Saturday, August 08, 2009

Fan or chump? New NY stadiums blur the difference, says Metropolis writer; also, did AY distract civics from stadium fights?

Mark Lamster has a nifty article in the July/August issue of Metropolis, headlined Play Ball: New York’s two teams build new stadiums. Both are designed by the same firm, which has made an industry out of translating the nostalgic impulses of baseball owners.

Click to the article through for some excellent photos, including aerial shots that show Yankee Stadium and CitiField each next to its empty but not-yet-demolished predecessor.

Are fans chumps?

Lamster's conclusion:
When I first started attending games on my own, some 20 years ago, a ticket to the Yankee bleachers cost $1.50, pocket change even for a kid on a tight allowance. That same ticket now costs $14: not an unreasonable sum, but more than a movie and enough to keep a student on a limited budget from making it too much of a habit. The new stadium, for that matter, doesn’t beg that kind of relationship. It’s a special-occasion place, somewhere to visit a couple of times a season. Why empty your wallet for an entertainment event that might not be entertaining? (Even the best teams lose roughly 40 percent of their games.) When you’re stuck in the nosebleed seats, and a beer, a dog, and a bag of peanuts cost upward of 20 bucks, thoughts of exploitation inevitably percolate through the mind. It is in those moments that the fan-team compact seems hopelessly broken, and one begins to wonder about the difference between being a fan and being a chump. Sometimes it seems like there’s no difference at all.
(Emphasis added)

Activism and the AY example

Lamster details some of the financial shenanigans behind the construction plans, based on tax-exempt bonds, and observes:
That fans are in essence paying for their own disenfranchisement has drawn harsh criticism from those who wished to save the old stadiums from the wrecking crews. “You have two ballparks that would never have been built if the people of New York had gotten to vote on it,” says Jim Bouton, an all-star pitcher for the Yankees in the 1960s and later a best-selling author and preservation advocate. “It’s against everything I believe about baseball and democracy.” The old ballparks were fully functional and, at least in the case of Yankee Stadium, of considerable historical significance. But the good-government activists who might have put the brakes on the two teams were distracted in the crucial months when stadium financing came up for debate. Preservationists were preoccupied with the fate of Edward Durell Stone’s kitschy Gallery of Modern Art, on Columbus Circle. The Atlan­tic Yards development, in Brooklyn, also commanded public attention. And, of course, there were elitists who couldn’t imagine why two crumbling baseball stadiums deserved saving at all. Against this backdrop, the most vocal critics of the two new parks, neighborhood groups in the Bronx and Queens, found themselves in the political and media wilderness. When the New York Times, in a March 2005 editorial, gave the new ballparks a backdoor endorsement—supporting them provided that the teams pay their own way—any hope of stopping the stadiums was lost.
(Emphasis added)

I'm not so sure of his analysis. It was the battle over the West Side Stadium that wore out planning groups like the Regional Plan Association. Nor did Atlantic Yards, at least at the time, command so much public attention, though--given the vigor of the AY opposition and the presence of blogs like AYR and NLG--it's fair to say that the Atlantic Yards controversy produced much more homegrown media.

Such media are more likely to emerge from gentrified neighborhoods, given the greater likelihood of well-educated people with some time on their hands to challenge a project.

Brooklyn not the "wilderness"

I queried Neil deMause, Brooklynb-based author of the book and web site Field of Schemes, who adds:
Preservationists were never interested in Yankee Stadium because of the '70s renovation, and good-government groups have been largely absent from all the NYC stadium/arena battles. (Except for the Municipal Art Society, but even they were late to the party.) Queens and Bronx groups found themselves "in the wilderness" because Queens and The Bronx are wilderness, as far as New York media and bloggers are concerned. If Jonathan Lethem had lived on the Grand Concourse, this all might have turned out differently. This is what the whole last two chapters of the new edition of Field of Schemes are about, of course.

Indeed, when I interviewed deMause last August, he offered similar context, though, as a commenter observed, the opposition also is energized by "the political corruption and subversion of democratic practices."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful response to my piece. Let me be clear that I'm no fan of the Atlantic Yards development—I did not mean to suggest that the protests against it were not legitimate. And you're right that the West Side Yards was also a project commanding attention during the early days of the stadium fight--I might well have mentioned it. Nevertheless, I believe my point is valid, and though I am a proud Brooklyn resident, the fact is that the outer-boroughs, and especially the Bronx, remain the "wilderness" as far as the major media are concerned. Due to space considerations, I did not mention Times critic Nicolai Ourroussoff, who went out of his way to suggest that preservation of the two stadiums was not warranted. On that, you might be interested in this piece for ID: http://www.id-mag.com/article/Bleacher-Bummers/

    Mark Lamster
    www.marklamster.com

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