Closing Ceremony Comes Early for Boston 2024

State Senator Eileen Donoghue was an early and vigorous supporter of the Boston Olympic bid.  Near the start of the process I had a conversation with her in which she made a compelling case for the long term benefits to the entire region – especially Lowell – that hosting the Olympics would bring.  As someone who believes that our investment in infrastructure is woefully inadequate, I was sold, not to mention the excitement-factor of actually having the Olympic Games not only in Boston, but also hosting some of the events right here in Lowell.

But the Olympic bid ran head on into the conservatism of our region which manifests itself with a resistance to new ideas and a general negativism about collective action to benefit the entire community.  That conservatism is not pervasive, but it is loud so a proposal to do anything new or innovative has to be rolled out seamlessly with the predictable complaints anticipated and pre-emptively rebutted.  Given time to digest the new idea and to grow used to it, a majority of our neighbors will eventually embrace it.

A novel venture is most vulnerable at the early stages of its introduction and any glitches in the rollout will be seized upon and magnified by the reactionaries.  The rollout of Boston 2024 was anything but seamless.  Even to a supporter like me the effort was ragged.  It smacked of excessive secretiveness, a fragmented message, public relations gaffes, and general incompetence.  In no way did it excite confidence.  That all happened in early January 2015.

By the end of January the snow began to fall.  For the next six weeks it fell in record amounts.  Many will supporters will see the massive amount of snow as a random bit of bad luck that scuttled the Olympics.  To me, the problem wasn’t the snow, it was the inability of the MBTA and Commuter Rail to operate in the cold.  While it might not be foreseeable that Lowell and the rest of the region would get 114 inches of snow in just a few short weeks, it was entirely predictable that temperatures in January and February would plunge to or below zero for extended periods of time.  It was the cold as much as it was the snow that disrupted public transit.  On the very days you needed it most, commuter rail and the T were AWOL.

Speaking for myself, it was the poor performance of public transit that drained my enthusiasm for the Olympics.  While many infrastructure improvements would be needed, we also required a firm base to build upon.  After this winter, it seemed to me that our base was too shaky to support the effort.  I take it I was not alone in this view.

So what happens now?  Hopefully the discussion of infrastructure improvements will continue even without the Olympics as a catalyst.  That’s the view that Senator Donoghue is taking as is apparent from the following statement that she posted on her Facebook page last night:

Although I’m disappointed that Boston’s bid for the 2024 Olympics fell short, I’m proud that it prompted a robust discussion about the opportunities and challenges Massachusetts will encounter during the next decade.

The bid spawned exciting proposals for infrastructure and affordable housing projects that will benefit the entire state, and while there will not be a looming Olympic deadline for these projects, the Commonwealth can still act to modernize the MBTA, creatively revitalize struggling neighborhoods, explore alternative avenues for job creation, and focus the world’s attention on the promise of cities like Lowell.

The real value of a Boston Olympics was going to be the legacy it would leave behind. I’m excited to work for that legacy—with or without the Olympics.

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