There are, I assure you, many people seated on couches across New England watching the Olympics asking themselves, “Could Boston host the Olympics?” The answer to that is, without question, yes. This city is host to a treasure trove of world-class athletic facilities, plenty of hotel rooms, and several surrounding communities that complement the Greater Boston area with additional facilities of their own. We would need to upgrade the infrastructure and build some epic white elephants but the cost overruns would not be that bad. The question people should really be asking is, “Why would Boston want to host the Olympics?”
Hosting the Olympics in Boston would be like combining the headaches from the Big Dig years with the police state from the 2004 Democratic National Convention all in the pursuit of benefits that are nearly impossible to measure. The modern Olympics are as much about nationalist athletic achievement in obscure sports we only care about every four years as they are about urban renewal. Part of the pitch for the London games was the revitalization of a rundown chunk of East London and any Boston pitch for the games would include something similar.
Boston’s bid for the games would be an event all by itself. Construction companies and trade unions would be frothing at the mouth with all the goodies in development projects proposed by elected officials. We’d be subjected to endless pitches for things everybody knows will go over budget before they are actually completed. Public transit projects that the MBTA has put off for decades would suddenly be expedited because, hey, the world is coming and the crummy transit system we plebs put up with just won’t cut it for our global guests. Why we needed the Olympics to improve our extremely inadequate transit system instead of just doing it on our own like normal cities would be a mere afterthought.
Other projects, like the Olympic Village, would take up incredibly valuable real estate as part of a government-driven development focused on satisfying the needs of a short-term event instead of the long-term needs of the community, something market-driven development does a better job of addressing. We’ll be reminded constantly by bureaucrats that these projects will be part of the legacy of the games, so no need to worry. We’ll need those dreary looking dorm-like structures for the games because we’ll need top of the line housing facilities for the thousands of athletes and tourists that flock to the city.
It will be said that the games will bring a never-before-seen level of tourism to the city and local businesses will flourish because of the huge surge in visitors. In reality the games will discourage many traditional tourists due to inflated hotel and travel costs associated with a mega-event. It’s hard to measure what kind of tourist bump, if any, comes from the Olympic game because you can never measure the number of people that actually avoid the spectacle but that won’t stop politicians drunk on the idea of legacy and globalization from saying it.
Another ludicrous part of the pitch from our local officials would be that the city will benefit from a bigger global brand. “Boston will be the focus of the world for almost a month and you just can’t get that kind of exposure without something like the Olympics!” There are two major problems with that line of thinking: it’s only a good thing if the world is focused on your city when everything is going smoothly and Boston is already pretty well known around the world. It would also be impossible to tell how an Olympic games helped raise the global profile of the Hub. The Globalization and World Cities Research Network places Boston in the top tier of global cities. It could help lesser known cities like it did Atlanta or Calgary, but Boston?
While all host cities like Atlanta and Calgary had unique security concerns it seems as if those concerns grow significantly with each Olympics. Boston would have to spend millions, possibly billions, creating an elaborate security plan for the games. Burdensome restrictions, similar to the ones enacted during the DNC, would make movement in the city unbearable. The city would exist solely to host the games and provide entertainment for those visiting while residents would be a mere afterthought.
Those residents, though, will get stuck paying most of the bill for everything that will eventually cost four times its original price before interest. The original price tag for the London games has ballooned from £2.4 billion to £9.3 billion and according to some estimates the final costs could be upwards of £20 billion.
Boston may be perfectly capable of hosting the Olympics but we are not ready to put up with another decade of expensive projects, security headaches, and empty promises.
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