In a recent post, I described a visit to Suisun City. I lauded the city for its incremental and successful approach to redevelopment.
I had stopped in Suisun City while enroute to Stockton. My goal in Stockton wasn’t a search for urban forms. It was watching minor league baseball and catching up with an old high school friend. But urbanism is always close to my conscious mind, especially with the Suisun City insights still bouncing around in my head.
So I asked my old friend to tell me about Stockton’s biggest redevelopment projects. (As a quick note, my question effectively equated redevelopment to urbanism, which is often inaccurate. The California redevelopment legislation was originally intended to assist with urban problems. And much of the electorate still thinks of redevelopment in terms of urban land use. But many, perhaps most municipalities, eventually used the broad definition of “blight” to fund projects that were drivable suburban. I hope that any rebirth of redevelopment will refocus redevelopment on walkable urban.)
My friend doesn’t work in land development, but has been a practicing attorney in Stockton for almost thirty years, so is familiar with the community. He thought at length about my question, but could name only three projects. The Banner Island Ballpark in which we were sitting, an arena immediately to the east, and a hotel on the other side of the arena.
With the fine example of Suisun City still fresh in my mind, I’d found a perfect counterexample. A city that had put many of its redevelopment hopes into a single, outsized, and eventually flawed basket.
The three new facilities were experiencing a range of successes. The ballpark is drawing mediocre crowds, but still provides a good place for family and youth outings. I understood that the minor league ice hockey franchise that plays in the arena has been successful and that the arena has booked other events. The hotel has been an utter failure. Unable to attract either a major hotel operator or adequate visitors, a portion of the hotel is being converted to graduate student housing for the University of Pacific.
But to really see the redevelopment failure requires a wider angle lens. There is virtually no new business vitality around the perimeter of the new structures. No pubs for pre-game beverages. No new shops. No new restaurants. The nearest business to the ballpark is a crane and sign business. Further away are aging light industrial buildings and residential neighborhoods that show cracks of deterioration.
The goal of Stockton redevelopment should have been neighborhood revitalization. It failed.
Before closing, I have a couple of thoughts on the ballpark, which may provide insights to urban design. In a post at the opening of baseball season , I wrote about neo-traditional ballpark design in which a ballpark conforms to the quirkiness of the available urban site. It can be an endearing element of a ballpark, such as the rightfield wall at AT&T Park. However, some ballpark owners and architects are eager to inject quirkiness even when the site doesn’t demand it.
Banner Island Ballpark provides a couple of fine examples of forced neo-traditional design.
To accommodate the circular footprint of the adjoining arena and the access road around it, the leftfield corner is pushed toward home plate, resulting in a homerun distance of 300 feet at the foul line. The fence then angles back to a more normal depth. The unusual fence alignment allows cheap homeruns right down the foul line and probably also creates triples on some groundballs down the line.
In right field, a bump was added to the wall to provide special seating for sponsorship. The resulting eccentric bounces probably turn a few doubles into triples.
Were the unusual features necessary or forced? Even though that ballpark was built at the same time as the arena, I’ll give a pass to the leftfield corner. It allowed the dramatic architecture of the arena. But I find the rightfield feature irredeemably artificial.
Drawing an analogy to urban design, most cities have quirks, either physical or character, that help define the city. Good urban design should accommodate those quirks, but not caricature them. It’s a fine line.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (firstname.lastname@example.org)