Issue 12_07.13.20Ten Better Places for a Football Stadium
The Mets, the Jets, the Nets, the Yanks — new stadia all around! But where to put them? Architect and urbanist Michael Sorkin surveyed the five boroughs for sites to consider.
The fight over the city’s attempt to build a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan was never about football (other than the political kind) or, for that matter, the Olympics: It was over where to put the stadium and who should pay for it. The West Side project has now gone down in flames because the administration chose one of the worst places available and then asked us all to pay, largely (and transparently) in order to jack up real estate prices in the area for the usual cohort of salivating developers. Not only did construction depend on building a platform—an artificial ground—over an active rail yard, a proposition that would have added as much as a billion dollars to the cost of the project, access to the site is awful. Bringing the number seven subway from Port Authority would have cost additional billions. Automobile access from the West Side Highway or from the avenues would have been nightmarish. Structured parking would have been expensive and could never have allowed the tail-gating so beloved by fans.
The enormous object also sought to extend the blocks-long barrier to the waterfront created by the Javits Convention Center; their combined lump would have obliterated relations to the Hudson River from the island and permanently disfigured the scale of the West Side. In choosing to move the site for the Olympic proposal to Queens as part of a new Shea Stadium, the city has been forced to settle on a site that makes sense for such a project. Indeed, Flushing is one of the best places in the city for a stadium from the perspectives of automobile and mass transit access, of potential synergies with surrounding athletic and public facilities, and of the minimal effort required to prepare the site for construction.
The wave of projected stadium-building in New York—for the Mets in Queens, the Yankees in the Bronx, the Nets in Brooklyn, as well as for the Olympic bid—is a symptom of a larger phenomenon. Sports stadia have come to be represented not just as premiere emblems of American civic culture (all hail the steroid-bloated millionaires at play!) but as drivers of urban economic revitalization. Here, they join that other instant panacea, gambling casinos, as leading markers of the decline of public planning as the development paradigm shifts decisively to so-called public-private partnerships. What this means in practice is that private business—including such fatted enterprises as sports teams, gambling cartels, and office developers—are given giant public subsidies as an inducement either to come to or to remain in cities. Public benefit from such investments is allegedly returned in the form of jobs, taxes, or other more elusive outcomes of “development.”
In New York, this model has become the virtual default and every major project proposed by the Bloomberg Administration—from Greenpoint to Ground Zero—follows this model. Indeed, large-scale planning has shifted from the Department of City Planning—which has been reduced to an urban design role—to the office of the deputy mayor for economic development, whence the big “visions” come. These, predictably, tend to be calculated to engorge the Ratners, Silversteins, and Steinbrenners of the city, civic paragons who need to be bribed to stay in town to trickle-down on the public. Of course, it is a hopeless, evil ploy, another contribution to the yawning income gap, welfare for plutocrats who, it is hoped, will throw the rest of us a crumb or two.
In fact, study after study has demonstrated the folly of this approach. Virtually none of these subsidies is ever recouped and such subventions for the powerful always rob the poor—those at the bottom of the list of municipal priorities, for whom housing, education, transportation, and healthcare are of somewhat greater importance than football. Moreover, the only good jobs generated by these projects are in construction (permanent jobs tend to be few in number, seasonal, and low-paying) but these would also be provided through building apartments, clinics, or subways. Indeed, these projects may be the least efficient expenditure of public funds imaginable and one of the highest hypocrisies of the self-proclaimed laissez-faire thieves who run the country.
Setting aside the fiscal foolishness of public support for this private enterprise, the city’s initial proposal also relied on a distorted view of the nature of large sports facilities and their capacity to add amenity to cities. A football stadium is not a neighborhood-friendly object but an industrial one and the criteria for siting such huge constructions resemble those for choosing a spot for a factory or power station (the proportions of which are perfectly reproduced in the stadium design proposed for the Jets). Receptacles for enormous numbers of people briefly gathered, stadia are assembly lines for intermittently pumping them in, pumping them full of beer, and pumping them out.
Because of this industrial character, huge stadia have little to offer directly to viable neighborhoods, although their energy does have the potential to benefit places that cannot be used otherwise, are derelict, or lack a community in place to suffer any adverse impacts. Likewise, a stadium can add élan, jobs, and secondary commerce to neighborhoods that are struggling for economic help (as a number of European stadiums have done). On the Far West Side—a neighborhood at the point of booming, as recently reported in The New York Times, football or no—the stadium would clearly have been a liability, reinforcing the large-scale developer-driven urbanism favored by the administration and thwarting the more intimate grain that viable neighborhoods demand and deserve.
Although Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, and the rest of the anything-for-the-Olympics crowd insistently represented the Far West Side as the only viable possibility (until it was voted down), at least ten other sites in the city would be far more advantageous and suitable for such an infusion of energy and cash, assuming that any public contribution for the greater good can be more persuasively argued. One of these is Flushing and it may attract the Olympics yet. The odds, however, seem long for 2012, which suggests that there is time to consider additional sites for 2016, for the Jets, the Giants, and for the big public gatherings that are important to our collective life. Here are ten worth thinking about.
MICHAEL SORKIN IS AN ARCHITECT, CRITIC, AND DIRECTOR OF THE URBAN DESIGN PROGRAM AT CITY COLLEGE OF NEW YORK.
1. Hunts Point/Port Morris/Mott Haven, Bronx
A huge site adjacent to the Bruckner Expressway (from which cars could be directed to parking without hitting the city grid), astride the Amtrak line, close to the water, and easily served by both subways and Metro-North, seems to be all plusses. Not simply would construction be minimally disruptive, it would provide a strong symbol for neighborhoods that are among the city's poorest. The easy relationship with the athletic facilities on Randall's Island would also be a positive should the city win the Olympics. A second potential site in the same vicinity is the nearby intermodal railyard opposite Manhattan.
2. Yankee Stadium/Bronx Terminal Market
If Yankee Stadium is to be replaced on a nearby site while the house that Ruth built continues to host games, it is clear that the neighborhood has room for two stadia. Transportation is excellent, an infrastructure of bars and other support sites is profuse, and the prospect of the redevelopment of the Terminal Market and the Harlem River waterfront would add greatly to the area’s atmosphere. A football stadium could also help anchor the revival of the central Bronx from the Concourse to the Hub. In addition, the relationship between new baseball and football stadiums would make the neighborhood one of the premiere sports sites on the planet.
3. Sunnyside Yards, Queens
A superb place for a stadium! As the city presses ahead with plans to create a fourth commercial core around Queens Plaza (to join midtown and downtown Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn), a stadium could form a powerful centerpiece, especially if it accreted a series of additional uses, such as housing and big-box retail. Transportation is excellent and is projected to improve with the construction of a multi-modal station under the Queens Boulevard Viaduct. And with modest new construction, cars could be routed to parking directly from the LIE, parking that could also serve commuters into Manhattan. To be sure, additional costs would result from the need to build the stadium above the railyards but the payback in convenience and non-disruption of neighborhood life would more than compensate.
4. Brooklyn Navy Yard
Although this site has obvious access issues, they are not materially worse than those on the West Side and are more cheaply solved. Like a number of potential locations, this one could be made to work by improved water access, by special shuttles from surrounding subways on game day, and by direct access to parking from the BQE. The site commands marvelous views of the Manhattan skyline and the industrial character of the stadium would blend well with that of the Navy Yard.
5. Sunset Park/Bush Terminal, Brooklyn
The largely derelict waterfront between the Bush Terminal and the harbor, is an extremely tasty possibility. This is one of the last living industrial areas in the city—with over 33,000 jobs—and it could profit from what, in other circumstances, are negatives. The stadium’s own industrial character is compatible with existing uses which also support a population of potential sports fans. Moreover, a stadium could help save Sunset Park from the likely fate of Greenpoint under the city’s just announced re-zoning plans. Their implementation threatens existing neighborhood character both by their up-market, over-scaled ambitions for the waterfront as well as through a mixed-use policy that is likely to see remaining industry displaced by gentrification. The Sunset Stadium—combined with a planned park, nearby cruise ship terminal, recycling plant, and automobile port—could create unique synergies.
6. Hunters Point, Queens
Assuming that New York is not the winner of the 2012 Olympics, the site of the proposed Olympic Village at the mouth of Newtown Creek would be excellent. This generously scaled, unbuilt area would allow a stadium surrounded by housing and parks and could become a driver in the rehabilitation and remediation of the fetid Newtown Creek. Access is excellent, including all rail modes, water movement, and a possible direct link to the LIE and BQE. The site also enjoys the kind of elastic relationship to its surroundings that would allow such a huge facility to be both near enough for neighborhood access and far enough to be buffered against the risk of overwhelming what remains a relatively fine-textured community.
7. Flushing/Willets Point, Queens
Perhaps the most self-evident site of them all, this location next to the new Shea Stadium would plug into a tested area at the convergence of four freeways (perhaps the best served spot in the city for cars) and to the LIRR and subway stations already on site. Adding ferry service would benefit both the athletic complex as well as the burgeoning neighborhoods of Flushing and Corona. Which are now isolated from each other. The convergence of stadium building, buoyant neighborhood growth, the reclamation of the Flushing River, and the relocation of the Willets Point automobile shops (perhaps within the site, perhaps within the stadium) make this a slam-dunk (if you'll forgive the metaphor). And, nearby LaGuardia would again make sense of a team called the “Jets.”
8. Coney Island, Brooklyn
The revival of Coney Island has been announced for years but proceeds at a snail’s pace. Some hopeful signs: Keyspan Park, a minor league baseball stadium, is enjoying great success; the city has just completed a massive renovation of the Stilwell Avenue subway station; and use of the beach is on the rise. Moreover, Coney Island is a virtual synonym for urban recreation and locating the Stadium adjacent to Keyspan Park, Astroland, and the beach would take it to the next level of attraction, luring other sports, entertainment, and related uses. The nearby Belt Parkway and ample opportunities for water transport round out a very pretty picture. And what more logical neighbor for Nathan’s!
9. Fresh Kills, Staten Island
The closing of the municipal dump at Fresh Kills has been followed by a proposal for a park that takes a delicate, naturalizing view of our garbage Himalaya. But this landscape of industrial and residential waste is also ideal for a use that simply caps a portion of the site for stadium building and parking. There are obvious accessibility challenges but both the Staten Island and West Shore Expressways skirt the site, Arthur Kill provides passage for water transit, a disused rail line leads to the St. George Ferry Terminal, and a link to the Perth Amboy/Elizabeth branch of the New Jersey Transit line on the opposite shore is easily imagined. So too is a stadium that sits within and utilizes our municipal mountains.
10. Governors Island
Simultaneously unlikely and perfect, Governors Island currently languishes in indecision, awaiting its big idea. Perhaps it can accommodate two. The Island itself embodies two conditions: the original “natural” island as it existed until the beginning of the 20th century and its large southern extension, built from fill excavated during the construction of the IRT. By re-dividing the island into northern and southern islands, the historic northern half could become an extension of the space-challenged United Nations, the perfect site for the pursuits of peace. Appropriately isolated, the southern island would be a glorious and secure site for mass gatherings and big games. The challenge of getting there could also be turned to advantage. Unless a pedestrian bridge or tramway were built from Red Hook (not a completely illogical pair of possibilities), all access would be from the water. But this is less daunting than it otherwise seems. To begin, Governors Island is very close to both Manhattan—with its existing infrastructure of ferry terminals—and Brooklyn with its capacity to lead cars from the Battery Tunnel and the BQE or Gowanus Expressway directly to shore-side parking. Moreover, given that football is played on Sundays—when service on the huge Staten Island ferries is reduced—a dedicated boat or two making round trips from South Ferry could efficiently deliver very large numbers of people to the island in minutes. Finally, the proximity of the stadium to the Statue of Liberty raises the prospect of a view of that great symbol through the uprights of another, from the new Freedom Bowl, America’s stadium.