Editorial: The Olympic legacy of a corrupted process

Boston 2024 returned to Jamaica Plain this week with yet another cynically artificial meeting. This time, it was a mockery of the charrette format real urban planners might use; the type of input Boston 2024 directly refused to give JP at the beginning, when it still mattered.

There are possible fringe benefits to an Olympics, mostly involving money. There are many concerns as well, also mostly involving money. We’ve heard a lot about all of that. But one legacy already firmly in place is this corruption and pantomime of public process. It is a legacy JP and Boston should make very sure they are willing to live with—or work to stop immediately while they still can.

Without a legitimate input and review process, there can be no legitimate discussion or decision-making. But process per se is, let’s face it, a boring topic to think about; concepts and emotions are more intriguing and plainly more fun for most media to write about.

This plays into the hands of Boston 2024 and the Olympics in general. We’re told that ends don’t justify means and no one is above the law, but Olympics bids are all about rich people making up their own rules. That is plainly the case with Boston 2024, which gets to invent its own review process and run its own meetings.

At the last local meeting in March, Boston 2024 was roundly criticized for placing Franklin Park—and all other venues—in the bid secretly while getting Mayor Walsh to commit the City to it.

Since then, Boston 2024 has bought its own City Hall planning office (even getting the word “accountability” removed from its name). The supposed City moderators and watchdogs of Boston 2024 meetings have been exposed via emails as its behind-the-scenes cheerleaders. A prefab “Olympic Day,” aimed scurrilously at children too young to read any bid documents, attempted to astroturf local support. Boston 2024 held more fake meetings where only positive input counted and even then, no one actually counted it. And a new bid is out, with changes to the Franklin Park plan, all done with no further public input and only limited insight from the still-bewildered Franklin Park Coalition.

Most importantly, Boston 2024 is now advised by some of the world’s most powerful PR firms, including ones that sold such morally bankrupt events as the Sochi Olympics. Master propagandists are now on the clock.

That likely explains the faux-charrette format in JP and its more sophisticated dodge. It was a more convincing illusion of an input device. It further blurred the Olympics with the City’s actual master planning in people’s minds. And the format is a clever divide-and-conquer tactic designed to enforce collaboration; those who go along can be privileged as “orderly” and “constructive,” while opponents to hosting Boston 2024’s own chaos and destruction in the first place can be portrayed as out of order.

These tactics will continue. We are already in a classic Olympic-bid phase—private deals and promises. The bigger the promises and the more leverage the bid builds, the more people will cut those deals. And who wants to feel left behind?

The thing is, Boston 2024 doesn’t care much about parks and doesn’t know much about JP. It cares about its crony-capitalist takeover of Widett Circle, a scheme imported from NYC’s failed bid by one of its U.S. Olympic Committee members. And if Boston 2024 wins, in comes the IOC, which knows even less about Boston and doesn’t care at all.

There is a cheap, constructive, wonderful alternative: Carry out the City’s actual urban planning process Mayor Walsh already proposes. Cut out the speculators and elitist-sports money-pits, and let real residents craft a real plan based on real needs. Attract investment by showing an approval-motivated City with a clear master plan and community buy-in.

Or is it already too late for that? Have residents already lost too much trust in the administration? Are they already too divided over the Games?

It’s hard to put a price on faith in government and mutual assistance among neighbors. But with each passing week of Boston 2024 scheming, we’re adding it up.

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