Hub to Fun: Drop Dead!My public-minded son wrote a letter to the Globe last week which got published. Josh diffidently suggested that staging an Olympic Games in Boston would be an enjoyable experience for area residents, and therefore, why not do it?
Reaction was swift and came in two forms, teasing from his friends (my favorite comment: It'll solve Boston's stray dog problem!) and condemnation from the bottom-dwelling psychopaths who comprise newspaper Website comment threads. The latter scum, alas, had their finger on the pulse of our fair city/state/region. It is breathtaking if unsurprising how quickly, vehemently and negatively Boston, from the power elite down to afternoon radio talk show callers, moved to ridicule a survey which claimed the city actually might be able to host a Games if it put its mind to it.
Which is true as far as it goes. Hell, if Atlanta could do it, Boston can. Frickin' Cairo could've done about as well as Atlanta, but that's another story. A recent article in Sports Illustrated discussing U.S. host cities for the 2024 Games noted that Boston is just the sort of town the International Olympic Committee LIKES to have host Summer Games -- a noted tourist attraction with lots of services for rich people which IOC members will sponge up when they attend. That last point was mine, not the magazine's.
So if Boston wished to host an Olympics, it could happen. But of course, we don't want to. The Globe, reveling in its traditional role of civic wet blanket, published columns gleefully attacking the idea. Tom Keane, that fungal blight of the op-ed section, had my favorite response, to wit, Boston doesn't need to put on a Games. We KNOW we're great, not like those insecure wannabe world-class cities like Barcelona, London and Tokyo. It was the perfect Masshole expression of arrogance without accomplishment. On NECN, I saw that some cluck has already formed a group to oppose a Boston Olympic bid that as of yet doesn't exist -- preemptive dog-in-the-mangering.
Reluctance to host a Games is logical. An Olympics is an incredibly arduous, expensive and stressful enterprise requiring years of work and adjustment to work by millions of people, 10 Big Digs taking place all at the same time with an unbreakable deadline. There is no chance of any real economic reward and every chance of big losses. As Josh and most Bostonians are sharp enough to figure out that the only payoff from a Games is fun and a very special kind of fun, the pleasure taken from an enormous cooperative effort to please others.
And there's your deal-breaker right there. "Cooperation" is just not present in the Boston, Massachusetts word cloud and "fun" appears sporadically at best. The Athens of America just doesn't have what it takes to put on an event successfully hosted by Athens, Greece.
Let's put social pyschology for a paragraph or two and address the mundane nuts and bolts problem that makes a Boston Olympics a far greater challenge than most host cities face. Where would we put it?
There are many sports facilities in Boston, but a Games requires at least three we do not have, an Olympic Stadium of 80,000 seats or so, a swimming and diving venue with thousands of seats, and a velodrome for those weird indoor cycling events. This is the reason past host cities have been sprawling metropolises. They had the land. Even London had the relatively undeveloped South Bank of the Thames.
Land is hard to come by in Greater Boston and harder still in Boston proper. But let's assume we can find the space. Using it for the completely frivolous purpose of an Olympics would require putting commercial real estate development of said space on hold. It would require the neighbors of said space to put up with severe dislocations of their lives and/or livelihoods -- just to make other people happy for three weeks at a future date.
Let's ask Bob Kraft what the chances are for that. The Patriots are located in Foxboro because for over 50 years, Boston, or more accurately zealous interest groups within the electorate, has ferociously resisted any proposal to build a football stadium within the city limits. An Olympic stadium is obsolete the day they douse the torch. I'm not optimistic civic pride would trump both money and our collective hatred of change.
Human flaws are merely human virtues gone askew. Flinty New England independence, canniness and reverence for tradition are fine things, until they become the NIMBY and "where's mine" attitude that permeates all too much of life around here. The Beacon Hill Historical Commission won't let sidewalks comply with the Americans for Disabilities Act? Historic preservation is valuable no doubt, but common decency and a sense of shame are more so.
Any city which decides not to bid for an Olympic Games is doing the sensible thing. And if the reaction to the idea of a Boston Games was "sorry, but it's just not for us" I wouldn't be so sorely tempted to volunteer my services to the poor (rich really) dreamers who are trying to put together a bid. But the jubilant "won't-do" attitude expressed by opponents of a Games bothers me much more than I expected. I've lived here for 40 years and I love it. It hurts to see someone or something you love take pride in their very worst characteristic.
When it comes to the Olympics, Boston will put its worst foot forward. It'll be what it all too often is, a world class city with a bush league state of mind.