Monday, March 31, 2008

Quote of the day: At least one visitor is less than overwhelmed by our nation's capital's new ballpark


Yes, that's the Capitol Dome in the distance. If you look really closely,
you can see brand-new $611 million Nationals Park in the foreground.

"Washington is a city where people can stare straight at the most powerful symbol of their democratic enfranchisement, and still feel absolutely powerless to change the course of our winner-takes-all society."
--culture critic Philip Kennicott, in an evaluation of newly opened Nationals Park, "This Diamond Isn't a Gem," in today's Washington Post

Nationals Park, the new $611 milliion (all of it taxpayer money) home of the NL Washington Nationals, had a grand opening last night, with the home team winning on a two-out ninth-inning walk-off home run by the Nats' Great Young Hope, already being described as "the face of the franchise," 23-year-old third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (seen here watching the ball he's just crushed travel toward the center-field fence).

Of course it won't be Nationals Park for long--only until somebody ponies up the right price for the "naming opportunity." The guessing says $8-12 million will do it, if you're interested.

It is, apparently, a perfectly all right place to watch a ballgame, if you can afford it. (Kennicott suggests that at least up on the third level of the joint "people of normal economic means can buy seats without dipping into their kids' college funds.") Elsewhere in the paper Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell, who is--or at least used to be--one of the best baseball writers around, describes the stadium as "a vibrant, intimate new ballpark already basking in praise."

"For the first time since the 1920s and '30s," Boswell writes,
so long ago that archival columns by the late Shirley Povich might be the only accounts, Washington finds itself with a franchise that has a fighting chance at a future. Thanks to a District-paid ballpark that already has exceeded most expectations, the Nats have the financial foundation necessary to be competitive. If a winning team is built -- far from a certainty -- the Nationals boast a facility that can please fans, gush cash and create credibility.

Naturally, you expect an architectural evaluation to take a larger view. "As people circulate through the stadium's public spaces, where beer can cost $7.50 and the cheapest hot dog is $4.50," Kennicott writes, "the human traffic flow unifies the two central purposes of the building: baseball and the fleecing of baseball audiences. This circulating motion wrings money out of you like wet laundry on the spin cycle."

Kennicott argues that the building is not only undistinguished in its own right, but almost totally closed off from its surroundings. For all the talk--principally from the team's principal owners, the father-and-son Lerners--about the park taking advantage of its historic setting, in line with the Captol Dome, Kennicott notes that on the inside the building looks almost entirely inward (without even any views of the neighboring Anacostia River), and on the outside it is, seemingly intentionally, cut off from the blighted Anacostia neighborhood whose economic revitalization it is theoretically intended to spark.
There were so many lost opportunities. Approached from the South Capitol Street bridge, the building might have been better framed by more greenery -- but a parking lot for the team has been placed right where a garden should be. Along South Capitol, the face of the building might have been opened up for street-level retail, something to make it inviting and even useful for the residents of the very poor neighborhood. There are even glass windows that suggest what storefronts might have looked like, but those windows are filled with Nationals advertising and they hide empty, useless space.

As for that famous sightline to the Capitol:
From the top of the stadium, look out at the skyline, toward the Capitol Dome. At first, it seems like a happy accident that it is most visible from the cheapest seats. But now look down into the neighborhoods where public schools have become dilapidated brick bunkers, their windows covered in forbidding metal mesh. It's enough to make you weep. Not about the stadium, which is as generic as it goes. But rather the cynical pragmatism that governs our priorities, socially and architecturally. Washington is a city where people can stare straight at the most powerful symbol of their democratic enfranchisement, and still feel absolutely powerless to change the course of our winner-takes-all society.


To me the most notable part of the evening was seeing Dear Leader treated so unkindly by the unruly baseball louts. Thank goodness it was only the worst booing any president has ever experienced and that, it being Washington, no one was armed. Silent Patriot over at Crooks & Liars has the disgraceful video.

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At 3:03 PM, Anonymous me said...

"the new $611 milliion (all of it taxpayer money) home of the NL Washington Nationals"

There ought to be a federal law against using public money to build sports arenas. What a gigantic rip-off!


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