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May 02, 2016

The Grand Prix is out and the chorus of boos rains down on the stodgy, old Boston way of doing business. Strange, given that Boston is a preeminent global city. And that may be a bigger cause of lament than a cancelled weekend of car racing along city streets.

At a recent luncheon during the annual New England Political Science Association meeting, journalist Christopher Caldwell spoke of the gleaming global cities of Europe. The new globalism has turned places like Paris into cities of immense wealth and inequality where the rich dominate life and new immigrants, with few claims on traditional worker demands, fill in the service sector. The middle classes with expectations of fair wages and worker protections are priced out of the global city. They eventually move away to communities they can afford that are also left untouched by the global economy and thus without economic vitality.

And that brings me to the recently cancelled Boston Grand Prix race weekend.

Former city councilor and mayoral candidate Mike Ross doesn’t want his city to be the place where good ideas go to die.

His laundry list of ideas that met a wall of negativity includes:

• A football stadium on the South Boston waterfront
• The NHL winter classic returning to Fenway
• The 2024 summer Olympics
• Grand Prix Boston

That’s a lot of frivolity upon which to berate an entire city for having a negative attitude. Of course, as Ross notes, he’s not as concerned with “a race that will occur over Labor Day when many Bostonians are away at the beach. It is, instead, the message we send to the outside world that their ideas are not welcome here.”

That thought reminded me of Caldwell.

Perhaps many city residents will find themselves luxuriating on the beach during Labor Day weekend.

Chances are great, however, that many other Bostonians will also be working that weekend or worrying about how they can continue to live in a city of such glaring inequality. A recent Brookings Institute reports ranks the city and region as one of the country’s most unequal.

Folks who live in a city with nearly 22% of its residents in poverty might well wonder why some innovative city leaders feel the need to embrace events or development that do little more than treat the city as a playground for those of means?

Or why a city of such historic importance, densely settled and hemmed-in geographically, should need or want things like a financially draining Olympics or a football stadium on its waterfront.  Who gets to decide that these are fun or "good ideas" in the first place?

Why is it so terrible, for example, that the Patriots built their complex and acres of parking in Foxborough? The Patriots’ website lists as a “fun fact” that “There are more than twice as many parking spaces in Gillette Stadium’s parking lots as there are parking meters in all of Boston.”

Fun!

So with the demise of another fun event such as the GrandPrix, we’re left to wonder:

Do our cities and towns find their souls in one off novelty events or in their long histories, distinctive cultures, and organic traditions?

Boston isn’t less of a city because it says no to novelties. It has plenty of them.  It is less of a city because the working class that helped to build it, bind its neighborhoods, and develop its unique identity, can no longer call it home. Fixing that issue would be a welcome good idea.

Mike Ross, Boston, Grand Prix of Boston, global cities

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