Written by Christopher Hurld
I attended the recent community meeting at the Condon School unsure of how hosting the 2024 Olympic Summer Games would affect the people of South Boston, the city at large, or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
After three long hours, I left the building even more ignorant than when I had arrived.
The Boston 2024 presentation was long on glittering generalities, but short on specifics. Rather than explain how the proposed Castle Island and Convention Center event venues or the 27-acre Fort Point media center might impact the lives of South Boston residents during construction and the Olympics themselves, the panel members spent much of their time insisting that merely planning to host the Games would serve as the catalyst to fix the MBTA, expand housing, and otherwise plan for the City of Boston of 2050.
They never did explain why we need the Olympics to make such plans or why a month-long international sporting event taking place nine years from now is the proper lens through which to view the city’s future.
Rather than explain what steps would be taken to prevent the infringement of free speech rights or the increase in human trafficking—a very real problem with hundreds of thousands of victims in this country alone—that seem to accompany events of such magnitude, the panel scoffed that such things wouldn’t occur “because this is the United States.” Maybe they forgot about the barricaded “free speech zones” that have become commonplace at political conventions and meetings of international organizations in cities like Washington, DC, New York, and, yes, even Boston. Perhaps they simply didn’t know that, just last year, prosecutors obtained the first convictions under the Commonwealth’s new human trafficking law.
And, rather than take Senator Dorcena Forry’s invitation to be honest about how much hosting the Olympics would likely cost the state, Boston 2024 has been forced already to retract earlier statements about the extent to which their proposed MBTA and infrastructure improvements have actually been funded by the legislature.
In response to poorly trending opinion poll numbers, representatives from the Mayor’s Office and Boston 2024—a distinction that seems increasingly and troublingly to be without a difference—have implored us to withhold judgment until hearing the specifics of their proposal. And, at the Condon meeting, the audience was assured that we’re just at the conversation stage and that community input would be taken seriously and incorporated into future plans.
Unfortunately, a one-sided presentation in which the opposition has no voice and community participation is limited to 90-second blurbs accompanied too often by heckles from other audience members and a, “What’s your question?” from the city moderator isn’t conversation; it’s farce. Every time a thoughtful question was answered with “We don’t know, nothing has been finalized,” instead of a good faith estimate based on the current proposal, Boston 2024 declined to converse. And, by including the lumbering appeal of Dave Silk whipping out his 1980 gold medal, Boston 2024 tried to distract the audience from a real conversation about the future with a shiny moment 35 years in the past.
Make no mistake: the members of the Boston 2024 team are pros. That they spent three hours providing so little information tells me that the Condon meeting was less about actual community engagement than the illusion thereof. And from what I’ve heard about the other meetings throughout the city, the meatless presentation we witnessed was far from unique.
The people of this neighborhood, this city, and this state deserve better. But we’ll get better only if we demand it. A number of friends and neighbors have told me that they haven’t paid much attention to the process because they don’t expect Boston to be selected as the actual host city. But with former city, MBTA, and state officials (including a not very ex-governor) flocking to join Boston 2024, the time for paying attention has arrived. We must remain skeptical and demand real answers and information from Boston 2024 and opposition groups like No Boston Olympics. Even more importantly, we must demand that our elected officials keep the process honest, transparent, and substantive.
The real question isn’t “Why can’t we host the Olympics?” Of course we can. But the question that ultimately matters is “Would hosting the Olympics be the best way to build our future?”
In a rare unguarded moment at the Condon meeting, John Fish, the Chairman of Boston 2024, spoke quite eloquently about how his participation in athletics at Tabor Academy paved the way for his later successes. As one who has learned much about life on innumerable fields, courts, and rinks throughout the country, his story resonated with me.
As I walked out into the cold night, however, I found myself wondering why Mr. Fish’s transformative experience led him to conclude that the children of Boston would be better served by the construction of Olympic venues than by building Tabor Academies of our own.
Christopher Hurld is a lifelong resident of South Boston.
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