Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
The city has colleges as infrastructure and hosts a huge sporting event every year. The Big Dig may have even worked in its favor.
Early Thursday evening, the U.S. Olympic Committee came to a decision that may have sealed Boston's fate. The city will be the U.S. bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, beating out San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and two-time Olympic host city Los Angeles for the honor.
Coming as it will on the heels of a 2022 Winter Games that will take place in either Beijing in China or Almaty in Kazakhstan, the 2024 Summer Games could very well land in the U.S. The 2022 winter mega-event is bound to attract controversy, given that it will be hosted by an authoritarian regime; what better way to rebound than by having the Summer Games in Boston, the birthplace of democracy?
Still, the Boston Tea Party isn't what won Beantown the chance to bid for the games. Three factors may have swung the board of directors of the U.S. Olympic Committee in Boston's favor. One other factor no doubt counted against Boston—but Boston got the bid anyway.
Boston Is Comfortable Hosting Big Sporting Events
The true origins of the "Boston Strong" motto that emerged after the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013 are debatable. Maybe it was Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks who made it a thing, although two Emerson College students could also claim credit. The slogan captured the city and the nation. Part of the reason is the Boston Marathon itself.
The Boston Marathon attracts some 500,000 spectators every year. And about 30,000 runners participate in the race every year. While fans of professional team sports have despaired over the successes of various Boston sports teams in recent years, it's truly the runners who run this town.
The Olympic Games are a much bigger deal than the Boston Marathon, of course. But there are few world-class sporting events that can prepare a city to serve as Olympic host better, and Boston puts on this show every year without fail.
Two Words: John Fish
The name isn't one that most Americans have any reason to know. But as the chief of Suffolk Construction, John Fish has built a major presence for himself in New England development. Now, as the lead on the Boston bid, he stands poised for greater exposure. Another hardworking businessman who brought the Olympic Games home, Mitt Romney, ran for president on those same credentials.
For now, Fish is looking to get the International Olympic Committee to pick Boston's 2024 proposal over all others. (Rome, Nairobi, Paris, Doha, and Istanbul are just a few of the cities outside the U.S. vying for the honor.) But if the gods favor Boston in the end, it may be for Fish's reputation as a developer who can marshall large projects on time and under budget.
A profile in The Boston Globe describes Fish as "Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s favorite contractor," a businessman with $6 billion in developments underway in Boston. What's another few billion to the man?
You May Have Heard That Boston's Got Colleges
The city's proposal relied more heavily on colleges and universities as infrastructure than the other three bids. There are more than 100 universities and colleges in the Boston area, many of which will be put to use to make the Boston bid a reality, should the city be chosen to host the 2024 Games. Just ask Prince Albert of Monaco, a member of the International Olympic Committee who graduated from Amherst in 1981.
The University of Massachusetts Boston may be the site of the Olympic Village, which it could later convert into as many as 5,000 housing units as part of an effort in transforming a commuter college into a residential campus. Other venues would be given over to colleges once the games are done, according to the NCAA.
Not only are there ample venues in the schools along the Charles River, but summer means fewer students on campus, alleviating some of the pressure that the games will bring to these sites. Boston 2024 Partnership president Dan O’Connell estimates that some 250,000 students will be away during the 2024 Games, freeing up space for athletes and tourists.
The Specter of the Big Dig Still Lingers
"Boston Will Win by Losing Olympic Bid" reads a January 6 headline of a fairly convincing editorial in The Boston Globe explaining why many Bostonians may not be thrilled by the news. According to the article, the city plans to build the four most expensive venues from scratch, and it will use eminent domain to seize the land to do so. Worse still, Boston will build one 60,000-seat stadium that will be torn down almost immediately after the Olympic Games.
If that turns out to be the case, the city will have learned the worst lessons from prior Olympic events. For the 2012 Summer Games, London built more temporary facilities than were created for the 2008, 2004, and 2000 games combined—but these temporary venues were pop-up structures or adaptive reuses of existing structures. Building "hard" architecture in the name of soft or temporary structures misses the point.
Although 2024 is still years away—and its host city won't be awarded until 2017—many Bostonians will never get over one mega-development that dare not speak its name. The Big Dig cost the city some $24 billion, marking it as one of the greatest boondoggles in the history of civilization. The city's scarred history may help to explain why Boston was the only U.S. host city under consideration that saw protesters show up to bid meetings. Building four new Olympic-class structures won't be easy.
That challenge is actually a good thing. Boston is a world-class city, one whose journalists and politicians have seen the city burned by a development that went south in an extreme way. If it gets the nod to be the host for 2024, the chastened city will certainly have to do all it can to prove that the Olympic Games won't be another Big Dig.