March 01 2012

Diamond in the Rough: The Positive Urban Planning Impact of American Baseball on Detroit, Michigan

Comerica Park Detroit Tigers' Ball Park view from behind home plate

Opening day just five weeks away, Detroit Tiger’s fans are clawing to get back into their orange and navy blue. Baseball has always been considered America’s favorite pastime. For Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit,  four of the American League (AL)’s “Classic Eight,” the ballpark itself has been an important element of urban design and economic development, as well as civic identity.

On April 25, 1901, the Detroit Tigers played their first official AL game at Bennett Park. The park was far from grand, but the location at “The Corner” of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull in Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, Corktown, would leave a mark on the city forever. As Detroit’s population doubled between 1910-20, to just under a million people, a true ballpark, Navin Field, was built on the site.

Navin Field Detroit Tigers' Ball Park 1912-37 hand sketch

Well situated along Michigan Avenue, a major artery to Chicago; it was also able to draw from the established residential area. During Detroit’s Gilded Age, the Detroit Tigers truly became part of the community. Even through the Great Depression, the fans remained devoted  to their team. In return, the Tigers rallied to their first World Series title in 1935.

In 1938, the park, now Briggs Stadium, was expanded, and became temporary home to the NFL Detroit Lions. Things were rolling for the “The Arsenal of Democracy,” from the automotive factories to the ball field. Months after the end of WWII,  the Tigers won their second World Series.

Briggs/Tigers Stadium Detroit Tigers' Baseball Stadium 1938-99 aerial view

When transportation engineers introduced freeways in the 1950′s and 60′s the city’s landscape changed dramatically. Tensions high, the people of Detroit, including those who had left for the suburbs, needed a reason to believe in the city again. After a close contest in 1967, the Tigers claimed their third World Series the following year.

On September 27, 1999, the Tiger’s played their last game at “The Corner.”  Owner, Mike Ilitch, decided to build a new stadium along Woodward Avenue in Grand Circus Park, close to his renovated Fox Theatre.  While Comerica Park does not have the same history as “The Corner,” it has helped to simulate the revitalization of this historic entertainment district. Despite social media and Facebook group attempts to save the nationally registered historic site, “The Corner” was leveled in 2009. The field itself remains, renamed for the late Ernie Harwell.

The Detroit Tigers are much more than a ball club to this city.  In what way do you see sports teams impacting urban planning and economic development?

Credits: All images and data linked to the sources.

Alexandria Stankovich

Alexandria Stankovich graduated from The University of Michigan with a B.S. in Architecture. In order to gain an authentic understanding of the urban context through the lens of education, she became a Denver, Colorado corps member with Teach for America, teaching elementary Special Education. Returning to metro-Detroit, Michigan, Alexandria writes about the innovative design projects and urban programs taking place in the Motor City. Fueled by her passions for the triple bottom line - environment, economy, and social equity – Alexandria is now working on her Masters in Urban & Regional Planning. She is specializing in Physical Planning and Real Estate Development.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 1st, 2012 at 12:50 pm and is filed under History/Preservation, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Transportation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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