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planned renovation of Navy Pier, intended in large part to downplay its carnival aspects, is evidence the formula is outdated.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.

City locations straddling the fine line between acceptable and edgy

Certain urban neighborhoods draw attention because they are “edgy” and offer something different than mainstream American locations. What happens when these “edgy” areas start to disappear or start to become established, mainstream places? Here is a look at this process in New York City:

Around countless corners, the weird, unexpected, edgy, grimy New York — the town that so many looked to for so long as a relief from cookie-cutter America — has evolved into something else entirely: tamed, prepackaged, even predictable.

“What draws people to New York is its uniqueness. So when something goes, people feel sad about it,” says Suzanne Wasserman, director of the Gotham Center for New York City History at the City University of New York…

If there’s one thing that doesn’t change in New York City, it’s nostalgia. Consider Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. After his election in 1934, he worked to remove the pushcart peddlers clogging the streets of the Lower East Side, viewed by many as a problem.

Once they were gone, people missed them.

A couple of thoughts about this article:

1. Cities thrive on these edgy or odd locations. The whole city doesn’t have to be different but young people (and perhaps even the Creative Class) tend to like these edgier locations. When it becomes too mainstream, people move on to the next novelty. But the character of a city is expected to be more unique and odd than a typical suburban setting.

2. The article highlights how people generally don’t like change, even if it is dealing with issues they once thought were problems.

3. I wonder how much money this has been worth to New York City. For example, what kind of taxes did the seedy Times Square bring in compared to the sanitized and Disneyfied version of Times Square? Certainly, some of these areas are now more palatable to suburban residents and families, broadening the group of people who might visit a location.

4. This is a reminder that what is now “edgy” or “cool” likely won’t stay that way for long. Cities, in particular, change fairly rapidly as new residents and businesses move in and out. I’m sure more edgy places will pop up in New York City.

4a. Could a city develop a “historical preservation district” (or something like it) to protect an edgy establishment or block? By making it official, does the site automatically lose some of its edgy status?