Jesse Jarnow

baseball & gentrification

On Friday, listening to the Mets/Marlins broadcast on WFAN. I heard (for me) one of the first positive uses the word “gentrification.” Though I imagine that’s most likely because I’m a sheltered Brooklyn liberal. One of the announcers was commenting on the positives of adding a retractable roof to Dolphin Stadium, where the Marlins play, and suggested that it would gentrify the surrounding area, thus revitalizing it. The neighborhood — a slum, maybe, I’m admittedly not sure — happens to be Little Havana, heavily populated by Cuban exiles, with all their attendant culture.

It’s nothing new for baseball. A few years back, Ry Cooder recorded Chavez Ravine, paying tribute to the Los Angeles neighborhood cleared in 1950s to make way for Dodger Stadium. And in another year or two, the horribly named CitiField will probably wipe away Willets Point, the primeval shantytown of chop shops and tire repair joints that abuts Shea Stadium. Strange that baseball should be so linked to the displacement of indigenous urban cultures. I suppose anything the magnitude of a ballpark is necessarily a municipal project, and therefore big business. It seems natural, in a horrible way.

But was it always like that? Fenway Park and other old stadiums were built to fit inside their respective city grids, and a lot of the stories I heard about Ebbets Field seem to indicate that it was integrated into Flatbush. In this day and age, is there any way for something as mammoth as a stadium to be assimilated organically into the surrounding area? Certainly, shitstorms brew in Brooklyn whenever new stadiums are mentioned. But was there ever a time when they didn’t?