Survey: Many Franklin Park neighbors oppose Olympics

Many Franklin Park neighbors are not happy about the notion of the Olympics coming to party in the park, according to an unscientific survey conducted by the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association.

Among the 100 respondents, 70 percent totally oppose a Boston Olympics, and 53 percent are “unlikely” to support using Franklin Park as a venue. Comments revealed that many people are willing to consider trading Olympics impacts for park improvements—but also don’t trust the bidding organization Boston 2024 to keep its promises.

“Franklin Park is a treasured part of our community,” said Carl Lowenberg, an SNA steering committee member, in an email to the Gazette explaining the motivation for the survey. “The SNA wants to ensure that, along with other park neighbors and users, our views are taken into account in the discussion about hosting Olympic events.”

Boston 2024 initially included Franklin Park in its official Olympics bid as host to equestrian events and the modern pentathlon. The park was included in the bid without any local notice or input, and Boston 2024 long resisted holding local meetings with such key groups as the Franklin Park Coalition, a decision that helped to spark the NoBoston2024 protest movement. When Boston 2024 finally held a meeting about the park plan in March, it was widely criticized for lack of details and dodging questions. It remains unknown whether the park will remain in the second draft of the bid or whether anyone local will have a say in that decision, as there is no clear process for doing so.

Stonybrook is a small sub-neighborhood of Jamaica Plain sandwiched between Washington Street and the park’s southwestern border. It is among the many neighboring communities in JP, Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury that would be affected by an Olympics use. The SNA is a longstanding community group whose recent effective efforts include helping to push the City into creating a Washington Street corridor master plan. Doyle’s Café, the famed political haunt, is in the neighborhood and is the SNA’s standard meeting spot.

Lowenberg said the survey was targeted to Stonybrook residents on the SNA’s online forum as well as via email and posters. It included several questions about an Olympics use of Franklin Park. It also included four ballot questions proposed by City Councilor Josh Zakim that remain on the table at Boston City Council. The results will be sent to elected officials and Boston 2024, Lowenberg said.

“SNA [area] residents are clearly skeptical of bringing the Olympics to Franklin Park and they have concerns about losing access to the park, changes to Franklin Park’s landscape, and whether park improvements will actually occur,” Lowenberg said. “On the other hand, residents are avid Franklin Park users and are eager for improvements and maintenance in a variety of areas, including the woodlands, pathways and safety in the park. Some neighbors would support the Olympics in Franklin Park if Boston 2024 were willing to make significant investments in the park.”

Zakim’s proposed ballot questions are big-picture yes-or-nos. Nearly every respondent answered them and the results were the strongest on the survey. Seventy percent oppose a Boston Olympics, with even higher opposition to using public funds (82 percent), government guaranteeing cost overruns (90 percent), and using eminent domain to secure Olympic facilities (95 percent).

The questions about Franklin Park naturally drew more nuanced and detailed responses, and included some open-ended queries for commentary.

Asked what most “excites” them about a possible Franklin Park Olympics venue, the biggest vote-getter was “park facilities improvements.”

But another question showed the biggest concern is “no follow-through on promised park improvements by Olympics organizers.” Other big concerns include blocking public access to the park, and tree-cutting and landscape changes.

Respondents said the park has a broad range of needs, from paths to amenities to policing. But in comments, respondents also voices a broad range of worries about the Olympics, including housing displacement, high-security impacts, terrorism risks, and increases in traffic and litter.

An open-ended question asked, “What would it take for you to support Franklin Park as an Olympic venue?”

A few responses fell into extremes. “I fully support it,” said one of the few pro-Games comments. “If Jesus H. Christ came down from heaven and asked I would still be opposed,” said another commenter.

But many comments allowed for an Olympics-for-improvements trade-off, while also calling for far more detail, public input and strict accountability. One respondent cited a recent Gazette article about negative impacts on a public park used for equestrian events at the London 2012 Olympics as a “huge wake-up call.”

“Creation of a detailed master plan for park restoration,” wrote one respondent. “Creation of a funded endowment for the park. And an escrow account to ensure promised improvements to woodlands, pathways, etc. actually occurs.”

“I’d like to see Boston 2024 investors’ money go to city improvements for the park and the T instead of hosting the Olympic Games at all,” suggested another respondent.

In conclusion, a plurality of respondents—43 percent—said they are “very unlikely” to support an Olympics use of Franklin Park, with an additional 10 percent “somewhat unlikely.” Only 23 percent were somewhat or very likely to support it. That leaves about 23 percent undecided.

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