By Richard Risemberg
February, 2003–Recently, Los Angeles suffered another outbreak of stadiumitis (medical name is subsidy entitlement delusional disorder). It’s a disease that causes rich people to run around City Hall screeching repeatedly that if they are only given money, tax breaks, and infrastructure improvements in exchange for building a private, for-profit stadium, the city coffers and the population of the city as a whole will somehow gain a much better life.
The difficulty in treating this disease is that it renders its victims desperately eloquent, and they are by means of this eloquence often able to transmit the disorder to others, with city officials being particularly susceptible. In fact, the disorder seems to be prevalent in many other cities across the United States, indicating that it may operate somewhat like a computer virus, propagating itself through the dispersion of malevolent information, i.e, lies. This has resulted in the spending of millions upon millions of dollars of public money in what amount to nothing more than concrete playpens for billionaire brats, giant structures that sit amid vast parking lots, providing few jobs, and those of low quality, while destroying the flows and eddies of public life that could make the city center attractive and generate both jobs and taxes if the stadium–used perhaps twelve, at the most twenty, times a year–weren’t there.
Nevertheless, it happens that these monuments to venality do rise regularly (and expensively) in our cities. So I say that, if we must build a stadium–and I don’t see that that’s a given, since a handful of jobs selling peanuts or beer is not a good tradeoff for the amount of land a stadium requires–but if we must, break the pattern, and build it differently.
In Los Angeles, for example, stadiumitis sufferers are proposing one of these Speer-like extravagances for three possible sites: near the present Staples Center (itself a monument to parking more than anything else), in Exposition Park where the Coliseum presently stands, or by Union Station. The last is by far the best site, and for a very simple reason: with the two (possibly soon three) branches of the Red Line, the Blue Line, and the Gold Line Metros, as well as Amtrak and Metrolink, feeding patrons to the site, you would need less parking, hence waste less valuable land, and you would induce far, far less traffic, than at the other sites.
This is a hidden benefit of the Union Station proposal that would bless our city for the life of the stadium.
Other cities succumbing to an outbreak of the disorder must consider similar palliative efforts: seek out site already served by public transit, or near enough to light rail or subway lines that an extension to the stadium would not cost too much. (It should be billed to the owners of the proposed stadium, but they tend to be resistant to treatment.)
There is a further step to take in ameliorating the effects of this malady, and this involves changing the design concept of the stadium as we know it in our time. This is what to do:
Build what parking there must be underground, so the stadium can front directly on the street all around, rather than sit isolated in an asphalt desert. Then you can site seven-day-a-week small businesses around its ground floor perimeter, making it a vital part of the community even when there is no game on–which would be most of the time.
I don’t mean sports-related businesses, I must emphasize that. Nor yet another iteration of chainstore-dependency syndrome. I mean community businesses that have no necessary referent to the stadium itself, but merely use it as a location. I mean coffeehouses, diners, dry cleaners, internet cafés, drugstores, clothing boutiques, bookstores, camera and electronic shops, a bar, what have you. And public entities as well: why not a police substation, a library, a senior citizens center (combine with a youth center for best results); even a school, which could use the field when the teams aren’t scheduled on it–think of the thrill for the kids! Many of these businesses could have counters on the inside where they would serve stadium patrons on the lower concourse on the few game days of the year, when the stadium would actually operate as a stadium, rather than as a hole in the urban fabric, which all of them presently are, most days.
While there may be no cure for stadiumitis–though one can hope–such measures might actually make it worthwhile to indulge the sufferers of this strange delusion. They could sit in their skyboxes and pat themselves on the back all they wanted (safely out of public view), the ballplayers could play–and the neighborhood, the whole city, would be the richer for it. Not for the stadium itself, but for the opportunity it would then provide to create a sort of inside-out public square, with genuine public life occurring round it.