Olympics Lessons from Boston 2024

Editorial August 10, 2015

Since word first trickled out last year that Boston might put together a serious bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, the story has generated a veritable ton of ink, as they say in this business.

The bid that became Boston 2024 generated news, and plenty of it, on just about every level imaginable, from cost to where the canoeing competition would be held; from whether a totally beleaguered MBTA could possibly handle such on onslaught of people, to how no one could figure out how to easily handle the significant expense of building a velodrome; from whether Springfield might get a basketball game or two since it was the birthplace of that sport, to how many ‘white elephants’ would be left behind when all the athletes went home.

There was hard news, commentary, speculation, and detailed, blow-by-blow accounts of the recent debate between supporters of this venture and its opponents. As we said, a flood of news.

Yet, for all that, it seems almost certain that the now-failed bid will become yesterday’s news in a hurry — a real hurry. In a way, it already is, with people quickly and energetically moving on to whatever’s next, be it the presidential race and that crowded GOP field, Deflategate, or this train wreck of a Red Sox season.

Soon, people will likely forget that a Boston Olympics bid advanced as far as it did.

And that would be too bad, because, as much as we thought this venture was not well-grounded and was in most ways unnecessary — our argument was, ‘Boston is already a world-class city, so why does it need the Olympics to prove itself?’ — it was intriguing to think about the prospects of the world coming to Massachusetts. This was a healthy exercise in thinking big.

And that’s what we don’t want to be forgotten in all this — the ‘thinking big’ part.

We don’t do enough of it here in Western Mass., or in this state, or even nationally, for the most part. With rare exceptions, we now tend to think about what we can’t do, or why we can’t do something, rather than how to make it happen.

In our view, the biggest message to take away from the Olympics is that’s is fine to think big, just do it in ways that make sense and in ways that solve problems, not create more, and in ways that will bring people together, not divide them.

That’s a hard assignment, we know. For every instance of thinking big in our country’s history — from the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal to the moon shot — there has been dissention and doubt, all of it overcome.

To make the Olympics a reality, a great many people would have been called upon to work together, overcome huge challenges, meet tight deadlines, and stretch their imaginations to make the improbable possible. The assignment moving forward, we believe, is to simply reapply all of the above to some real problems — like spreading economic prosperity across the state instead of across the west side of Route 128; finding real solutions to the problems facing this state’s many older cities, such as Springfield, Holyoke, and Greenfield; doing something about the still-alarming levels of poverty in those cities and elsewhere; and getting a high-speed rail line to stretch across the Commonwealth — to name just a few pressing issues.

We know, saying such things is like saying that, if we took all the money we spent on the moon shot and instead put it into poverty-fighting initiatives, no one would have gone hungry in this country in the ’70s.

But, to some extent, that argument is valid. Why can’t those kinds of problems be solved? If we’re willing to invest time, money, and imagination into revitalizing a Boston neighborhood so it can become the site of an Olympic stadium, why can’t we just revitalize that neighborhood for the sake of the people who live there now or might 30 years from now?

As we said, Boston 2024 will likely be a forgotten chapter in the state’s history. We hope not, because much can be learned from it, especially the need to continue thinking big. Unlike the Olympics, that’s a really good idea.

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