Summer Olympics 2024 – be glad we didn’t win by Marjorie Arons Barron

The entry below ias being cross posted from Marjorie Arons Barron’s own blog.

Let’s all be grateful that Boston’s bids for the Olympics have all failed. In the 1990’s, a self-appointed group, originally called The Boston Olympic Organizing Committee, conducted feasibility studies and mounted bids to host the 2000 Olympics, then the 2004 games and finally the 2008 spectacular.

At the time my husband was leading an International Boston initiative designed to make our city less parochial and sustainably more “world class,” without wasting scarce resources pursuing costly and disruptive major events. When it came to the Olympics, Jim Barron was the skunk at the garden party.

I traveled with him when he met with officials in winning bid cities Barcelona (1992) and Sydney (2000). They laughed at the naivete of Boston’s organizers about the complex and sometimes corrupt politics of the bidding process. They shrugged at their unsophisticated approach to hosting the games. Notwithstanding support from then-Senator John Kerry and Mayor Tom Menino, the committee never submitted an official bid.

Fast forward to 2014, when a new group tried to bring the 2024 Olympics to our hometown. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who had help save the corruption-ridden 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, said it would be great fun. Former Governor Deval Patrick became a paid roving ambassador for Boston’s bid. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, after initial reluctance, also drank the KoolAid.

The Boston2024 Organizing Committee was rewarded for its efforts by being tapped by the USOC to be the single American city in the running. But a year into the bid process, sanity among the general population prevailed. Public support for a Boston Olympics had dipped to just a third, and Boston organizers withdrew their bid. A recent trip with my husband to introduce our grandson to the glories of Paris validated that Boston is blessed that its own 2024 Olympic bid failed.

Two months away from this summer’s opening, Paris, a city that I love and to which my husband and I have returned regularly over the years, is a hot mess. The City of Lights built its bid on the idea of using existing infrastructure and temporary venues rather than generating guaranteed red ink by building new permanent structures to accommodate this year’s quadrennial event. Now many of its world-famous, breathtakingly beautiful public spaces are blighted with huge metal viewing stands. The glory of the Place de la Concorde is lost in a sea of steel structures that look like old-fashioned erector sets. The gardens near the Trocadero, site of the Palais de Chaillot, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower– one of the city’s most spectacular vistas– has been destroyed for a viewing stand, and areas adjacent to the glorious Tuileries Gardens have been similarly blighted. Random roads have been closed, including the magnificent Pont Alexandre III with its gilded statuary.

Proponents eager to bring the Olympics to their hometowns often insist it’s a way to advertise the virtues of the host cities. Paris is a classic case of why not to get sucked into the marketing images of glamor. Too many of the globally inspiring and magnificent attractions of Paris are behind mountains of steel and wooden barriers to access. Metro stops near major tourist attractions like the Louvre are already blocked. Some selling points!

As France readies itself to welcome about 15 million visitors, with an estimated 350,000 disabled visitors coming to both the Olympics and Para-Olympics, it is falling well short of its bid promise to be “universally accessible.” This goes well beyond transportation vehicles that can accommodate wheelchairs. Even in venues that have lifts, signs indicate apologetically that they’re out of order. And don’t get me started talking about narrow winding staircases (many without handrails) going down flights to restaurant restrooms or up multiple levels in museums.

Local denizens are overwhelmingly unenthusiastic. They’re already experiencing gargantuan traffic jams due to road closures. They’re also rightly concerned about the negative impact on local businesses as regular patrons not attending the Olympics stay away in droves. Store proprietors told us that residents who live in one arrondissement (district of the city) but working in another will have to show QR codes to get to their jobs. If they can, many plan to get out of Paris for the duration.

As we were leaving, we learned about a “defecation flashmob” called for Sunday June 23, the day President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo are scheduled to swim in the Seine to promote the river’s cleanliness. The protest comes from anger at the government’s spending more than more than $1.5 billion on the river cleanup instead of other priorities.

The reality is that events like the Olympics provide at best a brief economic bubble with some temporary jobs and benefits to “soft industries” like merchandise manufacturers and sellers. When the grand events are but a distant memory, it’s the taxpayers who get left holding the bag.  Even if a city does manage to get permanent housing (as did the Barceloneta area of Barcelona), sports venues or mass transit out of hosting the games, it usually loses money – and lots of it.  It took Montreal three decades to finish paying off its debt from the 1976 games.  Sydney games stuck taxpayers for $2 billion; in London, it was $15 billion, 400 percent more than originally planned.  Cost overruns are held to have contributed to Greece’s economic collapse.

According to No Boston Olympics, effectively led by transportation expert and former state auditor candidate Chris Dempsey, the average cost of the summer games is $19.2 billion.  In addition to that huge debt, many host cities end up with white elephant structures and significant regrets that other needs –  education, housing, health care, environment, and routine road and transportation projects – got shunted aside. We don’t know how much Boston would have been stuck for because supporters of the (fortunately) failed Boston efforts won a gold medal for their lack of transparency ten years ago.

So, thanks again to Chris Dempsey and his band of “No Boston Olympics” volunteers, for building public opposition and sparing our already wonderful Boston with the mess that Paris is now in. And, if you’re planning to go to Paris at any time between now and the late July opening, take another look at Amsterdam, London, the Grand Tetons, Cape Cod or the cool woods of Maine and New Hampshire. You’ll be much happier summer vacationers.

If you do decide to go to Paris, bonne chance. You’ll need it. Not a safe bet this time around.

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