The debate over Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics is becoming more focused, with both skeptics and supporters demanding details and taking control of a process that has drifted like a hot-air balloon. Until recently, analysis of the Olympics hosting opportunity has been deductive, proceeding from the general to the specific: The Olympics are held in great global cities, Boston would be chosen to host; therefore, Boston would be a great global city.
[Olympics watchers] are asking how the Boston Olympics may affect Boston neighborhoods, housing, small business and gentrification.
But now, Olympics watchers are shifting the analysis to an inductive approach, from the specific to the general. Instead of concentrating on velodromes, Olympic villages and the international spotlight, they are asking how the Boston Olympics may affect Boston neighborhoods, housing, small business and gentrification.
As the city and state consider a bottom-up analysis, it is important to keep in mind that the Olympic Games bring great opportunities for systemic change. If strategically handled, these opportunities can produce benefits long after the two-week celebration ends. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) no doubt has a stake in this. It should want to be seen as a catalyst for positive change in host cities, rather than as a whirlwind guest who leaves behind problems and regret. And Boston planners would do well to remember that our city is an applicant to host the Games, not a supplicant. The distinction matters.
With a winning bid to host the Olympics will follow enormous financial investments, state-of-the-art urban planning, transportation improvements and international publicity that will stimulate trade and tourism. The challenge will be to use these resources to build a more equitable, forward-looking city, and to do this by paying close attention to the fundamentals that make good cities work, such as transparent and fair governance, an inclusive and integrated economy, and neighborhoods where all are safe and feel welcomed.
The London Olympics offer a good example for how this can be done. That host city adopted an overarching theme – climate change – and integrated it into logistical and facility planning. Boston should do the same, and our city’s Olympic theme should be reducing income inequality by expanding opportunities.
Every aspect of Boston’s Olympics bid should be predicated on the intent to build a city that offers greater opportunity for everyone. The question should be asked: How does this contribute to a more resilient small business ecosystem, to new sustainable jobs, to affordable future housing, and to improving the marketable skills of the work force standing on the far side of the economic divide?
Planners must give priority to Boston’s established smaller businesses that are in the industry sectors related to the Olympics and that supply needed goods and services, especially if they face marginalization or relocation by gentrification and the Games. It's important to nurture and include in all aspects of Olympics planning those established small businesses that pay employees a living wage, especially those in Boston’s lower income communities. That means earmarking a sizable percentage of the contracts generated by the Olympics for small businesses. Appointing a small business czar to the leadership of Boston 2024 will go a long way toward realizing this goal.
How do we ensure that Boston’s small businesses are prepared for this Olympics challenge? Just like the athletes, they will need a training regime that builds their organizational and leadership capacity. They need access to business knowledge, management know-how and the networks needed to achieve scale. Small business owners must commit themselves to the extra time needed to work on their businesses.
While small businesses get into shape to compete for contracts and see them through, Boston 2024 should require that prime contractors for the Games invest in the capacity of their sub-contractors. The yield from such training and investment will be more sustainable local jobs, more thriving small businesses, and more resilient communities.
Boston planners would do well to remember that our city is an applicant to host the Games, not a supplicant. The distinction matters.
Boston deserves a better, more equitable, more inclusive city, one in which the income gap is narrowed, the headlong rush to gentrification is slowed, and service providers do not commute into the city in the morning and leave at night. It is a lofty goal, worthy of the Olympics tradition. If Boston gets the Games and does them right, the world will not only be watching the performance of extraordinary athletes; it will be witnessing the creation of a balanced, well-functioning city that can serve as a global model.