Editorial: Say no to Olympics park-jacking

The secretive, private committee of tycoons and special interests behind Boston’s 2024 Summer Olympics bid has committed Franklin Park—and the surrounding Jamaica Plain area—to serving as a heavily impacted venue with no local input whatsoever.

That is no accident or oversight. It is the well-considered, cynical tactic of the land-grabbing gentrification and privatization scheme that Olympics bids always are.

And it is so outrageous that Jamaica Plain should not merely question the Olympic use of Franklin Park, but organize to actively oppose it.

Don’t be fooled by Boston 2024’s PR spin. There will be no meaningful community process on the key question of committing such a crucial public resource as the stage for a sports spectacle. The bidding process is moving fast, and if Boston is selected, venues will be set in stone just as quickly. Boston 2024 is entirely private, with no government oversight and no public accountability on its promises or decisions. If Boston is chosen as host, only later might some actual City review process—such as Boston Landmarks Commission review of changes to the historic park—kick in. By then, you can be sure that fame-dazzled politicians will be kowtowing to whatever the infamously greedy and micromanaging International Olympics Committee wants.

That the entire sales pitch of the Olympics as a public-investment boon is a mirage has been well-demonstrated by study after study, book after book. It’s fundamentally a trickle-down economic theory, and it works no better than when President Reagan tried to run the country that way. Yet Mayor Walsh and many other officials are being lured into believing Boston will be special, and allowing this private committee of the bigwigs who would profit the most to essentially write a secret master plan for the entire city and Greater Boston.

What would that mean in Franklin Park? An equestrian facility of unknown scale and unknown funding mechanisms. The one in Atlanta, home to the last U.S. Summer Olympics, is still paying for itself 20 years later by hosting chili cook-offs and mud-runs along with horse events. Is that what we want for a jewel of the Emerald Necklace?

It also means that a crucial park used by some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods would become at least partly privatized for months, if not years—maybe even permanently.

What about impacts on surrounding residential neighborhoods? If you think today’s summer festivals draw traffic and noise, wait until you have the Olympic pentathlon next door. Then there’s modern Olympics “security,” which could well mean turning JP into a militarized zone of fences, spy cameras, checkpoints and soldiers.

JP would surely have valuable information and opinions to share on these issues, but Boston 2024 plainly doesn’t care. It has deliberately avoided talking to anyone local, while putting us down as a venue on a list it touts internationally to Olympics bigwigs. Someone adding a deck to their house in JP will undergo far more public scrutiny and input than this Olympics park-grab ever would.

We’ve already seen this in action. Boston 2024 chief John Fish previously mystified—and worried—park advocates with a similar top-down White Stadium rehab proposal; we now see it was simply a test run for his Olympics sneakiness. The tactic is to present the little people who actually live in the neighborhoods and who actually program the parks with a fait accompli.

Franklin Park and White Stadium surely could use a funding and planning boost. The Olympics is not a boost. It’s a park-jacking, a corporate takeover conducted to stage a three-week TV show. It is designed to enrich companies nowhere near here, while imposing enormous financial, physical and quality-of-life costs on us.

If the deep-pocketed tycoons, well-meaning politicians and gigantic institutions backing Boston 2024 want to help out Franklin Park, they should do it today, not 10 years from now. And they should do it by partnering with Franklin Park’s and Jamaica Plain’s heroic, well-informed grassroots advocates—not by steamrolling them with an arrogant, egomaniacal Olympic scheme.

JP should organize around a clear message: Stop helping the Olympics and start helping our parks.

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