What do you think of when you think of Paris? You think of The Louvre, The
Avenue des Champs-Élysées—the most famous street in the world with its
theatres, cafes, brilliantly planned gardens and fountains. You think of culture,
language, history, art, music, cuisine.
London. What do you think of? You think of Parliament, the astonishing British
Museum, the Tate Modern, the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, the Tower,
the rebuilt Globe, the British Library…you think of wondrous literature and
history commemorated everywhere in a great city.
These cities may be called, albeit crudely, ‘world-class’, but in neither of them
do you think first of their basketball arena. You don’t tell your cab driver, “Take
me to your stadium.”
In Rome you think of ancient legions of conquerors, magnificent art, the
Vatican, music, Michelangelo… a sumptuous culture alive on every street. But the
only arena you visit is the ruin of the Colosseum.
This is the problem with Sacramentans who think another
basketball/entertainment arena (they’re now renaming and reframing the
colossus they want the public to subsidize) will somehow invest us with world-class
status. They don’t understand what truly elevates a city. Really, it’s
embarrassing, like Donald Trump being so proud of the gigantic, “T” on his
building. It’s crass, sad, and shows a shrunken worldview.
World-class, according to Merriam-Webster, means “being of the highest
caliber in the world.”
World-class would be the MOMA in New York, Golden Gate Park in San
Francisco, the Art Institute of Chicago. But don’t make me go through the
cultural hallmarks of every great city. Let’s simply recognize that sports arenas
did not catapult these places to international renown.
A friend recently returned from Prague. He visited the Prague Castle, opened in
870 AD, the Prague National Theatre and the Dancing House. “Did you go to
their arena?” I asked. He looked baffled. “God no. What arena? Even if they had
one, why would I go there?”
When friends visit we drive them through our shaded neighborhoods and they
are surprised by the trees and the winter bloom of camellias. Sacramento has
more trees than any city its size anywhere, we tell them. Also as many trees as
Paris or London. We take them to the Crocker, Sutter’s Fort, the Capitol, the Old
Sacramento State Historical Park, the Railroad Museum, the Cathedral. We eat
and drink at the great restaurants in Midtown, stroll the streets, take a drive
along the American River. We are really a fine city, and when we witness our
attractions through the eyes of visitors, our appreciation is renewed. Nobody
ever asks to see our arena.
So please, stop telling us that if a struggling city that can’t afford to keep its
pools and libraries open full time builds another massive arena and surrenders
parking revenue to private entities–all this to host games that cost too much
for the kids who need the pools—it will become a world-class city. By whose
reckoning? Whose standards are these? These are the decisions of a City Council
that ignores the expressed will of the people (we voted twice against another
arena) and the standards of builders who will profit. We will not profit. We will
Consider Detroit. It has over four ‘world-class’ arenas (all supposed to
“revitalize” their struggling neighborhoods). It also has crumbling infrastructure,
deadly and multiplying financial problems, escalating crime and gun murder,
50% unemployment, 60,000 vacant buildings, 35 thousand abandoned homes,
more people living in poverty than cars on the streets, and looks increasingly like
a place devastated by bombs or plague. Despite its ‘world-class’ arenas a
quarter of a million people have fled the city in the last decade.
So puleeeze, developers and others who stand to profit, don’t tell us an arena
will make us a world-class city. Don’t tell us it will bring more than a few
temporary construction jobs. Don’t patronize us. Don’t act like we’ve never been
anywhere. Don’t assume your potential profit trumps our votes. It doesn’t. Don’t
act like you know what’s good for us. You don’t. What you ought to do, in fact,
is take a few trips (not at our expense) to ‘world-class’ cities yourselves. Then
come back and open those public pools and libraries.