Oakland A’s New Stadium, Gentrification, And Broken Black Promises

From Brooklyn to Los Angeles, to Atlanta and Oakland, new stadiums mean big headaches for black and brown people.

The displacement of city residents in favor of mammoth construction projects is something Black communities, as well as other communities of color, are very familiar with. Looking at a map of major pro sports venues from across the nation it’s impossible to tell for certain which were the result of disenfranchisement of an entire neighborhood of people. However, there are certainly quite a few of them.

Not only are the venues responsible for physically affecting the most vulnerable groups, ones that have no political recourse, but they’re also dumps for corporate welfare and grift. According to a 2012 article from Deadspin, the American public has footed 61 percent of stadium construction from 1909 to 2012.

The same article mentioned how rare it is for stadiums to affect the bottom lines of the average citizen or the local municipalities in which they are situated.

Yet, the people tend to fall for the scam more often than not. Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Indianapolis Colts play, was heralded with a promise for $2.25 billion in economic growth for Indianapolis and the surrounding areas. But, you guessed it, that hasn’t happened, nor have the 4000 plus jobs promised by the arrival of the concrete leviathan back in 2004.

From Chavez Ravine, where a thriving Mexican-American community was leveled to make room for Dodger Stadium in 1962, to Brooklyn’s still sparkly-new Barclay’s Center, where many black and Hispanic families were displaced in its wake, new stadiums are ultimately harbingers of debt for the cities that fund them, and bleach-like gentrification for the areas that surround them.

Those areas that are not gentrified are leached of their life’s blood by changing economic realities that come into play when entire neighborhoods are dismantled almost overnight.

Conspiracy theories aside, it’s no coincidence that stadiums are often built in black or Hispanic neighborhoods. No matter the economic power of the collective group, city and government officials historically tend not to take the concerns of people of color into consideration because of the groups historical lack enough political clout to parry the advances of a billion dollar team owner determined to get “his” stadium built.

Mechanicsville, Georgia, located just south of downtown Atlanta and founded after the Civil War, was a mixed neighborhood built by railroad workers that were around 62 percent white and 38 percent black.

In 1965 that all changed with the arrival of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The construction paid for by tax dollars from the parks and recreation budget and built on land seized from landowners under a federal “urban renewal” program, the construct is said to have wiped out an entire adjacent neighborhood and cutting the Summerhill neighborhood nearly in half.

The simultaneous construction of the interstate displaced thousands. According to a study from Georgia State University, a 1940 census showed there over 30,000 people living in the area. In 2011, that total number of people living in the same geographic area was 5,409.

A very similar situation occurred west of downtown when the Georgia World Congress Center was constructed in the mid-70s and expanded to include a football stadium called the Georgia Dome by ’92.

The $214 million stadium was 100 percent publicly funded and took residence in the historic Vine City section of the city. The economically-thriving district saw a 66 percent population lost between 1970 and 2000.

The construction of the new Oakland A’s stadium has been a lukewarm topic in the digital sports sphere. Only lukewarm because, even though there are vast economic and demographic factors at play, monster stadiums displacing vulnerable communities just isn’t story news outlets are clamoring to tell.

But, according to SB Nation writer Grant Brisbee, the very ambitious project will be free of other issues that stalk similar projects; public funding, displacement of residents, and gentrification. However, as has been illustrated many times in the past, what is promised often falls well short of what’s delivered whenever stadiums are put over the needs of the people. 

There’s even the laughful assertion being floated by pollyanna-ish individuals saying the new Oakland stadium might actually combat gentrification. Yeah, sit down before you collapse from laughter or disdain. But only time will tell if this scenario will turn out better for common folk than past instances ultimately did. 

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