Entertainment or rebuilding communities

By Michael Galvin

A recently published article on the BBC website entitled “Superdome reopens in New Orleans” reports how the city spent over $180 million on the renovation of this professional sports stadium. The obvious question is, why was so much spent on a stadium when this valuable money could have been used for projects that improve the actual quality of life in a city that is still being described as a natural disaster zone?
Reports lately in the media have centered on the lack of reasonable reconstruction and rehabilitation of parts of the city, forcing many who left to stay away for good. Such effects have largely been felt in the African-American community where a large number of the population rented – as opposed to owned – property. While 2/3 of the city used to be black, that percentage now lingers around 50 percent. The city’s overall population is still only half of what it was pre-Katrina.
Thus, the need for continued and massive structural investment is evident. Exhibiting current problems still present in New Orleans, other recent headlines on New Orleans include “Deep Frustration,” “Mississippi Survivors Angry,” “Wrestling With the Race Issue,” and “Mapping the Destruction.” Yet, despite these continued challenges, the choice was somehow made to invest almost $200 million on a “huge renovation” of a sports stadium.
This action seems symptomatic of a larger problem, not only with Katrina rehabilitation and recovery, but with our national priorities. An opportunity to reconstruct an American city around more inclusive and multi-cultural civic values today, that did not exist in previous centuries when old southern cities like New Orleans began growing and establishing themselves, has been squandered.
In the article “Wrestling With the Race Issue” mentioned above, the BBC reports that “Race, class, money and power are inextricably linked in the U.S., and the flooding of New Orleans is proving a textbook example of how they intersect.” Additionally, the article also includes a remarkable quote from an academic at Tulane University who claims, “In the wake of the flood, a small group of powerful business leaders and developers – the old blue-blood elite – took it upon themselves to plan the city into the next 20-30 years.” And the governor of Louisiana still feels justified in claiming the renovation of the Superdome as a vital symbol of recovery for the city.
Our chance for redemption and the righting of past wrongs has been effectively lost, and sadly this is not surprising.

However, a new low is realized in a similar article on the front page of CNN’s web site on October 25th, with the headline “Saints March to Victory in Superdome.” Not only does this article omit any interrogation of this use of funds, but its entirety revolves around the Saints’ win; as a bonus, the writer relevantly uses “fun” hurricane and flood imagery throughout, tracing the team’s course to victory (also, the kickoff was supposedly “intended to be a showcase for New Orleans’ rebirth”). The moment is peculiarly used to declare that “New Orleans is back.” And these are these the so-called “liberal wings” of the media that sustain our national sanity?
What these reports first make me question is the widespread use of public funds to support corrupt monopolies, namely organizations that run professional sports throughout the nation, by paying for their multi-million dollar stadiums. Second, I wonder what the implications are when this still applies during regional crises, as those funds could be used for almost infinite public and social projects in New Orleans right now. And lastly I wonder how the media can present national sports stadiums as barometers of the state of our communities.
Unavoidably, what comes to mind next is the parallel in our own backyard. It was recently reported that Macalester’s new “athletic facility” will cost over a third more than previously estimated. A previous Mac Weekly article notes the “expressed concern” of students over the issue. However, the administration claims that this “athletic facility” will not prioritize athletics, but rather will have a vague “broader appeal.”

On the one hand, there is clearly a demand for leisure and entertainment in the form of sporting events (though this is much more debatable at Macalester). However, on the other hand there needs to be a open dialogue about how these forms of “entertainment” impinge on other projects that should undoubtedly be given priority. Here, I’m thinking of the widespread dilapidation outside of the newly renovated Superdome stadium in New Orleans, and the continually increasing, already outlandish, cost of education at Macalester College. Extravagant structures should not take precedence over people struggling to make ends meet for the sake of institutional prowess.