MLB Stadiums and Urban Sprawl

Kauffman Stadium
Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO
For a slideshow version of this article, click here.

Nothing defines the American experience quite like going to a ballgame. With nearly 74 million tickets sold this 2015 MLB regular season, there is no doubt that the impact of baseball upon our culture is profound. If pro baseball teams are the pride of a city, then the stadium must surely be the crown jewel. MLB ballparks define the culture and energy of communities they represent. From the soaring skyline over PNC Park (Pittsburgh) to mountain vistas of Coors Field (Colorado), from the fountains of Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City) to McCovey Cove (San Francisco), cities put their hearts and souls into crafting the best they have to offer when it comes to their baseball parks. However, MLB stadiums as well as those from other sports can significantly shape the urban landscape within the cities they reside. In this three-part series, we will be taking a look at American sports venues and how they affect the urban, economic, and cultural landscape of communities and regions.

In Part 1 of our multi-part series, “Stadiums and Communities: A Complicated Backstory”, we take a look at MLB stadiums as they are positioned relative to their city centers. The total ranking of distances can be seen in the bar chart below.

Graph by Braden Anderson and Andy Thies

Downtown stadium development has long been touted as an effective stimulus for broader urban development. Particularly in the context of Major League Baseball, the strategy involving public-funded stadiums as a tool for downtown redevelopment has been prevalent. Of the 19 MLB ballparks that have been constructed over the last two decades, 14 are now within 2 miles of their respective city centers, and 10 within just 1 mile. In other cities without downtown ballparks, including Kansas City, MO and Oakland, CA, the debate remains fierce as to whether or not a more centrally located stadium should be pursued. Proponents cite advantages such as economic development, walkability, and regional accessibility whereas opponents argue that urban stadiums are expensive, loud, and congest traffic. The diagram below visualizes MLB stadiums relative to their respective city centers taking into account both distance and direction.


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The diagram reveals the level of variability regarding MLB stadiums and their city centers across the United States and Toronto. In other words, how close is a stadium to the economic heart of the city? It does not necessarily indicate the level of urban density in the vicinity around the stadiums. For example, Citi Field (Mets) and Yankee Stadium in New York along with Wrigley Field (Cubs) and US Cellular Field (White Sox) in Chicago are located in dense, urban areas. However, their centrality is relatively low, meaning they might be less equally accessible for people within the local geographic fanbase or otherwise disconnected from the nearest major commercial district. The strongest embodiment of this situation can be found in Oakland and Kansas City, where the O.Co Coliseum and Kauffman Stadium are located 5 and 6 miles from their respective downtowns. The area immediately surrounding both of these MLB stadiums is anything but economically vibrant with industry, interstates, and in the case of Kauffman, forests comprising most of the landscape.

The inset however shows those stadiums within (roughly) 1 mile of city center. All of these venues are considered to be “downtown stadiums” with Busch Stadium (St. Louis) and Great American Ballpark (Cincinnati) topping out the list. Not only do most of these stadiums provide stunning vistas of their cities’ urban landscape, they also provide convenient access to big city amenities such as public transit, shopping, dining, cultural attractions, and hotels. Though the economic advantages vary, the seamless integration between stadium and city center provides benefits for residents and tourists alike.

Whether a stadium is far or close-in to a city’s downtown, they can have dramatic effects on the urban landscape and regional accessibility to the venue. In many cases, stadiums located far from the city center encourage urban sprawl and lower regional density, as is the case in Kansas City, Oakland and Milwaukee. However, cities with more expansive dense urban districts such as New York, Chicago and Philadelphia can allow themselves to construct stadiums far from city center while still being accessible and promote inward development. However, stadiums close to city center, those deemed “downtown stadiums” have mixed effects as well. In some cases, such as in St. Louis and Minneapolis, downtown stadiums coupled with more comprehensive redevelopment efforts have refocused energy to the urban core. Other high-proximity stadiums such Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL can actually begin to negatively affect the local urban aesthetic as they age and cease to be effectively incorporated into a larger urban development plan.

Regardless, MLB stadiums with any proximity to city center can be assets to their communities. Vastly more important than simply the “distance from downtown”, is the ability of city and regional governments to include stadium development within comprehensive, responsible and effective community plans. Elements such as urban aesthetic, accessibility to residents and tourists, as well as regional economic development are all aspects of successful downtown stadium implementation and more widespread urban development initiatives.

In Part 2 of “Stadiums and Cities: A Complicated Backstory”, we will take a look at economic aspects of stadium development including the merits of taxpayer financing, local economic stimulus, and regional economic benefits.


Distances for MLB stadiums are based on straight line mileage from city center to second base on the field. However, special adaptations had to be made for several stadiums in the ranking. For Chicago and New York, cities with two teams (and corresponding stadiums) apiece, city centers had to be derived using smaller scale urban centers. For Wrigley Stadium in Chicago, distance was calculated using the center of Near North Side whereas US Cellular field was calculated from the center of Near South Side. In New York, the distance of Yankee Stadium was calculated using the center of Fordham, Bronx whereas the city center used for Citi Field was Jamaica, Queens. Two other special circumstances existed for both Angel Stadium in Anaheim, CA and Globe Life Park in Arlington, TX. Both of these venues lie far outside of the nearest, most major city center (Downtown Los Angeles and Downtown Dallas resp.). In the case of Anaheim, it can be reasonably asserted that the primary fanbase of the Angels centers outside of Downtown Los Angeles (where it would be primarily Dodgers fans), therefore making Angel Park more centrally-located relative to Downtown Anaheim. Additionally, the team name itself has even included mention of Anaheim since 1997 (first “Anaheim Angels”, now the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim”). Arlington on the other hand, is roughly equidistant from both Downtown Dallas and Downtown Fort Worth, the two most major urban centers in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area. This makes Globe Life Park much more regionally centered, and as such has a distance calculated using Downtown Arlington. Additionally, both Anaheim and Arlington have populations well over 300,000 people, making them a competitive size to more prominent cities such as St. Louis, MO or Cleveland, OH, thus contributing to their capability of anchoring an MLB fanbase.

Distances were calculated using a combination of Google Maps and Open Street Data.

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