Magazine

Game Changers | City Affairs

Taking on Olympic hurdles and city data

Win or lose, the 2024 Games planning process will spark change in Boston. And so will the city’s new chief information officer.

Stuart Bradford

Honorees:

Boston 2024 Partnership

Jascha Franklin-Hodge of Boston City Hall

The following people and organizations are on our list of 2015 Game Changers. They did extraordinary things last year, reshaping the way we live and work.

WIN OR LOSE, THE 2024 GAMES PLANNING PROCESS WILL SPARK CHANGE IN BOSTON

By Jon Chesto

CHANGE OFTEN COMES SLOWLY in Boston. Block by block, street by street. In many cases, it seems only a minimal amount of vision sews the entire patchwork together. Then along came the Boston 2024 Partnership with its ambitious — and, in some places, reviled — bid to put this city on a world stage as host of a future Olympic Games. Make no mistake: Even if the Summer Olympics don’t take place here, the difficult task of planning for the event promises to leave a permanent mark.

It’s hard not to blame the well-heeled businessmen who run Boston 2024 if they don’t want to be cast as major agents of change. John Fish, the Suffolk Construction chief who leads Boston 2024, has become a human pinata. Fish says he sees the Olympics as a way to position Boston for future generations. Unfortunately for him, he has come to symbolize how the powerful imposed their will on this city over the years. Urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s. School desegregation in the 1970s. Wide-open doors shown to developers in the 2000s.

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We live with a collective history of change being forced upon us. So the hesitancy, fear, and skepticism we’re showing when we talk about 2024 is understandable — especially in the aftermath of the vastly overbudget Big Dig.

But there’s another uncomfortable truth: It can take forever for City Hall to accomplish almost anything of consequence. For example, rezoning the industrial area on the South End-Chinatown border took more than two years; the change in height limits prompted a rush to develop an area that badly needed the influx of outsider money. The planning for a seven-block stretch of waterfront around Rowes Wharf could take even longer to accomplish. Of course, public input is crucial to all development decisions. But there’s no reason these neighborhood discussions should drag on for years.

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Now Boston 2024 comes along with a vision. The old Allston rail yard, the Columbia Road corridor, Widett Circle, South Station. They’re all waiting for the right push to put them to greater use, for a greater good. Using the Olympics for public planning isn’t perfect, by any means. Beach volleyball on Boston Common? What’s that all about? And there are plenty of other parts of the city that deserve attention, places that will be skimmed over or forgotten during the Olympics debate.

But the deadlines imposed by the United States Olympic Committee already leave us with a valuable tool. Boston 2024 will give the city its 3-D database, accurate within half a foot, of every building and bridge. The group needed this to build a case to present to the USOC. But the benefits to urban planning will go far beyond picking the right home for a stadium.

After the USOC selected Boston in January, we moved on to more deadlines. Now Boston 2024’s venue plan goes beyond role-playing and into the realm of real life. Negotiations will start, environmental permits will be secured, purchase and sale agreements will be lined up. The International Olympic Committee won’t decide on a host city until September 2017. But Boston 2024 needs most of the planning done by the end of next year.

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Whether this whole exercise continues beyond that date could depend on what voters say in a referendum next year. But Fish and his team like to say we can “win by losing.” We know Boston 2024 doesn’t want to lose this, just like no Olympic athlete wants to return home without a medal. The group’s leaders also like to point out that nothing gets done in government without real deadlines. Boston 2024 has forced us into a debate about the future of this city that’s unlike any in our lifetime. But what we do with this opportunity is now up to us.

BOSTON’S DATA CZAR

After spearheading digital efforts for the likes of Google, Vogue, and both Obama campaigns, Jascha Franklin-Hodge set his sights on City Hall last year. As Boston’s chief information officer, he’s now responsible for making sense of the reams of data the city collects and makes that information more accessible to the startup community at large. In his first year, he’s hosted two mayoral hackathons, orchestrated partnerships with major transportation companies Uber and Waze, and received a Knight Foundation grant to make public data more accessible through the city’s branch libraries.

Capsule by Janelle Nanos. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.
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