Friday, February 7, 2014

Sochi 2014 and Boston 2024

On the night of the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, I want to take a look at Boston’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics and push back against some of the claims made by Shira Springer of the Boston Globe.

Springer lays out the same argument made by many observers of the Olympic Games: namely, that they are very expensive and offer too little in terms of long-term economic development.

However, Springer—like others who denigrate the economic effect of the Games—fails to understand that the lasting legacy of well-run Olympics (like London 2012) is not empty stadiums (London’s Olympic Stadium will soon be filled with a team from the Barclay’s Premier League, its aquatics center is now a world-class community facility, and several of its other arenas have been packed up and sent to Rio de Janeiro for use in 2016). Rather, the lasting legacy is the infrastructure—specifically, transportation and housing—that is built for the participants in and spectators of the Games.

Springer notes that London spent $15 billion on the Games. But what if I told you that nearly $12 billion of that sum was spent on transformative, permanent improvements to London’s transit network, including:

·      Four new or renovated subway lines
·      Dedicated express rail connections between Heathrow Airport and Central London
·      High-speed rail links between East London and Continental Europe
·      Dozens of new bike/pedestrian routes (which paved the way for London’s version of the HubWay to take off in 2010)

These investments—which will support London’s economy for generations to come—would not have been made had London not hosted the Games.

In Boston, we look at our rickety old subway system and wonder if we will ever be able to build out a true 21st century transit network in the Hub. The fact is that plans for subway expansion in Metro-Boston—from the Blue Line to Central Square-Lynn (first discussed in a 1926 report) to the quixotic effort to build a Silver Line subway (first discussed in 1948)– have gone nowhere for 25 years—since the last Red Line stations opened from Harvard Square to Alewife and the Orange Line extended to Forest Hills.

The Olympics would be a catalyst for those investments, as well as improvements at North and South Stations (including the ever-elusive connection between the two hubs), spurred on by the need to move visitors between venues (such as the TD Garden and the Olympic Stadium—which would be perched on the waterfront).

Boston’s Olympic legacy wouldn’t end with transformative transportation projects. Rather, just as London has used the Olympic village to boost affordable housing, so Boston—desperately in need of additional housing stock—would benefit from thousands of units build for the world’s greatest athletes, but intended for Boston’s families.

Lastly, let us not discount the great civic pride that comes with hosting the world for a fortnight. Londoners of all stripes volunteered with spirit to welcome people from all corners of the Globe to their City.

So it would be in Beantown, where baseball’s cathedral would host soccer; the ancient polo fields in my hometown of Hamilton would be the showcase for equestrian (with the Romney’s attendance an essential component); the Charles River, always packed with rowers in October, would host the world’s best sculls; the ancient stone horseshoe of Harvard Stadium would be lit up by world class field hockey; the windy waters of Marblehead as the perfect setting for sailing; the brilliant sand of Singing Beach in Manchester for beach volleyball; and the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Copley Square providing the backdrop to the greatest Olympic Marathon of all time.

So here’s to Sochi 2014…and Boston 2024.

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