Wrigley Field and the suburbanization of sports stadiums

Cheryl Kent looks at the proposed plans for renovating Wrigley Field and concludes it makes the ballpark less urban:

The trouble is the Cubs are also pitching a plan for a kind of baseball theme park that pretends to authenticity while proposing to damage the integrity of the real deal: Wrigley Field. The Cubs want Ye Olde Baseball Mall, except with a Jumbotron and a rival entryway to the stadium…

The proposal is modeled after the “festival marketplace” approach launched in Boston with the renovation of historic Faneuil Hall as Faneuil Hall Marketplace by Benjamin Thompson in 1976. In a series of legendary projects, including work on Navy Pier in the mid-’90s, Thompson enticed people to visit the cities by promising safe, orchestrated experiences, with an emphasis on charm over authenticity and spontaneity.

In time, and as cities regained cachet, the marketplace approach came to represent a suburban take on cities that downplayed genuine urban diversity and vitality while assuming a defensive, apologetic crouch when it came to design.

Thompson was brilliant and a visionary, producing work more nuanced than subsequent formulaic applications reflect. But his work was driven by a condition that has disappeared — white flight to the suburbs. The planned renovation of Navy Pier, intended in large part to downplay its carnival aspects, is evidence the formula is outdated.

In other words, the proposed plans are a Disneyfied version of Wrigley Field and truly urban areas. It might look urban but it is a theme park version meant to encourage consumerism. This reminds me of sociologist Mark Gottdiener’s book The Theming of America as well as the work of other urban sociologists about public spaces. Genuine public spaces, like the ones Elijah Anderson talks about in The Cosmopolitan Canopy, allow all people the opportunity to enjoy and interact. In this proposed Wrigley Field, it is all about the Cubs and expanding their revenue base.

Kent doesn’t say as much about how the Cubs might renovate Wrigley Field to better fit with the city. The biggest problem here seems to be that the Cubs are likely to insist their changes are necessary because they will cover the costs of the renovation as well as make them money. Sports team owners don’t exactly have a good record of truly caring whether their teams and properties fit with the city.

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