At some point in our nation’s history, a ballpark was just a ballpark. Whether idiosyncratic urban jewels defined by their contexts and boundaries or massive suburban concrete shrines with plenty of parking, sporting venues were relatively simple affairs. You found some land, built a stadium or an arena, and then waited for an ecosystem—bars, restaurants, parking lots, and souvenir stores—to organically sprout around it. Owners were responsible for their enterprise, not necessarily their cities.
But today, a sports stadium often represents just one component of a multi-phase urban renewal scheme, serving as a prominent and exciting anchor for an ambitious mixed-use master plan. They come with pre-signed retail tenants and integrated transportation solutions. They can even be pitched as solutions to housing crises, promising to create not just venues but entire thriving neighborhoods.
Perhaps nowhere is this trend more visible than California, where—if all goes to plan—two major (and privately funded) developments will create new homes for Los Angeles’s football teams and Oakland’s beloved baseball franchise—along with thousands of other homes for the cities’ residents.
Slated to complete its initial construction in 2020 in Inglewood, Los Angeles Stadium will have quite the legacy to follow. The Coliseum, its Art Moderne predecessor, looms large in sports history as the host of the first-ever Super Bowl and of two Olympic games. In its bid to solidify football’s return to Los Angeles, the new stadium is going big. When it’s completed, Los Angeles Stadium will be the country’s most expensive, totaling $4.9 billion in construction, development, and infrastructure improvements. When it’s complete, Los Angeles Stadium will regularly house 70,240 spectators and will be able to accommodate more than 100,000 for major events.
Neither an open-air stadium nor an enclosed dome, LA Stadium will be an open-air environment, crowned by a permeable metal canopy-style roof that lets in plenty of natural light and cooling Southern California breezes. In the middle of the stadium will hang a 70,000 square-foot, dual-sided screen made by Oculus, ensuring fans are able to see every second—and every angle—of the action. The dramatic teardrop-shaped form of the structure, designed by HKS Architects, feels ready to make a strong first impression both from the ground and the air, with millions of passengers landing annually at the neighboring Los Angeles International Airport.
However, Los Angeles Stadium is just a part of a 300-acre complex that will also offer a 6,000 seat performing arts venue, a hotel, 2,500 residential units, publicly accessible parks, and a lake. Taken together, the complex will constitute an entire district unto itself—more than three times the size of Disneyland—and its many-phase development is scheduled to wrap up in time for the 2028 Olympics.
However, while Los Angeles Stadium is a done deal, the Oakland A’s planned Howard Terminal stadium is still a moonshot, as the team is still attempting to acquire the land. Proposed to take up a section of Oakland’s bustling port waterfront, the stadium has run into opposition from the city’s maritime industrial community. But if the stadium succeeds, it could create a charming heart for the city’s rapidly developing downtown—along with thousands of residential units in a metropolitan era hurting for housing.
In scale, Oakland’s stadium would be a far cry from the Los Angeles project. At 34,000 seats, it would be the smallest in the Major League—perhaps fitting for the Bay Area’s “other” baseball team. The intimate stadium would be surrounded by a continuous sloping rooftop park, open to both fans and to the Oakland community at large on non-game days.
The most striking feature of the Howard Terminal development, though, would surely be its unique transportation system: an aerial gondola that would transport fans from nearby Jack London Square above the adjacent interstate to the stadium. Also included in the package would be anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 residential units, including a significant percentage of affordable housing.
In an era of increased urbanization, it makes sense that sports complexes are also making a return to the cities. And if Oakland and Los Angeles’s efforts succeed, they could set a template for how we build stadiums in the future: informed by careful urban planning, creating housing, and even providing public green spaces. It’s high time that we put the “park” back in “ballpark.”
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