Baseball, architecture, and the city of the future

Credit Vedanta Balbahadur

 

Montreal has long been recognized as one of North America’s artistic hubs. But for the last century it has also been synonymous with another cultural phenomenon: hockey, a game thoroughly suited to the city’s long, unrelenting winters.

When spring and glorious summer arrive, though, Montrealers come out of hibernation in droves, peeling off jackets and sweaters to enjoy the sunshine. As any Montrealer will tell you, being outdoors in the summer to enjoy the all-too-short respite from the cold is essential.

And for more than one hundred years, baseball has been a staple of the city’s summer days. While 
the departure of Montreal’s professional baseball 
team, the Expos, to Washington, D.C., may seem to 
indicate lack of local interest in the game, the truth 
is more complicated. During its final years in Montreal, behind-the-scenes maneuvering involving the Expos’ ownership and operation further complicated a difficult set of circumstances surrounding the 
team (one of them being the weak Canadian dollar in the nineties).

The loss of the Expos can be thought of as one of the last blows to an era often considered the city’s glory days. Today, Montreal is an amalgamation of 
thriving, culturally diverse neighborhoods—a fact of which its residents are justifiably proud. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that Montreal never quite reached the “city of the future” aspirations it set for itself during the sixties, when the eyes of the world were focused on it as a site for twentieth-century progress. Although we now look back critically on the aspirations of modernist planners and reformers, it is clear that in many ways Montreal is still slumbering in the shadow of that time. How telling it is that the city was the first in Canada to hold a World’s Fair (Expo 67), the first to host an Olympics 
Games (1976), and the first outside the United States to acquire a major league baseball franchise. The departure of the Expos is further proof that those days have passed.

And yet my own experience has amply demonstrated the city’s love for the game itself. Along with a few of my coworkers, I keep my baseball glove in my desk at work so that we can play catch at the park down the street during our lunch hour. On some Friday evenings, I take my glove home, wearing it on my hand, perennially breaking it in. As I walk through the city, time and again I am stopped by passersby who ask me if I play. It’s remarkable how many people open up, sentimentally recalling their younger days playing baseball or softball or attending Expos games with their families. In fact, upon seeing my glove, the patriarch of Cafe Union down the street from where I work proudly tells 
me of his days playing fast pitch at Jarry Park. He even brings his own glove to work so that we can indulge in a catch with one of the chefs from Depanneur Le Pick Up, a corner store/gourmet snack bar across from my office.

To flash back just a few seasons: the year after the Expos left Montreal, I began my final thesis project in architecture school. Despite the seemingly daunting task of choosing a final project, the answer was fairly obvious: I would design a downtown ballpark for Montreal. I wanted to create a park that would avoid the pitfalls associated with Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, which, although it provided fans with twenty-eight years of memories, was ill-suited
 to baseball and located a considerable distance from the city center.

But the Big O was not the only problem I wanted to address. Contemporary stadium design in general is in need of attention, its forms arguably having stagnated. In recent years, cities have gravitated toward historical, neotraditional architecture, trying to mend the blights on the urban scene caused by the sixties cookie-cutter saucer stadium phenomenon.

However, I had no interest in designing a stadium for the sake of baseball alone, despite my passion for 
the game. Postulating new directions for ballparks as urban design, the endeavor was about the welfare of the city and the future design of an integral, if long-neglected, part of its fabric.

I grew increasingly attentive to the situation facing
 Griffintown, a sparsely populated former industrial
sector south of the downtown core. An ideal match
 for Griffintown, the proposed park would be just 
that—a park, and one to which people could walk. The project sought to employ notions of gathering and urban events, including sport, as a springboard to facilitate the urban renewal of the area.

The ballpark is an ode to what the city has loved and lost, both in terms of sport and urban vitality. Its goal: to inject the Griffintown area with new life by means of a meaningful intervention at a critical node along Montreal’s Lachine Canal.

 

Credit Vedanta Balbahadur

Balbahadur's thesis ballpark design

 

* * *

The proposed ballpark considers the role of urban events in regenerating parts of a city. The project reflects the importance of baseball to Montreal’s history and tries to rekindle the exuberance that characterized the city during its heyday.

The project examines the notion that the contemporary ballpark must be reconsidered, especially in Montreal, by getting back to the essence of the game—appropriating an interstitial space as a venue for urban activity. The park is located at an extraordinary site along Griffintown’s Peel Basin, considered the birthplace of industrialization in Canada. While acknowledging the realities and demands of contemporary professional sport, the project remains critical of the corporate generative components of modern stadium design, maintaining that the public and a connection to the city play a vital role.

Griffintown, an area poised to undergo a process of revitalization, is a remarkable setting for this re-imagining. Rather than creating an isolated object that fosters an emphasis on vehicular access, the park emerges from Griffintown’s urban connective tissue and engages the infrastructural elements that run as seams through the city. In so doing, it defies the norms of both what structured private space and pluralistic gathering spaces can be. It at once facilitates the gathering of people in observance of spectacle and restructures a site that has been long underappreciated—the Peel Basin, a logical focal point along the Lachine Canal leading west from Old Montreal, and the node that ends the Peel Street axis. While the Bonaventure Expressway and the CN rail lines act as arteries that have strangled the site from outside contact since their introduction to Griffintown, an incredible potential exists in the space between these elevated lines of transport for an urban intervention that could serve as a model for how such tight interstices—common to all cities—can be dealt with.

 

Credit Vedanta Balbahadur

 

 

The location along the Lachine Canal adds to the idea of the park as an urban destination. The main procession to the ballpark takes place on the path located between the highway and train line that begins from downtown.

This artery is currently being studied by the city for high-rise development and a series of urban plazas. As envisioned in the ballpark project, parts of this path would be planted with vegetation leading up to the forecourt of the park, proceeding to the field and terminating at the basin’s piers. In this way, the green of the field extends through the city itself. Glimpses to the field are afforded to passersby, since they are equally vital to the festivities as the paying participants and players. The portion of the Bonaventure Expressway nearest the site can be closed during events of extremely high attendance, literally connecting the park to another layer of the city. Should the city follow through with plans to ground this portion of the raised highway, transforming it into an urban boulevard, the ballpark will gain additional open space and exposure to water on its east side.

 

* * *

 

It has been fifty years since Place Ville Marie, 
Montreal’s most celebrated steel and glass sky-
scraper, was built. A glittering beacon of corporate modernism in Canada, the cruciform-shaped tower (designed by I. M. Pei and Associates with the Montreal firm that later became known as
 ARCOP) marked the epicenter of Montreal’s new
 downtown core. It also served as the starting point of the underground city, which allows pedestrian commuters to cover vast distances without having to set foot outside in winter.

Although real estate booms were nothing new to the city when the tower was built, the sixties were in many ways the decade when Montreal came of age. The city was a canvas for experimentation with new forms of planning and architecture.

Designed to cover a gaping hole where trains emerged from below ground, the Place Ville Marie project explored the idea of a building complex as miniature city that would connect to the surrounding urban infrastructure. As such, it would become a model for most Montreal buildings that linked to the underground network, and, later, for New York’s World Trade Center (1973).

 

Credit Vedanta Balbahadur

Place Ville Marie; Mary, Queen of the World Basilica; and the Queen Elizabeth Hotel (site of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Montreal Bed-In).

 

Place Bonaventure took this a step further, seeking 
to combine disparate programs (hotel, exhibition
 facilities, offices, and links to the train station, subway,
 shopping, and restaurants) into a complex that functioned as a fundamentally inward-looking cauldron of activity. Alexis-Nihon Plaza, Complexe Desjardins, 
and others followed suit, pushing the boundaries of hybrid typologies in North America.

Towers rose simultaneously throughout the sixties, providing clear evidence of the migration of the city’s financial core away from the historic old town (a move that had begun decades earlier but was slowed by the Depression and Second World War). The decade saw the construction of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) Tower and Pier Luigi Nervi and Luigi Moretti’s Stock Exchange Tower at Square Victoria, as well as the completion of Mies van der Rohe’s Westmount Square. (One of the most fascinating anecdotes to emerge from this frenzy of building activity involved the rivalry of Place Ville 
Marie and the CIBC Tower, homes to nationally competing banks, each vying to have the tallest skyscraper in Canada. Because CIBC raced to beat Place Ville Marie, the Pei team was able to pull out its ace in the hole, the addition of a penthouse-level club and restaurant that put its height over that of its competitor.)

 

Credit Vedanta Balbahadur

Montreal skyline, with CIBC Tower at center

 

* * *

If its pioneering design epitomized a city growing 
to adulthood in the mid-twentieth century, Montreal 
appears to have become a senior citizen in the intervening years. Despite its generally progressive outlook, the city seems to be resting on its laurels,
 less interested in making the bold, avant-garde statements that caught the world’s attention decades 
ago than in facelifts and emergency reconstructive surgery. Much of the city’s infrastructure and building stock is in dire need of repair, falling apart in 
direct proportion to the alleged corruption in its construction industry. Remedial measures are no longer sufficient for many of the city’s bridges, overpasses, and interchanges; planning has begun for the complete replacement of most of Montreal’s major 
infrastructure. Last summer, the unrelenting construction in the streets seemed more intense than ever before, the objective being not only to even out 
the city’s infamous potholes, but—even more pressing—to replace plumbing that is already more than a century old.

The population has become disillusioned with the shoddy craftsmanship and poor upkeep that have become fodder for the city’s newspapers and talk radio over the last decade. Across Canada, Montreal is seen as an example of what not to do when it comes to contemporary city-building.

This is not, of course, the Montreal presented to outsiders—the romantic, “European” city that tourists love. It is, however, the town that Montrealers live with every day. In spite of its flaws, though, most Montrealers adore their city and defend it vehemently. Somehow, the artistic backbone and cultural 
diversity of the city allow its residents to see past 
its problems.

 

Credit Vedanta Balbahadur

Rialto Theatre on Parc Avenue

 

The splendor of the city comes from its remarkable history and its great food, arts, music, culture, and people. It is a city of festivals unlike any other, one whose glorious summers are reason enough for those who left years ago to return.

The coexistence of two predominant language groups, though at times taken for granted, broadens the horizons of Montreal’s inhabitants, adding to a vibrant cultural landscape. While people living on
 different sides of the city often have different perspectives—long attributed to the historic east-west 
divide between the French and English—the intersection of the two languages and cultures is 
precisely what makes living here so stimulating on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, it has been said that a person cannot really experience one hundred per cent 
of Montreal without interacting in both main languages. And this richesse has increased as the city’s population has become more diverse. Today, people are routinely heard communicating inter
changeably in French, English, and other languages, 
blurring the traditional linguistic schism.

 

* * *

 

Having inherited the good, the bad, and the ugly of its sixties boom, Montreal is thoroughly a product 
of that era. The downtown core may be the most visible result of the building spree, but ripple effects were felt throughout the metropolitan region. The mass transit and underground Metro system that 
followed were vital to connecting the new core to many areas that are considered quintessentially Montreal: Armand Vaillancourt and Leonard Cohen’s Plateau, Mordecai Richler’s Mile End, Irving Layton’s Cote St-Luc, Denys Arcand’s Westmount, and the Wainwrights’ Outremont. The earth excavated in
creating the subway system even made possible the 
islands in the St. Lawrence River that comprised 
the Expo 67 fairgrounds.

 

Mile-End

 

However, the investment in developing the city’s
 image as an interconnected, cosmopolitan metropolis boded ill for Griffintown, a neighborhood that had been instrumental in Montreal’s rise toward twentieth-century stardom. Located southwest of the city’s current downtown 
core, the nation’s oldest working-class neighborhood
 was named after Mary Griffin, who acquired the lease for the land as part of an illegal deal with a 
business associate of Thomas McCord. McCord had initially obtained the land in 1791, hoping to capitalize on the new canal and rail lines then being proposed 
for the area. Sure enough, during the first half of the nineteenth century Griffintown became home to a thriving industrial zone around the Port of Montreal and the Lachine Canal.

 

Credit Vedanta Balbahadur

Between the elevated expressway and the silos of Griffintown's Peel Basin

 

Over the hundred years that followed the opening of the canal in 1824–1825, Montreal blossomed into a major trading port along the St. Lawrence and its population more than quadrupled. Most of Griffintown’s inhabitants during this period were Irish immigrants who had come to Canada in search of work. Living conditions in the neighborhood were notoriously bad; the wealth of Montreal’s Golden Square Mile and Upper City did not trickle down to the laborers. Nonetheless, Griffintown residents took pride in their community, forming a close-knit group that banded together to deal with floods, fires, and poor working conditions.

Over time, with the spread of development along the canal and the growth of rail shipping, industrial activity became decentralized and workers began moving elsewhere. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Griffintown’s demographics changed dramatically as new immigrants arrived from Europe. In the postwar years, industry declined further, and by Expo 67, the Lachine Canal fell into disuse as the St. Lawrence Seaway became the primary channel for sea traffic.

As part of its modern-era boom, the city constructed the Bonaventure Expressway, an elevated gateway into the city. Running through Griffintown, which by this time had been rezoned as a light industrial sector, it reinforced the barrier already imposed by the CN rail line. The neighborhood was now even further divided from Old Montreal.

 

Credit Vedanta Balbahadur

Under Bonaventure Expressway

 

For decades, Griffintown languished as somewhat
 of a no-man’s-land. In recent years, however, it has 
drawn attention from both historic preservation groups and developers. The city government has worked with architects, planners, and students on urban design studies and charrettes, and recently launched competitions for various sites at the Lachine 
Canal`s Peel Basin. But the area’s future remains 
unclear. The looming danger is developer-driven 
urbanism, which has threatened to bring big-box stores and streets tailored to vehicular traffic rather than pedestrians to the area. To the relief of local
residents, the 2008 recession put a dent into the plans of one major developer, who delayed and scaled back its plans due to financial considerations.

As early as 2012, though, developers appear 
poised to go ahead with the construction of large con
dominium complexes. Renderings portray a sanitized 
environment with high-rise condos, office towers and 
parks running along a ground-level boulevard pro-jected to replace the raised Bonaventure Expressway.
 Among the historic buildings threatened by demo
lition are the Cadieux Forge, the Rodier Building, and 
the Griffintown Horse Palace, the 150-year-old home 
of horses used for Old Montreal’s calèches (horse 
and carriage rides). The general consensus is that 
something must be done to revitalize the unique 
area, now home to less than a hundred people, 
many of them artists and students.

 

* * *

 

Rather than eschewing the old infrastructure, the proposed ballpark uses it as a structuring element, embedding into and making connections with the autoroute and rail line. The park thus exists in symbiosis with them, allowing programmatic elements to infiltrate and inhabit the arcades and marginal spaces underneath these floating transit structures. Seating is designed into and around these gray arteries, creating new relationships for people both toward the event unfolding in their midst and amid the seemingly hostile infrastructure. A fact that often goes unnoticed is that the site, though residual in nature and nestled between these peculiar concrete masses, is one of the most beautiful and serene places in Montreal. The piers convey a meditative sense of tranquility. When night falls here, the city lights glisten along the horizons of the elevated connections.

 

Credit Vedanta Balbahadur

 

The park draws the public’s attention to the splendor of the site and makes full use of its inherent potential. The seating and bands of public circulation through the park create new horizons from which to observe the game, while affording views to the city, the St. Lawrence River, and the surrounding natural and industrial landscape. The spaces under the viaducts become player arrival areas, ticket windows, restaurants, and shops.

The highway and train line take on a special role, sculpting the space of the field and acting as thresholds through which spectators must pass in procession to the game. The piers at the end of Peel Street function as places onto which activity can spill before, during, and after events, furthering the goal of actualizing the interstice as a vibrant node that speaks in cohesive correlation to neighboring sites. In addition to the program relating to the game (seating, concessions, ticket booths, etc.), a commuter train station is incorporated along the CN line to allow access to the park from surrounding areas and suburbs. This hybridized typology allows for new relationships between programs, blurring the boundaries of what traditionally belongs to each. At the confluence of the canal, the autoroute, and the rail lines, the ballpark is molded by each element, but at the same time reaches out to the basin area to provide not only a field and space for gathering, but also galleries, restaurants, commerce, and places to dock alongside the canal.

 

* * *

 

With various levels of government now set to 
infuse tens of billions of dollars into new infrastructural projects, as well as controversial French- and English-language super-hospitals, the question of what to do with the Olympic Stadium remains.

Only five years ago, Montreal finally amortized the 
debt on its stadium. This arguably beautiful structure was not completed until eleven years after the 1976 Olympics, the event it was designed to host. Workers’ strikes, ballooning costs, and corruption 
brought the debt related to the Olympic facilities to almost $1.5 billion, about six times the originally estimated cost. (This despite assurances from Jean Drapeau—the mayor who spearheaded Montreal’s push for Expo 67, the Metro system, a modern downtown, major league baseball, and the Olympic Games—that the Olympiad could “no more lose money than a man can have a baby.”)

 

Credit Vedanta Balbahadur

Aerial View of Montreal with the Olympic Stadium in the distance

 

Once completed, the spectacularly expensive facility did not work as planned. What was supposed to
 have been a revolutionary masterpiece served primarily as an example of how not to build a stadium. 
Reports have shown that pre-construction tests of the 
original roof, an umbrella-like retractable mechanism, were unsuccessful, but this was kept quiet. The latest replacement roof will soon be installed at a cost that would easily have paid for a significant portion of a new stadium. Montreal taxpayers have grown used to paying for things that didn’t work in the first place.

 

* * *

 

In his series Baseball, Ken Burns argues convincingly
 that since its inception, America’s national pastime has been a mirror into the cultural consciousness of the United States. This argument can be extended to Can
ada, as some of the most significant events in the
game’s history occurred in Montreal. By the end of 
the nineteenth century baseball was becoming a force 
in the city, even with the rise of hockey as Canada’s winter pastime. Various forms of baseball were played by adults and children throughout Montreal, from the East End to the West, on the streets of Griffintown and even in the rural regions of Quebec.

The 1890s saw the formation of the Montreal Roy
als, a professional ball club named for the mountain 
(Mount Royal) that gives the city its name. Though the
 team enjoyed popularity for twenty years, it folded in 1916. The enthusiasm that surrounded the sport did not wane, however, and in 1928 it returned to the city in the form of a Triple-A International League affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers. This team, also called the Royals, was the stuff of legend. On its board of directors was Charles E. Trudeau (father of former 
Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau), who played a role in building a stadium for the team at Delorimier and Ontario Streets. Over the course of its history, the team was home to some of baseball’s elite alumni: Sparky Anderson, Gene Mauch (who later became the first manager of Montreal’s major league franchise), Roberto Clemente, Duke Snider, Don Drysdale, Roy Campanella, Tommy Lasorda, and TV’s Rifleman, Chuck Conors.

What puts this team in the history books, however, 
is that Jackie Robinson made his professional debut 
with it in 1946, breaking the so-called color barrier. 
His time in Montreal was a pivotal social experiment that not only led to integration in baseball, but opened the door for changing perceptions about minorities throughout North America. Before Robinson could play, Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey asked him to solemnly promise that he would never retaliate when confronted with the hostility they both knew would come from players, spectators, and even hoteliers and restaurateurs they came across when traveling—especially through the deep South. Seeing Robinson rise above the vitriol he encountered on the public stage, Rickey reasoned, would be the only way Americans would see that African American players could play not only as well as, but in many cases better than, the players already in the majors.

With all eyes on him, Robinson let his athleticism and gentlemanly comportment do the talking. He found Montreal tolerant and became thoroughly fond of the city. In his autobiography Robinson wrote: “After the rejections, the unpleasantness and uncertainties, it was encouraging to find an atmosphere of complete acceptance and something approaching adulation . . . One of the reasons for the reception we received in Montreal was that the people were proud of the team that bore the city’s name. The people of Montreal were warm and 
wonderful to us.”

Not only did Robinson become the most valuable player that year, but he won the wholehearted support of the people of the city, more than a million
 of whom came out to watch him play—a staggering number for any minor league franchise. When the time came for Robinson to leave Montreal, his farewell, as poignantly described by reporter Sam Maltin, has become part of the lore of professional sports: “It was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind.”

After the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, the Royals fell on tough times and finally left Montreal in 1961. But at this moment the city was undergoing the transformative boom that led to the 1967 World’s Fair, a celebration of “Man and His World” with the backdrop of Montreal as the city of the future. The world’s media was focused on the city as never before, and all eyes were on Expo 67— including those of major league baseball, which with the right impetus stood ready to fill the void 
the Royals had left.

Several locations were scouted for a stadium, including Delorimier Downs and the Autostade, but when Jarry Park was selected the Montreal Expos became the first major league franchise to have a home outside the United States. Charles Bronfman, the majority shareholder in Seagram, became the majority owner of the franchise. (The extent to which the Bronfman family has contributed to Montreal arts and culture should be noted. Had Charles not stepped in as owner, the Expos may not have started
playing in 1969. The family’s commitment to education in Montreal has also been exemplary. In addition, 
Charles’ sister, Phyllis Lambert, a student of and collaborator with Mies van der Rohe, has played an 
invaluable role in the North American architectural community, advocating and raising awareness about the profession and founding the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. Even though I have had the pleasure of meeting her on various occasions at the CCA, at the symphony, and elsewhere, I have yet to fully convey to her my gratitude for all that she and her family have done for the city.)

From the outset, the Expos became the beloved boys of summer. Throughout the late seventies and early eighties, even after the team had moved into the cavernous Olympic Stadium, fans flocked to watch “Nos Amours,” as the team was adoringly called (reminiscent of “Nos Glorieux,” the endearing nickname of the Montreal Canadiens hockey club during its wonder years). Noah Richler has written that, like many Montrealers from all backgrounds, his father, novelist Mordecai, “was serious in his allegiances: hockey in the winter, and baseball in the summer.” Fans like Mordecai were privileged, 
growing up watching Jackie Robinson’s Royals and later having the opportunity to cheer on the Expos 
at Jarry and the Big O, then sharing their memories 
with the younger generations. Over the decades, 
Expos fans had the pleasure of watching players
 like Staub, Rogers, Cromartie, Carter, Spaceman 
Lee, Dawson, Raines, Dennis Martinez, Galarraga, Walker, Grissom, Alou, Wettland, Floyd, White, Pedro Martinez, Vidro, Cabrera, Vladimir Guerrero, 
and many others who left an indelible mark on the city’s culture of baseball.

After Bronfman gave up ownership in 1991, however, and as the Canadian dollar declined over the decade, it became more difficult to attract players to the city in spite of all its charms. Montreal’s system of developing young talent was the envy of most teams, but once its players became stars they would invariably leave to play elsewhere for significantly higher salaries (in American dollars), causing the Expos to be often regarded as a farm team for other clubs.

Pinpointing the beginning of the end for the Expos is difficult. There had been a series of disappointing moments, with issues ranging from broadcasting rights, sponsorship, and marketing to the value of the dollar. But one thing is certain: the strike-shortened 1994 season was a tremendous blow. Expos fans literally cringe at the mention of that season. The team had the best record and arguably the best players in baseball—many thought the Expos would win it all. It is generally agreed that the absence of a World Series run caused by the strike, coupled with the departure of key players before the following season, carved the path for rough days ahead. Baseball fans and pundits can only speculate about the outstanding team that would have existed in Montreal after 1994 had the Expos won a championship that season.

In 1999, a new owner purchased the team, pro
mising to serve its best interests and work toward a new downtown stadium. Though his admin
istration’s initial moves raised excitement, many 
of his subsequent actions were questionable, and 
the team was effectively run into the ground dur
ing his tenure. He eventually purchased another club and left with the Expos’ manager, coaches, personnel, scouting reports, and even the computers and office equipment. With its infrastructure gone, the team came under league ownership and was relocated in 2005 to Washington, D.C.

It pains many Montrealers to think of the mismanagement of the team and the unfolding of events leading to its departure. To Expos fans, the 
league was just as much at fault, for while it worked with other cities whose teams were threatened by low attendance, contraction, and relocation, Montreal seemed hardly to receive the same kind of support. (In fact, the league’s commissioner was later 
sued, along with the last owner, for racketeering 
and conspiracy to defraud the team’s minority own
ers.) The league apparently overlooked the interest 
shown by Montrealers for the sport—professional
 baseball was played in the city throughout most of
 the twentieth century, in addition to the amateur and
 youth leagues that have flourished. But Montrealers
 remain passionate and vocal about the game. The
recent death of Expos icon and hall-of-famer Gary Carter, known as “the Kid” throughout baseball, has triggered a tide of emotion and memories from Montrealers, many of whom have chimed in with ideas for what the city should do in his honor. Expo alum Warren Cromartie is himself working to keep the rich history of the game alive in the city by means of his Montreal Baseball Project. In recent years the resurgence in the popularity of the team has been evidenced by the paraphernalia worn on the streets of the city and the number of Facebook hits the team site receives.

Speculation about the possible return of a team with the right ownership group rears its head time and again—along with talk about the need for a new open-air ballpark, which Montreal hasn’t had for more than half a century. As with all sports, talk is talk until something happens. But in a city full of surprises, that something might happen sooner than we think.

 

* * *

 

The field for the proposed ballpark is the location of games for eighty-one days and nights during the year. Important to the scheme is the desire to give over the field of play to the public during times when there is no game—especially during the off season. At these times, the park remains open for visitors throughout the day. In this way, two methods become the prime means of activating the site: the gathering of people for their own pursuits (play, recreation, business lunches, studying) and the planned event. The park therefore resonates with activity all year round, unlike most of today’s private stadiums. The activities incorporated on and under the site (eateries, shops) ensure that it is active even in the winter, rather than remaining desolate as the site is at present.

Other programmed events, such as concerts and artistic shows, take place at the ballpark, and the bands of circulation through the site offer secondary and tertiary areas for performances and exhibits, so that multiple events can occur on-site as part of larger integrated shows or separate, individual spectacles.

The large electronic scoreboard and the canopy hover above the ballpark, giving the architecture a distinct presence in the city and offering Montrealers busily on their way glimpses into the world of the unfolding event. Underneath the field is the digital inverse of the event at hand, an immersive environment of virtual inhabitation for spectators with live, streaming images broadcast from games and other events. New relationships are fostered between player and fan as glimpses are given into certain player preparation areas. The digital underbelly presents a milieu in which the virtual dimension of the game can be critiqued as well as celebrated by the everyday spectator. The park creates within its confines a world whose energy bleeds out into Griffintown and right into downtown. It encapsulates a vibrant node, a destination that activates the Peel Basin. Ultimately this project is not about precisely prescribed activity, but a re-envisioning of the exquisite interstice and infrastructure of the city. The urban event, as its focus, enables this restructuring. Baseball is simply the vessel.

 

Credit Vedanta Balbahadur

 

Connect with Vedanta Balbahadur at his website, or find him on Twitter.