The Boston of the 1980s was very different from the Boston we live in today. The town was in the nascent stages of the Big Dig, and you couldn’t get here from there, no matter where here or there happened to be. The restaurant scene was but a blip on the national radar. Boston sports teams were terrible: In 1989, the Sox hadn’t clinched a World Series in 71 years, and the Patriots lost far more games than they won (5-11, to be exact). Everyone wore pleated pants.
Okay, so that last one still rings true. But in the ’80s, Boston didn’t even make the list of the 10 U.S. cities with the highest median incomes for young workers. In May of this year, Forbes listed Cambridge as the best city for Millennials. The city’s food scene is fantastic these days. Boston teams have won championships in all four major sports.
Winning the Olympic bid signaled that the rest of the world has started to take this little city on a hill seriously enough to consider it capable of hosting something on an international scale. Pulling the plug on the bid showed the world that Boston doesn’t need its approval.
“We are absolutely a world class city, and we have nothing to prove,’’ said Chris Dempsey, one of the founders of No Boston Olympics. “The IOC is just looking for a city to throw them a party, a city with something to prove to them.’’
Dempsey and fellow No Boston Olympics co-founders, Kelley Gossett and Liam Kerr, are Millennials themselves. They are of the generation that has come into its own at the same time Boston has.
Over the past 30-plus years, the city has boomed. For the first time in a long time, Boston’s neighborhoods are experiencing the same growth that was previously reserved for our downtown core. Its industries, most famously the tech sector, are flourishing.
“We are who we are and we’re proud of who we are,’’ former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn told me. “We don’t have to prove anything to the world. We know who we are. We love our city. We love our neighbors, we love the character of Boston. If people from across the world want to see that, fine, they’re welcome to. But this is who we are and we’re not changing.’’
The Boston of old might’ve fought harder for the bid, like a little sibling who needs to be allowed to play with the older kids. Those days are gone. Led by the younger generation, the greater public decided the city didn’t need to play in order to show that it could.
“I don’t know if you can attribute [our involvement] to our age, but I will say that when you bid on an Olympics, it’s a nine-year or a 10-year process,’’ Dempsey said. “That takes us from our early 30s to our early 40s. Those are some of the core years of our careers, and as people who want to be engaged in civic debate—and involved in the world of mass policy and what we do as a community—we didn’t want to see that world be taken down a path that wasn’t one where our generation really got to choose it.’’
By winning in the court of public opinion, the founders of No Boston Olympics also won back the right to choose that path. And the public was secure enough about what this place is as a city to know what it isn’t. This winter, for example, made it clear that the infrastructure necessary to host an Olympic games just isn’t in place. But the games don’t have to be the reason for fixing that problem.
“I think we have an opportunity now to say what are the sort of things we want to see done, things we want to see fixed,’’ Dempsey said.
Boston needs to make changes for the city’s—and its citizen’s—sake. Not for the sake of any international event.
“[The bid] was always about the prestige of Boston and the influence of Boston,’’ Flynn said. “I’ve lived here all my life, 76 years, and it’s been about my neighbors and friends. Boston isn’t just its downtown. Or all these great international hospitals and medical centers. It’s the people in the neighborhoods. That what we’re striving for. And the people who were promoting it never understood that.’’