Olympics 2024 – Proxy for a Real Boston Master Plan Process

Don’t pick the fruit until it’s ripe.  That was one of the more profound lessons learned from my favorite Capital Finance professor.  The people of Boston, contemplating a decision about whether or not the city should host the Olympics in 2024 would be wise to take this lesson to heart.

The City of Boston, with a population of 637,000 last did a city wide master plan in 1964.  A lot has changed in Boston since then, including the people who live here and how they see their city.  In 1964 Boston was still a city people wanted to leave.  They moved to the suburbs.  The population dropped 13% in the 1960’s and another 8% in the 1970’s.  People who prepared that plan saw a city that people came to work in but went home to someplace else.  Since 1990 there has been a steady growth in the number of people who want to make the City of Boston their home.

Now Boston is considering opening its doors to the world and hosting the 2024 Olympics.  These current residents deserve an opportunity to think about what they want their city to look like ten years from now, in 2025, when the Olympics are over.  With no clear city wide public visioning process, how can citizens be expected to assess how the specific requirements for Olympics might dovetail with the broader goals for a future city?  We all would benefit from a 10 year vision of what  Boston should look like in 2025.  Then back into how the Olympics might help get us there.

At neighborhood meetings to discuss the Olympics plan people are asking what’s behind the budget estimates presented?  What are public private partnerships? Will there be an independent analysis?  What is a “legacy”?  How will this affect the City’s commitment to improve the schools and access to affordable housing?  The Committee has committed to reconsider past and current neighborhood planning initiatives and incorporate them, as feasible, into the 2024 plan.  But this does not offer a city wide vision.

The Olympics in Boston can be a powerful catalyst for change.  But whether it is change for the good or change for the bad depends on how we view what Boston in 2025 should look like.  Don’t pick the fruit before it is ripe.  Don’t reject the plan until it is clear that it won’t fit the city’s vision of itself in 2025.

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Follow Barbara Thornton @AssetStewards
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