Enjoy parks for open spaces, not sports stadiums

Major League Soccer’s Madison Avenue advertising that its proposed stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park will be a business boon for Queens is like everything it has been claiming: nonsense and without any credibility (“MLS sees stadium plan biz boon for Queens,” Jan. 25-31).

People who watch games go home afterward. They do not stop at a retail store on Northern Boulevard to buy a pair of socks. For years, multimillionaire, private, for-profit sports club owners have been dumping snake oil into New York City and municipalities elsewhere, aided and abetted by inept politicians, claiming their businesses, often with a raid on the public treasury with enormous taxpayer subsidies and perks, make important financial contributions to the municipalities’ economy. There is no fiscal justification for the claim.

Sports activities in the city do not account for more than seven-tenths of 1 percent of the city’s gross economy, an amount of money that could be equated with the tip one gives the youngster who delivers your groceries. It does not put more police or firefighters on the street or build more classrooms or affordable housing. Money spent on sporting events is discretionary spending after paying for room, board, health and education.

In his article “Play Ball or Else” (Readers’ Digest, August 2005), Michael Crowley made reference to economist Allen Sanderson, of the University of Chicago, who said, “Sports teams pull in local fans who would be spending their cash somewhere else in town anyway. Instead of attracting new money, stadium events just move money around that was already headed for the city coffers.”

Crowley also quoted Sanderson, who in 2002 said, “If you want to inject money into the local economy, it would be better to drop it from a helicopter than invest in a ball park.”

If money is to be made from a stadium, it will go into the pockets of the ball club owner and not the taxpayers, who in the case of MLS, will lose parkland and add to the further desecration of the park.

Preservation Magazine, in its September-October 2005 issue, contained an essay by Charles Birnbaum, a landscape architect, the coordinator of the National Park Service Historic Landscape Initiative and founder of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, entitled “In Defense of Open Space,” which contained the following important points:

• “Open space in America’s parks is being wiped out, revised or populated by new structures and parking lots. Municipal officials tend to see such spaces as a void that must be filled, programmed to amuse all comers.”

• “When was it decided that strolling in dappled shade under a canopy of trees or roaming a sloping lawn is not a sufficient experience in its own right? When did we stop valuing the sound of running water, the humanizing scale and tactile marvels of nature? Who still appreciate historic moss-covered walls and paths or a landscape designer’s choice of plants and ornaments?”

• “The national trend — the cluttering of reposeful park grounds with activity-oriented focal points — is lamentable and perplexing, not least because park users themselves aren’t demanding change. According to surveys conducted over the past two decades between 70 and 80 percent of American park users visit them specifically for passive, reflective experiences, not for entertainment.”

Birnbaum’s comments should be mandatory reading for all people seeking public office and particularly people like state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who does not view parkland as parks, but open space to be sold to the highest bidder and the public be damned, a belief so obnoxious that it makes him unworthy of holding public office.

Benjamin Haber