Cities: April 2008 Archives

Basketball boosters were quite happy to say that a relocated NBA franchise would belong to the whole state, when they were convincing credulous legislators to vote for $60 million in corporate welfare to the billionaire owners of the Seattle SuperSonics (the subject of last week's column in UTW).

Now that the deal is done, the City of Oklahoma City has announced that it will be a condition of the arena lease that the team will bear the name of the city, not the state. (Hat tip to Mad Okie.)

RELATED: Fellow "naysayer" Jim Hewgley sends along a link to a very detailed review of research on the economic impact (or lack thereof) of pro sports facilities and the history of public subsidy for them.

The article's author, Dennis Coates, is professor of economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His own research studied yearly data for per capita personal income, employment, and wages in metro areas hosting a major league baseball, basketball, or football franchise, looking at the impact of new stadium construction or franchise relocation. He found a decrease in per capita personal income as a result of new sports facilities or teams in a metro area. Here are a couple of possible explanations for the observed decrease (emphasis added):

First, consumer spending on sports may simply substitute for spending on other types of entertainment--and on other goods and services generally--so there is very little new income or employment generated. Sports fans that attend a game may reduce their visits to the movies or to restaurants to free up finances for game tickets and concessions. Patrons of local restaurants and bars who come to watch the games on television also are likely to cut back on their other entertainment spending.

Second, compared to the alternative goods and services that sports fans may purchase, spending related to stadium attendance has a relatively small multiplier effect. This is because spending at the stadium translates into salaries for wealthy athletes, many of whom live outside the city where they play. High-income individuals generally spend a smaller fraction of their income than low- and middle-income people--and much of the spending professional athletes do occurs in a different community than where they earned it. So the money paid to players does not circulate as widely or abundantly as it would were it paid to people with less wealth and more attachment to the city.

Recall that the recently-passed expansion of the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Program to sports teams includes salaries not taxable in Oklahoma in the calculation of the "rebate," thus ensuring that the team still gets a subsidy for non-resident players who are paid out of state and who therefore likely spend most of their money out of state.

Coates reviews research which uses other, more focused measures of economic activity related to projected impacts from the presence of major-league sports teams (e.g., hotel room nights and less sales tax data). He also considers when subsidizing a stadium might be justified, despite the lack of positive economic impact.

The beginning of the article looks back at the beginnings of public ownership of sports venues. The urge to build large memorials to fallen of the Great War and the need for make-work projects during the Great Depression were two contributing factors.

Coats also touches on the hidden costs of public stadium subsidy. Initial construction costs are just the tip of the iceberg.

It's worth reading the whole thing.

FOR MUCH, MUCH MORE: Here's the Heartland Institute PolicyBot's collection of links to studies on public subsidy of sports facilities and convention centers. (Thanks to Brandon Dutcher for calling it to my attention.)

A few days ago, Jon Swerens posted an entry at The Good City called "Politics can't save urbanism." Jon's point, in a nutshell, was that we can't use legislation and regulation to impose high-density urban living on a populace that believes it to be undesirable. The culture has to change.

I responded with a comment that in some ways the culture is changing and what could be done in cities like Tulsa and his hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., to help that change along. Jon was kind enough to spotlight the comment in a subsequent blog entry. Here's what I had to say:

You make a good point about the cultural issue. Two generations have been raised to see the tidy segments of the suburbs as normal and the city as a messy mix that needs sorting out. That's starting to change, and a significant number of people have experienced the pleasures of urban living, either directly, or vicariously through TV shows like Seinfeld and Friends. (And it could be argued that the appealing depiction of urban life on those programs was made possible by Giuliani's cleanup of New York in the '90s.)

I think the starting point is for cities like Fort Wayne and Tulsa to create and preserve urban places for the many who already know they want to live there. As these areas thrive, others will see that urban excitement is possible close to home, not just on the East Coast or in Europe. Over time there may be enough demand to redevelop badly aging post-war suburban neighborhoods in a new urbanist fashion.

Politics still matters: You need councilors and planning commissioners with the courage and vision to approve a pilot project for form-based codes or special zoning with design guidelines to protect traditional neighborhood development from suburban-style redevelopment.

But mostly you need entrepreneurial types willing to reuse old buildings in traditional neighborhoods, and others who are willing to build new in a traditional style. Recreating a vital urban core will happen the same way it was destroyed: one building at a time.

Thinking further about cultural influences in support of traditional urban settings, I've noticed that a fair number of children's TV programs and books are (or have been) set in urban environments. First and foremost, there's Sesame Street, with its row houses and corner grocery. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is a traditional mixed-use neighborhood with shops and a trolley line within walking distance.

When my oldest son was small, he watched "The Busy World of Richard Scarry" nearly every day. The cartoon, which featured characters like Lowly Worm, Huckle Cat, and Bananas Gorilla, was set in Busytown, a vaguely northern European small city, filled with street-fronting small businesses like bakeries and green grocers. Here's the show's opening credits:

If you can think of other pop culture elements -- novels, music, movies, TV series -- that make urban living seem appealing, please post them in the comments below.

My most recent Urban Tulsa Weekly column is about the correlation between urban vitality and the combination of good urban form and older buildings, factors that are actively protected in cities like Austin and San Antonio, cities that Tulsans frequently say they wish to emulate. Those factors seem to make the difference between a lively riverfront, like San Antonio's, and a commercially inactive riverfront like Austin's.

As I mentioned in the column, I visited Austin and San Antonio recently. You can find the photos I took in downtown San Antonio on Flickr. I've geocoded each picture and explained what I found interesting, particularly from an urban design perspective.

Here are some links where you can learn more about San Antonio and Austin's zoning and land use policies:

Twelve years ago, on a week-long business trip to Silicon Valley, I came up with the idea of doing a column for UTW that I would have called "Urban Elsewhere," describing the good and bad examples of urban design that I came across in my travels, describing vibrant districts and trying to explain why they work and how we might apply those examples to Tulsa. It took a few years, but through this blog and my column in UTW I've been able to do that from time to time, which gives me a lot of satisfaction. Perhaps some day our city leaders will draw lessons from other cities that don't involve massive tax increases for major public projects.

By the way, the Austin electronics store I mention at the beginning of the column is a branch of a store I first came across during that trip to Silicon Valley -- Fry's Electronics. It's Nerdvana -- like a Best Buy + CompUSA + Radio Shack on steroids. It's Bass Pro Shops for technogeeks. Every part or gadget you could imagine, you can find it at Fry's. Having a Fry's, or something like it, in Tulsa would do more than acorn lamps along the river to convince tech-heads that they want to live and work here.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from April 2008.

Cities: March 2008 is the previous archive.

Cities: May 2008 is the next archive.

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