Most of the griping seems to be less about the Olympics themselves, and more about how we won’t get things the city needs — such as better mass transit and a “master plan”. (That’s a new one to me. I didn’t know the city needed one of those.)
That’s always been the nature of the pro-Olympics case, and it’s always been an atrocious argument; no wonder the city, in it wisdom, ultimately rejected that argument. Yes, the city has broken infrastructure. But conditioning infrastructure improvement on our accepting the Olympics is tantamount to blackmail. If we want to improve the city’s infrastructure, let’s improve the city’s infrastructure.
I’d be willing to start the discussion right there. If you think the city is a parochial backwater that is unwilling to think big, then the place where that matters is in the lived experience of its residents and the public services that support them; it has nothing to do with whether the Olympics come here. The three biggest challenges in Boston / Cambridge / Somerville / Brookline, to my mind, are that
- The public transit isn’t up to the level of a great city. It should break down less often; it should come more often; it should run all night; the vehicles and the stations ought to be so well-maintained that no one would ever hesitate to use them; we ought to have real Bus Rapid Transit; and the subway should reach at least as far out as Lexington: wherever you’re standing, you should be able to walk ten minutes and reach a subway stop. (And not the green line. No one likes the green line.) Even some low-tech solutions would do a world of good: separate bus lanes on Mass. Ave. would make our most popular form of mass transit speedier than the cars that surround it.
The schools are a problem. No Boston / Cambridge / Somerville parents should have any hesitation about sending their kids to the public schools. It’s not uncommon for parents to think of ways to get a toehold in Brookline so that they can send their kids to the famously good schools there; consequently, Brookline property values are astronomical. Let’s talk about how to sunder the link between “the good places to live” and “where the schools are good”, like then-Professor Elizabeth Warren suggested. Parents in Roxbury should be able to send their kids to schools in Brookline. Let’s consider merging the school districts. (And yes, I’m aware that much of this is the legacy of a horrific episode in the 70s.)
Property values are insane, to the point that I don’t understand how those earning the median household income of $53,000 can afford to own their homes. Let’s talk about building more densely. Let’s talk about making America’s Walking City truly the best city in the world for pedestrians.
These are the conversations we need to have. If we don’t address these things, that is what makes us parochial. If we can only have conversations about how to make Boston a great city when those conversations are based around a fantasy Olympics nine years in the future, that makes us juvenile. We should be able to improve Boston because we want to improve Boston, not because the International Olympic Committee told us to.