Let’s show that our city really “knows how”

By Bob Linscheid

One hundred years ago, the people of San Francisco came together to host the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a celebration of ingenuity and the human spirit. It’s time we came together again, this time to host one of the world’s greatest sporting events – the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games.

Yes, the prospect that San Francisco can show the world how to host a successful major international event has naysayers bleating loudly. “Think of the traffic! The environmental impact! The costs! Oh my!”

Yes, hosting the Olympics would be a challenge, as would ensuring that the costs are kept under controll. But it’s the kind of challenge that San Francisco should embrace. Why? Because hosting the Olympics affords us a unique political and cultural opportunity that can provide us with tremendous benefits in the century ahead. Here’s how:

The run-up to the 2024 Games would surely inspire San Francisco and Bay Area schoolchildren to take up a sport. That could have untold benefits in the battle against childhood obesity.

Just as important, however, is that a commitment to host the games in 2024 should inspire local civic and political leaders to work together on the region’s most pressing needs: housing and transit improvements.

Transport planning in the Bay Area can be a nightmare with 27 transit agencies in nine counties. The games could finally provide the much-needed impetus to actually solve problems by 2024 rather than endlessly putting off real results.

What would those results look like? Electrify Caltrain. Extend BART to San Jose. Extend the Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf. Build bus rapid-transit lines. Just think: If the Bay Area had been chosen to host previous games, we can only speculate that the deadline pressure would have forced the completion of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge in under 25 years.

Builing housing and transportation infrastructure will lead to the creation of thousands of jobs in those industries and related fields. The London Evening Standard reported that the 2012 games created more than 100,000 job, calling it “a remarkable golden dividend for the capital.”

The word “sustainable” gets thrown around a lot. But hosting the Olympics and Paralympics allows us the opportunity to showcase San Francisco as a world leader in sustainable practices. How? By hosting a games that usilizes existing venues and temporary structures rather than pouring billions of dollars into new stadiums and arenas.

After all, we’ve done that before. The 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, which attracted millions of visitors to immense displays such as a replica of the Greek Pantheon and a working model of the Panama Canal, featured structures that were designed to be temporary, while being the catalyst for rebuilding The City’s infrastructure after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Finally, the Olympic and Paralympic Games are more than sporting events. They focus the attention of the world on the host city. For years we would receive coverage by the world media, reaping rewards for years to come. And what better opportunity do we have as a city and a region to share our San Francisco values with the rest of the world.

After San Francisco won the bid to host the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, President William Howard Taft came to break the ceremonial ground. He toasted San Francisco as “the city that knows how.”

It’s time we came back to our roots and pulled together to again show the greatness of San Francisco to the world.

Bob Linschield is CEO and president of the Chamber of Commerce.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.