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How to rethink the Olympic bid for Boston’s benefit

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With planning and discipline, we could create a better city for all — even if the torch never makes it here.

Ian Keltie

AS THE RHETORIC in the Olympic debate heats up, the pros and nos are painting radically different portraits of our future. Will a post-Olympics Boston be an Eden of commerce basking in an enduring global glow? Or a debt-crushed Land of Nod with a vacant velodrome serving as a monument to our civic foolishness?

Meanwhile, the rest of us undecideds are left to sort out how we should feel. On the one hand, we have this vague unease that hosting the Summer Games could turn out to be about as fiscally prudent as buying a flat-screen TV from Rent-A-Center. On the other, we’re proud that Boston beat out three bigger cities to be selected for the United States’ 2024 bid. And some part of us wonders if taking on this Olympic challenge could be the jolt we need to get past our usual incrementalism and make some bold investments in Boston’s


Chuck Collins is surprised to find himself in that middle camp. By ideology and experience, he arrives deeply skeptical of the pro-growth coalition behind Boston 2024, a collection of construction and corporate heavyweights, real estate developers, and government boosters (many with awfully high pay rates). Yet Collins can’t help but think that hosting the Olympics might be what it takes to get some traction, finally, for the cause of his lifetime.

The 55-year-old has spent all of his working years trying to close the gap between rich and poor. At age 26, Collins, the great-grandson of deli-meat magnate Oscar Mayer, gave away his entire inheritance to grass-roots organizations working for social justice. He’s been toiling in the trenches ever since.

Had Collins invested his bologna fortune, it would likely be worth more than $8 million today. Instead, the cheerful guy who keeps his gray hair parted in the middle continues to live frugally, plugging away in a drafty Jamaica Plain office with creaky floors. But what does he have to show for it?

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