Case Study: Sports-Centered Urban Development
The majority of neighborhood development initiatives we have focused on in class present their plans as being entirely based on satisfying the people within those communities. However, our discussions have made it quite clear that very few of those efforts are true to the motives they establish outwardly regarding helping great numbers of people struggling in the lower classes; instead, there is usually a money-making venture involved that works in favor of the already wealthy, elite few. In class, we spoke of this phenomenon occurring specifically in relation to sports-centered urban redevelopment under Bruce Ratner’s direction in Brooklyn, but the feigned charity doesn’t stop there. Timothy Chapin explains a similar reality of sports facilities aiming to yield economic recovery that takes place in Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Cleveland’s Gateway, but he focuses more on the impacts of these projects on their respective cities.
In Brooklyn Matters, Bruce Ratner—a real estate developer with the backing of the Empire State Development Corporation—plans to build a New York Nets basketball arena in Brooklyn to benefit his own interests and to make himself money; however, he presents the plan as one geared towards urban redevelopment that would help create jobs and excitement for the residents of that area. It all started when flyers were spread amongst low income residents with the grand promise of “Jobs, Housing, and Hoops” plastered all over them, along with a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). The CBA implied that the community’s input was being considered as valuable and that they were endorsing the project. While it may have sounded nice at first, below the surface were so many fabrications and inconsistencies that made it clear that Ratner had no idea what the people truly wanted and needed and was not going to take the time to find out.
Ratner’s next step was to buy out hundreds of local residents and tear down the perfectly decent buildings he had vacated that used to be their homes, to make space for what he deemed more important. Not only did Ratner disguise his selfish intentions entirely and mask them with charitable, hopeful words for the people, he also tried to tell them what they should want. Newsflash, Ratner: not every low-income African-American person wants a basketball stadium that they cannot even afford to watch a game in, because your project is actually making it harder for them to get reliable jobs and more expensive for them to continue living in their hometown. This situation is a clear example of sports-centered redevelopment that is supposedly centered around altruistically helping the local residents, when the only ones that really win out are the greedy manipulators at the top of the wealth and power food chain.
Similarly, Timothy Chapin explains that sports facilities as urban redevelopment tend to be poor investments, but he zeroes in on the direct impact they have on Baltimore and Cleveland more than anything. The article he wrote highlights the opportunities that come with the creation of sports stadiums, such as developing underused buildings, establishing new images for the areas in question, and catalyzing the redevelopment process created by the sports stadiums; however, these are not promised consequences, but rather increased chances for their potential fruition. These plans list their intentions as including the creation of better-paying jobs, economic growth at the metropolitan level, and the advancement of neighborhoods as a hole.
Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Cleveland all resemble each other in several ways when it comes to the social issues and phenomena that result from the creation of sports facilities. For example, while these projects supposedly create better jobs, each of the situations were actually found to yield low-paying service sector jobs and perhaps even have a negative impact on real income per capita. Additionally, Cleveland’s Gateway Project was listed as one that set out to energize the city, kind of like the creation of the indoor lounge space at the stadium in Brooklyn. Even the language used is very similar, especially with the use of the word “blighted.” While Brooklyn was said to look blighted after Ratner forced residents out of their homes and left the buildings abandoned, Cleveland was described this was due to the demolishing of several buildings and an overall poor image that put forth a bad first impression to both residents and visitors.
In conclusion, while all three areas all had very different attributes, it was interesting to learn just how much overlap there was when it came to attempted redevelopment through the creation of sports facilities. Brooklyn Matters highlighted the corruption and selfishness behind these projects that was masked as a neighborhood improvement effort, while Chapin’s article focused more on the direct outcomes linked to these sports-centered initiatives. All in all, while some of these projects may have seemed more beneficial to community members than others, the biggest takeaway I had was that the intentions behind them never truly seemed to be altruistic or for the well-being of communities, but rather representing an ulterior motive to make money for those who are already wealthy.
Chapin, Timothy S. “Sports Facilities as Urban Redevelopment Catalysts: Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Cleveland’s Gateway.” Journal of the American Planning Association 70.2 (2004): 193-209. Web.