Boston Unity Stadium Proposal
The owners of the new NWSL team in Boston have made a pitch to have their home field at White Stadium in Franklin Park, quite close to where I live. So I went to a community meeting to check out their proposal.
It’s not bad! The proposal seems respectful of the site and will make a lot of improvements to the stadium that will benefit Boston’s student athletes, who will continue to use the stadium for most of the year. (Said improvements won’t actually benefit Boston’s American football players, since that sport, which is currently played at White Stadium, will no longer be allowed there. I’m okay with this because given what we know about what American football does to players’ brains, I don’t believe schools should be offering this sport anyway, but I recognize that I’m an outlier in this.)
They’re replacing bleachers with seats and adding amenities and not cutting down a ton of trees. And, as a daily user of the park, I’m in favor of bringing more people into it. It’s a beautiful, historic, and very underappreciated and undermaintained, and I’d love to see more people enjoying it.
So far so good!
But the transportation options for game days are just laughably bad. They want to bring 10,000 fans to games. And there’s essentially no on-site parking. The closest MBTA stop is close to a 20-minute walk up a steep hill. The proposal calls for shuttle buses from the Jackson Square and Forest Hills T stops as well as from some yet-to-be-named satellite parking lots.
Now look. I’m excited to have a league that hosts some of the world’s best players happening within walking distance of my house. I’m sure a lot of city folks will support the team. But if you want butts in seats, you’ve got to get suburban butts in those seats.
And it’s here that the organizers just seem wildly out of touch with reality. The idea that a girls’ soccer team from the suburbs is going to take 2 trains and a shuttle bus is tough enough without even considering the fear and loathing that many suburbanites have for the city.
I know from having taught in the suburbs that a fair amount of suburbanites believe that merely existing in an urban neighborhood is inherently dangerous, that your personal safety is compromised by being anywhere but a tourist area. Jackson Square and Forest Hills are used by a very diverse group of people. Jackson Square literally abuts the Mildred Hailey Apartments (f.k.a. the Bromley-Heath Projects.) Suburban girls’ soccer teams will not go there.
So I believe the project is doomed to failure. Boston had an NWSL team before—they played at Harvard Stadium in Allston, which is a long walk from a T stop and had limited on-site parking. And the team went under. I think the new team is headed for the same fate. Which is too bad, but not a tragedy for the city or anything. In fact, if the team owners sink millions of dollars into stadium renovations and the stadium is used exclusively by Boston Public Schools students, this will probably be a win for the city.
But my optimism here hinges on the idea that the folks making this proposal are either brightsided by positive thinking or else wildly out of touch with suburban soccer fans. There is another, darker possibility, which is that the team knows very well that their transportation proposal is laughable, and they’re going to get halfway through the renovations and then suddenly announce they can’t make the project work without taking park land for parking.
Mayor Wu says that paving any parkland is an absolute dealbreaker, and I believe her. But I also believe that the power dynamics change dramatically in the middle of the project, when the owners can threaten to walk away from a stadium that’s been torn up but not yet rebuilt unless they get their way.
I hope the city is prepared for some contractual shenanigans from the wealthy people who own the team (because, let’s face it, a well-developed sense of ethics is inimical to making the kind of money these folks make), but more than that, I hope I’m wrong.