THE END OF the Boston 2024 Olympic bid says a lot about Boston 2015, and what it says bodes well for our future.
Perhaps the most important take-away is that Boston is a city energized by a younger cohort of activists who have a clear and specific vision for this place, and who will not tolerate having that vision diluted or derailed. It’s a vision first seen in microcosm in the 2013 vote by East Boston residents to reject a casino at Suffolk Downs. It’s a vision embodied by Chris Dempsey’s call for us to “think smart” not just “big.” It’s a vision embraced by Evan Falchuk’s insistence on giving the people a voice in the use of their tax dollars for a project that would have had enormous impacts on our ability to spend that money on other priorities. It’s a vision showcased by Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, who fought to make transparency a reality not just a sound bite. It is, in short, a vision that insists on Boston rolling up its sleeves and setting priorities that make sense for all neighborhoods, taking its future into its own hands and looking to a future that reflects our needs and our values.
Boston these days is a younger city, less inclined to the parochial tribalism of its past and more inclined to come together over issues that reach across all neighborhoods: issues such as income inequality, smart growth, transit-oriented development, and 21st century jobs creation. What was clear in the East Boston “no” vote on the proposed Suffolk Downs casino, and what was clear during the Olympics debate, is that many political and civic leaders are being caught off-guard, coming late to fully understanding the changing views of their constituents.
Boston will benefit from the emergence of new voices and new leaders, and we will all benefit if they continue to engage in the civic debate. Dempsey, Falchuk, Jackson, Jonathan Cohn, and many others demonstrated the power of conviction to shape a debate and change the course of history. Boston could have devoted a disproportionate amount of time, energy, and money directed toward a large-scale, one-off international event. Now Boston will have the opportunity to focus in a granular and intense way on the urgent housing, mobility, and equity challenges that it faces, and that it must overcome, in order to maintain its status as an important, modern city.
There’s a lot to keep us occupied. There is great need for significant investments in our mobility infrastructure, and there is also a great need for a new planning vision, one that the mayor has begun with his Boston 2030 initiative. There’s an urgent need to confront the transportation impacts of a potential casino in Everett. There’s an urgent need to find solutions to growing congestion and gridlock in our existing innovations districts (Longwood, Seaport) in order to keep and grow jobs in that critical sector. And there’s an urgent need for the city to come together and have a meaningful conversation about income inequality, a conversation that must lead to specific steps and strategies that will ensure that all Bostonians share in the city’s wealth and opportunity.
There will be post-mortems aplenty over the coming days, and some may try to turn the end of Boston 2024 as an expression of Boston’s fabled stubborn negativity. I see it differently. For me, the expression of unpaid civic activism that generated opposition to the Olympic idea – activism that took courage and acceptance of a large measure of personal risk – is a signal that our city has people with the passion, the commitment, and the vision that will be necessary to start getting important things done. In that way, this is not the end, but very much the beginning.
James Aloisi is a former state transportation secretary and a principal in the Pemberton Square Group.