Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

US bidders for the 2024 Olympics winnowed to Boston. DC temporarily escapes the drumbeat to pay for a new Redskins stadium.

Well, DC seems to have escaped, briefly, the drumbeat that will build to provide a publicly financed $1 billion stadium for the Washington Redskins ("New Year's Post #3: More thinking on "return on investment" from different types of sports facilities and DC, and an Olympics in DC") because the US Olympics Committee, choosing between Boston (official Olympics bid website), Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, chose Boston ("USOC taps Boston as 2024 bid city," Associated Press).

Not everyone is favorable. There is a No Boston Olympics advocacy effort. And a Boston Globe columnist wrote a piece ("All that glitters about Boston's Olympic bid isn't gold") questioning the value of the event:
The question is not whether Boston is capable of hosting the Olympics. It is. The question is whether it’s worth it. Does the benefit outweigh the potential logistical and financial pratfalls of hosting gym class for the world? Based on recent Olympic Games, the answer is probably not.

The Olympics rarely have a lasting, transformative impact on a city, unless you’re talking about the financial ramifications of the event and the planned obsolescence of venues with a 17-day lifespan. Barcelona, host of the 1992 Summer Games, was the exception, not the rule. ...

The Summer and Winter Olympics do create indelible memories, like the 1980 US Olympic hockey team’s implausible triumph in Lake Placid, N.Y., or Mary Lou Retton in the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

But most of the memories are as ephemeral as the Olympic flame, fading into the black almost as soon as the famed fire is extinguished.

The Olympics would have been an excuse to build a new stadium in DC--currently the Redskins play in Landover, Maryland--on the site of the currently decrepit RFK Stadium (aerial view at left).

Personally, I would rather that the overall complex be redeveloped in a somewhat mixed use fashion (there isn't really the demand for large scale office or retail space) but mostly with housing ("Wanted: A comprehensive plan for the "Anacostia River East" corridor").

That would benefit the city more economically and socially than a stadium used fewer than 15 times per year.

But the complications for redevelopment are many:
  • The Washington Redskins need to be able to play jurisdictions against each other in order to extract the maximum amount of public funds.  
  • If DC redevelops this site, it doesn't have many other sites that could serve as alternatives.  So the team will continue to lobby for relocating to DC, and it has the ear of the current Mayor and certain Councilmembers like Jack Evans and Vincent Orange.
  • The site has environmental contamination issues, currently covered up by asphalted parking lots.  
  • There is a recreation easement on the full property--the parking lots support that use--which would have to be "extinguished," or bought out for a fee, paid to the National Park Service
  • The Kennedy Family is enamored of Robert F. Kennedy being memorialized in the name of the stadium and are likely to oppose any plans to redevelop the site without a stadium and the Kennedy name. 
A couple nights ago, at a National Building Museum presentation about the 11th Street Bridge Park project, I was talking to a couple people about this, and we lamented that DC isn't very good at coming up with a comprehensive program for improvement, rather than being somewhat good at producing one off projects that don't connect very well to anything else.

The Olympics bid is another example of this.  DC doesn't have much of a comprehensive program for urban improvement, even though it is pursuing a wide variety of projects simultaneously.

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At 7:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I said in my second post--right after the decision was announced--on your earlier piece, it probably wasn't going to be LA since Peter Ueberroth had created the private sector financing model--which is how these extravaganzas should be supported--back in 1984 and were not going to get the kinds of givebacks to be had in other locales.
And despite all the happy talk from our so-called DC "leaders," I did not sense any support from the community. at large.
Comment from another Boston Globe article on the Olympic bid is something worth thinking about for DC:
perhaps this bid will compel Boston to full accessibility as it hosts the paralympics - though if Boston's finest can engineer a successful Olympic bid out of a 2 year old whim can not the city go off the grid by 2024? float any number of other far more worthy endeavors and achieve them in a decade? why stop with the Olympics, let us achieve a full neighborhood of MICRO units, municipal garbage 100% recycling rates (that is all trash gone through by hand or mechanically), zero emission buses, EMT vehicles! fire trucks, etc--acceptance of non pharmaceutical and non surgical pain relief therapies at mainstream hospitals and emergency rooms--if we can make 31 preps for Sports and international posturing, why not 50 preps to convince developers to use waterless toilets... We can do this!


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