Michael Sorkin, who died yesterday of COVID-19, was a prolific architecture critic (and architect) and observer of the politics of public space, and so not a little influential in the development of my own writing. I’m sure I read some of Sorkin’s architecture criticism in the Village Voice, but he first came on my radar with his 1992 anthology “Variations on a Theme Park,” a terrific collection of essays discussing the ways that architects, urban planners, and major corporations were redesigning the world we live in to become a simulacrum of what people think they want from their environment, but packaged in a way to better make them safely saleable commodities. (I wish I’d gotten a chance to ask him what he thought of the Atlanta Braves‘ new stadium, with its prefab walkable urban neighborhood with no real city attached to it.) In his “Variations on a Theme Park” essay on Disneyland and Disney World, he laid out the history of imagineered cities starting with the earliest World’s Fairs, up to the present day with Disney’s pioneering of “copyrighted urban environments” where photos cannot even be taken and published without prior approval of the Mouse — a restriction he got around by running as an illustration a photo of some clouds, and labeling it, “The sky above Disney World.”
I really hope this isn’t the beginning of a weekly feature on great people we’ve lost to this pandemic, though it seems pretty inevitable at this point. For now, on with the other stadium and arena news, though if you’re looking for a break from incessant coronavirus coverage, you won’t find it here:
- In addition to the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers stadium getting to continue construction during a coronavirus shutdown of all “nonessential” businesses, construction will also continue on the Worcester Red Sox stadium, and the St. Louis MLS team stadium (though the club says it will “take the necessary steps to protect every member of the team”), and the Las Vegas Raiders stadium (despite a construction worker testing positive for COVID-19), and the Phoenix Suns arena renovation, and the Los Angeles Dodgers stadium renovation. Though some more cities are at least talking about shutting down construction sites like Boston has (mostly), so we’ll see how long this lasts.
- As for existing sports venues and convention centers left empty by the cessation of pretty much all sports not played on a computer (or featuring marbles as athletes), they’re being pressed into service as emergency shelters and open-air hospitals and makeshift legislative meeting rooms and coronavirus testing sites and parking lots for rental vehicles that nobody wants to rent because who leaves the house anymore?
- The Tokyo Olympics has been pushed back to 2021, which is expected to add $2.7 billion to the games’ price tag, though that could come down if hotels and security companies and the like agree to take a pay cut rather than forcing the Olympic committee to re-book everything a second time. NBC, meanwhile, is hosed on its plans to launch its streaming service with Olympic coverage, if you can find time to shed a tear for a massive media conglomerate’s streaming video business model amid all this.
- MLB and its players union have reportedly agreed to a deal on salaries and service time and other issues surrounding playing an abbreviated season, including the shortened amateur draft that owners originally proposed in their plan last winter to eliminate 42 minor-league franchises, back before it looked like the Coronavirus Recession would kill them on their behalf. Meanwhile, the NBA is getting ready to finish its season in the summer without fans, which is probably a best-case scenario for all sports, especially given that a Champions League match is now thought to have been the spark that set off Italy’s coronavirus epidemic, and the Chinese Basketball Association has extended its 10-week hiatus for fear of the virus flaring up again like it has in Hong Kong, and even the more rose-colored projections involve a summer where “Americans might get restaurants but no music festivals, offices but no crowded beaches, bars with spaced-out seating.” There are still a lots of ways the curves can bend here, and while a few of them involve sports in 2020, hardly any involve letting people watch live sports in large numbers — unless maybe things have been brought under control to where massive testing and contact tracing and quarantine of those infected and their contacts can be enough to let us gather en masse again, but I wouldn’t count on it.
- Actual non-coronavirus stadium news! Opponents of the Oakland A’s stadium project, including shipping companies that are worried about the impact on their businesses at Howard Terminal, are suing to block the fast-tracking of its environmental impact report, which is becoming a common move in stadium battles in California. (The fast-tracking is, I mean, not the suing. Well, both, really.) The A’s ownership decried this as reeking of “cynicism and desperation” coming “at a time when our community is coming together in the midst of a global public health crisis,” something that Pacific Merchant Shipping Association Vice President Michael Jacob called “pretty cynical and desperate.” Damn, I promised no coronavirus content in this item, sorry about that.
- Real actual non-coronavirus stadium news, except for it actually being news: The desiccated husk of Sports Illustrated is speculating that the Carolina Panthers could move to South Carolina, because stadiums can host the Final Four or something? If you can make sense of this word salad, please post your interpretation in comments.
- Won’t anyone think of the giant flags?