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Friday Fun: From Stadiums to Public Parks, the Impacts of Space for Sports in Cities
Beijing basketball courts

With around 300 million people playing basketball in China, the Chinese Basketball Association is looking to build nearly 800,000 new courts in Beijing (pictured) and other cities across the country. Photo by Filipe Fortes/Flickr.

There are countless ways to analyze—and visualize—sports. For instance, there’s a wide spectrum of where and how sports are played in cities around the world. Professional sports typically take place in expensive stadiums, which are expected to draw crowds of fans and consumers. On the other hand, amateur sports happen at a much more local level. Sports often play a large role in cities and frequently receive a lot of attention from both elected officials and the public.

So how are amateur and professional sports venues producing different economic and social impacts in cities across the globe?

Making Space for Soccer in India

Space for recreational soccer fields has become an increasingly pertinent issue in India, especially in Mumbai. Many companies have formed to develop unused land in response to the demand for soccer space, and they construct fields “in the unlikeliest of places.” These fields are usually small and hastily built on any land that’s available, but they’re providing ample opportunities for soccer aficionados to play and diverting public attention away from field hockey.

Developing these informal fields in Mumbai offers the city numerous benefits. From an economic perspective, small business owners in this new industry have been able to capitalize on otherwise unusable properties and city residents are participating inexpensively. From a social perspective, this development is providing city residents with space for physical activity and has been a source of inspiration for aspiring professional athletes.

In the Dominican Republic, Baseball Takes All

In the Dominican Republic, baseball is the official national sport. Baseball requires little equipment, and is a “ubiquitous” part of Dominican life, providing many young players with the chance to become professional athletes. A couple unique aspects of Dominican baseball are the training programs for aspiring professionals and huge athletic facilities that exist for the country’s almost 30 major league teams. The city of San Pedro is well known for fostering successful baseball players, and houses the majority of major league-sponsored facilities.

Although baseball infrastructure has produced many economic benefits, it’s also had some social drawbacks. “Baseball factories” stimulate the economy with foreign money. In San Pedro specifically, baseball funds help finance public works projects, like plazas. However, the social ramifications of these baseball facilities in the Dominican Republic are typically negative. In contrast to the American system, in which many children play sports through school, Dominican children turn to buscones—people who often take advantage of rising athletes, acting as both coaches and agents. In fact, it’s commonly said that “parents risk a son’s childhood with baseball instead of going to school.”

In China, Basketball is Both a Recreational Activity and an Emerging Profession

China currently is home to around 300 million professional and amateur basketball players. In Beijing, common playing areas include public courts or schools, and recreational basketball is in high demand. At the professional level, there is a need for professional basketball facilities across the country. However, it’s uncertain whether the planned facilities—if and when they are constructed—could generate enough fan interest to be profitable.

In China, whereas the economic benefits of investing in basketball infrastructure are mixed, the social benefits are generally positive. Economically, amateur sports offer facilities the chance to profit from people who are eager to play. However, for professional basketball to grow in popularity, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) will have to invest in infrastructure for the league. Even though the CBA has played in the stadiums remaining from the 2008 Olympics, 800,000 new courts have been planned for development. Socially, recreational basketball can create a sense of community for China’s many only children, and the CBA promotes cultural diversity within the teams. Instead of players leaving to play for international teams, like those from the Dominican Republic, Chinese teams have been actively recruiting American players, like Stephon Marbury.

Sports for Sustainable, Healthy, Vibrant Cities

Around the world, sports serve many purposes. They can be an athlete’s profession, an avid player’s recreational outlet, or a team-building activity for anyone. Sports infrastructure varies widely, making it well-suited to sports’ many purposes. Across India, the Dominican Republic, and China, it’s clear that sports and sports infrastructure play an influential role in city and national development. From an economic perspective, they provide opportunities for new industries and encourage international funding. From a social perspective, they provide recreational outlets and cultural diversity, and, occasionally, professional opportunities.

Looking forward, it’s likely sports infrastructure will receive increasing attention from cities, especially as the process of greening sports facilities and implementing sustainable architecture becomes a bigger part of the discussion.

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