Retro accents and carnival pleasures : the cultural role of the ballpark in the renewing American city

Rosensweig, Daniel H, Department of English, University of Virginia
Lott, Eric, Department of English, University of Virginia
G Edward White, G. Edward White, School of Law, University of Virginia
Nudelman, Franny, Department of English, University of Virginia
Arata, Stephen D., Department of English, University of Virginia

This project examines the cultural and economic role of trendy retro ballparks in the contemporary American City. Since 1992, when the first of these new old stadiums - Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards - opened its gates, they have come to be seen as necessary components of downtown redevelopment. By 1998, five retro parks, or parks at least outfitted with accents of the past, were in operation. Additionally, a staggering eight more have been scheduled to open by 2003.

As part of this project, I discuss the political economy of stadium construction as well as the recent economic history of the American downtown. By the beginning of the century's final decade, in places like Cleveland - where most of my research takes place - the transformation of the economic base from manufacturing to service and tourism, along with racist and classist neglect, had left local municipalities desperate to find quick fixes to the problems associated with a decaying urban infrastructure. Decades of factory closings, race riots and suburban flight had impoverished and segregated city centers to such an extent that many local governments literally were going belly up. Out of the rubble, retro stadiums have emerged as anchors to urban renewal. In the process they have become central symbols in the transformation of the city from livable space ยป to one which has as its primary function the packaging of "urban" experiences to visitors eager for a dose of city energy. Throughout the early part of this project, I describe some of the enormous packages of corporate welfare given to owners of sports franchises aiding in this transformation.

Yet my primary focus is cultural. Each of my chapters examines the cultural cachet of "retro authenticity" as well as the psycho-social problems associated with such large scale reenactments of the old. To a large degree, these reenactments involve the employment of a commemorative culture, requiring a replacement of urbanites of the past with mere symbols paying homage to them. For example, in Cleveland's "Gateway," the faux historical name given to the area around the ballpark by its developers, blacks who for thirty years had lived, worked and shopped there, have been replaced by "blackness." In other words, as gentrification prices out the more economically marginal locals, a host of commemorative cultural forms - in Cleveland's case hip-hop mascots, rap music blasted over the loudspeakers and gift-shop items like Jackie Robinson replica jerseys - emerge to compensate for their absence.

In short, the primary thrust of this project involves an examination of how the movement of retro authenticity in ballpark construction mirrors larger, more troubling cultural trends helping negotiate many of the ironies and inconsistencies of gentrification. At the turn of the millennium, when a 'new urbanist' ethos has achieved a toe hold in American culture, when a generation of people who fled the city beginning in the middle part of this century look back nostalgically to urban life as a way to reconstitute the 'real' or the 'authentic,' retro baseball stadiums have emerged to provide them comfortable access to the old city in simulated form.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:36:07.

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