Could San Francisco and Arlington, Texas, be more different? One is surrounded by water on three sides, and one is in the heart of flyover country. One has been the subject of countless songs, movies, and television shows, and the other is most known for being somewhere in Texas. One is America’s bastion of progressive politics, and the other is, well, in Texas.
The two cities are being showcased this week as they take turns hosting Major League Baseball’s World Series. The Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants typically wouldn’t be a subject this blog would tackle, but Arlington’s infamy as America’s largest city without any form of mass transit makes the World Series an opportunity to highlight the advantages of transit-oriented development and the impact it can have on a neighborhood and a city.
Developers always promise that these large stadium projects will bring in nearby restaurants, retail, and jobs, and they often use these promises to get public financing. One instance where those promises haven’t been fulfilled is at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The publicly-financed stadium, which opened in 1994, has had at best a marginal impact on the local economy of the city of Arlington according to a University of North Texas study.
Thanks to the city’s aforementioned lack of transit, the only way to take in a game is to carpool or drive alone. Fans are also more likely to leave early so they can beat the huge rush of thousands of cars splitting for nearby Interstate 30 which will quickly rush them out of Arlington. That’s one reason the Rangers and the Dallas Cowboys have made their home here in Arlington – it’s less than a half-hour drive away from both Dallas and Fort Worth.
The ballpark sits stranded in a sea of parking. Instead of a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood around the stadium, you have a L.A. freeway at rush hour on gamedays and a ghost town the rest of the year.
President George W. Bush was part-owner of the Texas Rangers when the public financing pact was made in the early 1990s and he profited handsomely from the deal. Arlington profited by gaining a world-class ballpark, but the public’s money could’ve been better used on any number of measures to grow the economy and spur development. Arlington could rezone the area around the ballpark and bring in some development, but it seems unlikely that a city with no transit system would be willing to part with a single parking spot.
San Francisco Giants
When AT&T Park opened in San Francisco in 2000, it became the first major league ballpark built without public financing since John F. Kennedy’s presidency. It was situated in a industrial waterfront area owned by the local port authority.
Instead of being surrounded by a sea of parking, the area around the ballpark is largely zoned for mixed uses. Bars and restaurants have sprouted up next to luxury apartment and office buildings. Instead of acres of asphalt, AT&T Park is surrounded by a vibrant neighborhood that is largely walkable and transit-oriented.
Fans coming from around the city and the Bay Area have several options to get to the Park – in addition to being located within a mile of a BART metro station and just one block from the Caltrain commuter rail depot, the ballpark is directly served by a number of local bus and streetcar lines and has its own ferry landing.
With transit access comes the freedom to have more compact development – the large tracts of parking turn into bookstores, sports bars and coffee shops. This truly creates an environment where the businesses around the ballpark directly benefit from its presence.
You won’t find studies that conclude the new San Francisco ballpark has been an economic engine for the neighborhood and the city. But there are intangible signs that the neighborhood around it is livelier and more prosperous even when the Giants are away thanks to the inclusion of transit infrastructure and development patterns that cater to people instead of automobiles.