and temporary income tax increases that mysteriously turn permanent. And for the Olympics? Perhaps another boost to the sales tax. Or maybe a surcharge on those living west of Worcester. Our motto: When it comes to soaking the taxpayer, there’s no such thing as too much.
Can you remake your city to fit the Olympics’ demands?
The big problem any city faces is finding enough empty land to build the Olympic Village, support facilities, and needed new stadiums. But that’s not a worry for Boston. Back in the 1960s, when parts of downtown looked a little squirrely, we had just the solution: Bulldoze the West End! Replace it with anonymous, hulking buildings! The only question will be, where? In the Tom Menino era, it probably would have been Southie or Dorchester. But given new Mayor Marty Walsh’s roots, we probably need to look elsewhere. Hyde Park? Tempting, but too far. Fenway and the Back Bay? Possibly — most of them did vote for John Connolly. The best solution? Yet again, the West End. Tear down its ugly buildings and build some more ugly buildings.
Are you able to run rampant over the wishes of residents?
Yes we are, and we’ve already got the mechanism in place: the Boston Redevelopment Authority. This brilliant organization can get anything built as long as it finds an area to be “blighted.” And you wouldn’t believe the things that are blighted! Yawkey Way, Huntington Avenue, the Boston Garden — you name it. If need be, we can just declare the entire city blighted and that’ll give the Olympics the run of the place. Thoughtful planning, citizen review, and environmental sensitivity? Gone, gone, and gone.
Can you muster the authority necessary to make sure the Games go off without a hitch?
Ideally, the Games are held in nations where repressive regimes can simply force their will. You might think that a problem in the cradle of liberty and, admittedly, we’re not up to the standards of places like Russia or China. But consider. We have a one-party state, with Democrats firmly in charge. Party discipline is exacting, with troublemakers cleverly purged through caucuses and minimum vote requirements. And locally? If Menino were still in charge, there’d be no doubt. Mayor Walsh has made some unfortunate noises about sharing power, but let’s assume that’s for show. By the time 2024 rolls around and with 10 years under his belt, he’ll be cracking the whip, making sure everyone toes the line.
Are you desperately looking to prove yourself?
It’s not lost on anyone that the IOC sees itself as a kind of savior for cities and nations looking to gain some worldwide stature. How else to explain Athens (2004), Beijing (2008), Vancouver (2010), and, of course, this year’s games in Sochi? Some were just looking to restore past glories, others were looking to achieve them for the first time. Boston too! I think it’s fair to say that, with our constant obsession about whether we are a “world-class city,” we have one of the planet’s deepest inferiority complexes. The message we send to the IOC must be clear: We need the Olympics and if given the opportunity, we’ll do whatever it takes.
This column originally appeared in The Boston Globe on March 5, 2014. Illustrations by Chris Murphy.