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Sox Versus Cubs Versus the Parking Myth Monster

Few cities have two teams in the same sport. Those that do, form tremendous rivalries which can divide a city.  In Chicago that rivalry is between the North Side Cubs and the South Side White Sox.  The differences between the teams and their fans are stark.  The Sox, playing in the south side neighborhood of Bridgeport, are the favorites of Chicago’s tough and gritty blue collar neighborhoods south of the Loop (downtown).  The Cubs, playing in the north side neighborhood of Wrigleyville (as in Wrigley Field), are favored by the city’s relatively affluent northern neighborhoods and suburbs. The Cubs are perennial losers while the Sox have had some success in recent years. Additionally, the powerful Daley political family which ruled the city from the mayor’s office much of the last century hailed from the Bridgeport neighborhood, and of course were unabashed Sox fans.  Even so and even with a recent Sox World Series win, the cubs reign as the city’s favored baseball team.
Even after decades as an ‘also-ran’, the Cubs consistently sell out Wrigley Field and the rarely if ever advertise seat sales.  The Sox often have trouble filling their stadium and even in their 2005 World Series year they had empty seats in early playoff games.  They advertise seat availability quite a bit. Certainly, this has something to do with the greater wealth in the northern part of the city.  But the southern half of the city is sports crazed.  Sox fans think of themselves as “real” sports fans as opposed to their soft and pampered north side brethren.  Sports is an important aspect of South Side culture and the Sox have a big and very dedicated fan base.  But is that enough?  Baseball is a game that is about the game day experience as much as the game itself.  The Cubs deliver a rich, exciting, and fully rounded game day experience.  The Sox? Not so much.  
A lot of the Cubs’ appeal comes from the team’s unique historic stadium along with its dense and active urban neighborhood.  Contrastingly, the Sox play in a sterile newish stadium which is sited in the center of a giant parking wasteland directly adjacent to a roaring 16 lane highway.  It is a well known and accepted concept that many people attend Cubs games for the ambiance of the stadium and neighborhood as much as for the games. This may be the source of Sox fans disdain for the “wimpy phony” Cubs fan.  It has been stated that the Cubs don’t have to put a winning team on the field to be financially successful and many theorize that they don’t try to because they are guaranteed a full stadium no matter what.
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About 15 years ago or so the Sox built their massive new stadium (now called U.S. Cellular Field) in a quest to bolster their finances.  Fans were disappointed with the place almost immediately.  ‘The upper decks were too high’ and ‘the place had no character’ were common complaints.  The team tried various schemes to make the stadium more fan friendly including various paint jobs and finally removal of a large number of the offending upper deck seats.  In the mean time the Cubs’ Wrigley Field has been expanded over the years. This expansion has occurred not only inside the stadium but outside as well as the famous Wriggly rooftops have become full fledged stadium complexes unto themselves.  These roof tops, which have clear views into the stadium, where once a place for a few neighbors to gather and watch the game.  Today they have become major entertainment complexes with over a thousand seats collectively. 
Going to a Cubs game is a wonderful experience of sight, sound, and activity. Wrigley Field is an integral part of the city. So much so that the neighborhood is named after the stadium.  Yes, there are a few small parking lots adjacent to the stadium and a couple more a few blocks away. But most people arrive by bus or train (adjacent to the stadium) or on foot.   It is worth noting that the only parking lot directly adjacent to the stadium will soon be eliminated in favor of new development.  The neighborhood is dense with stores and restaurants. The atmosphere is electric on game days.  The stands can be seen from the streets and kids stand on the left outfield street waiting for home run balls to fly over the wall. The sound of the game announcer and cheers fill the surrounding residential streets.  The stadium is not a solid block but is permeable with openings and views to the fans.  Ball park entries pour directly onto typical city sidewalks. As you walk around the stadium the tops of buildings on both sides of the streets are lined with fans, vendors hawk merchandise, cafes spill onto the street, and musicians play.  This is all with the glorious summer din of the game in the air. After the game fans linger in the neighborhood for hours. Why leave?  The game is over but not the game day experience.
Seeing a Sox game is a very different thing.  You can get there by train.  But it is equivalent to a two block walk past parking lots and across half of that 16 lane highway.  Most people arrive to Sox games by car.  Massive parking lots surround the stadium to serve them.  Most people access the stadium directly from the lots via massive ramp structures that connect over the streets with sky bridges.  There are no houses, no stores, and no neighborhood restaurants  adjacent to the stadium.   There is no neighborhood adjacent to the stadium. You have to traverse the massive acres of parking to get to these things.  The stadium is a solid bunker with giant areas of reflective glass pretending to be windows.  The fake windows have arched tops – meant to convey history and tradition I suppose.   During the game the streets near the stadium are deserted. I found just one vender and a few people hawking leftover tickets on a recent visit.  The massive dead parking lots were only half full.  The street next to the stadium was dead silent except for the distant roar of the highway and an occasional muffled cheer from the disembodied crowd.  After the game people leave. No need to linger here.  This place is made for cars not people.
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Here is the sad fact of how we do things today.  If Wrigley Field was being planned today it would look nothing like it does.  Oh sure, the new Wrigley would get some phony baseball nostalgia pastiche architectural treatment.  But the big difference is that without question it would need to have massive parking facilities. No one would dare suggest planning the very limited parking it currently has.  We would plan wider streets too and we would need to keep the people out of the way of traffic… “so let’s put them all in sky bridges connected directly to the parking.”  Never mind that Wrigley Field, with its narrow st
reet access and paltry parking and messy pedestrian patterns outperforms most modern stadiums loaded with parking – parking that needs to be close to the stadium and ‘accommodating’ over everything else!  
No one questions this parking doctrine even in the face of strong evidence that the need to accommodate the car (and only the car) is a lie.  We have been sold a load of crap that everything has to cater to travel by individuals in individual cars.   We believe this parking myth crap and we willingly degrade our human experience to pander to it.  Why do we do this? Mark me down as a Cubs fan!
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