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.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Quality of place and space and baseball attendance

The New York Times has a story, "Compared With Cubs, White Sox Can't Win for Winning," about the Chicago White Sox, how they are in first place in their division, yet they draw fewer attendees to games than the Chicago Cubs.

From the article:

“It’s baffling,” said Bob Verdi, who covered both during 42 years at The Chicago Tribune. “You’ve got a Triple-A team on one side of town and a very likable, very good team on the other.”

It is no fluke, though. The last time the White Sox outdrew the Cubs was in 1992, U.S. Cellular’s second season. Even after the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, the Cubs outdrew them the next year despite finishing 30 games below .500. The White Sox have never drawn three million fans; the Cubs have done it eight straight seasons.

There is no shortage of theories about this puzzle, which is part of the fabric of the city. As many explanations are rooted in psychology, geography and socioeconomics as in baseball. The Cubs play on the tony North Side, the Sox on the grittier South Side. Slick bars and restaurants surround Wrigley, while the not so affectionately nicknamed Cell is nestled among parking lots and the Dan Ryan Expressway. Or there are just a lot more Cubs fans than White Sox fans.

 I come down firmly on the side of quality of place.

The big difference is that US Cellular Field, where the Sox play, is not in a neighborhood, whereas Wrigley Field is a key element of Wrigleyville and is surrounded by residents and an adjacent commercial district where fans go before and after games.

While there is no question that Wrigleyville has been "reproduced" away from its neighborhood serving qualities to focus on serving baseball fans (see Spirou, Costas & Larry Bennett. "Revamped Stadium...New neighborhood" Urban Affairs Review. v37:5, May 2002, 675-702), like the area around Fenway Park in Boston or LoDo in Denver (adjacent to Coors Field) it's a cool place to go even when there isn't a game.

This should be a lesson to planners and more importantly elected officials everywhere (elected officials tend to ignore planners when they say things they don't want to hear...).  This is another example of layering, in this case neighborhood + commercial district + stadium/arena.

In DC, there is no question that the impact of Verizon Center, integrated into the heart of the downtown commercial district, is positive and has added a great deal of vitality to the area, even if I argue vociferously that the arena is but one component, and hasn't been primarily responsible for the eastward expansion of the central business district and the significant and ongoing improvements in that area of the city.

Similarly, the Capital Riverfront area is building out around the Washington Nationals stadium, and intrepid entrepreneurs are opening creative establishments to try to draw some business from fans (although generally only sports-related items and food and drink are whaqt's selling--it's a stretch and counter to market demand to try to do much else).  Meanwhile, Barracks Row (8th Street SE) benefits from some pre-game and post-game patronage.

While it won't be a Wrigleyville or Fenway, Capital Riverfront will improve because of the residential components which bring everyday activity to the area, high quality public space amenities (such as Yards Park and Canal Park), and some residual "old" (I won't say historic) building stock that remains and is being redeveloped as part of the redevelopment of the old Southwest Federal Center.

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