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The Atlanta Braves: Ignoring Sustainability?

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The Atlanta Braves stunned fans a few weeks ago with the announcement that they had chosen a site in Cobb County as their new home starting in 2017. The new site will sit near the intersection of I-75 and I-285 about 15 miles north of their current home, Turner Field. The reasons cited for the move included lack of adequate parking, lack of access to public transportation, costs associated with maintenance at Turner Field, and other “issues we simply cannot overcome,” stated Atlanta Braves President John Schuerholz in a recorded announcement on the Braves website.

At a time when “sustainability” is a bigger buzzword than ever and cities around the world seek to support green initiatives, an announcement like this hits hard. Even within MLB, the majority of stadiums that have relocated since 1960 have moved closer to their respective city centers to support greater access to public transportation, according to Deadspin. Only 4 new stadiums built during this time have relocated to sites further from their respective city centers, excluding Atlanta. Of these, the greatest distance moved was 6 miles in Kansas City. Meanwhile, the Braves intend to move approximately 15 miles in the opposite direction, completely defying the prevailing trend over the past few decades. The Braves are an independent organization, separate from the city. In terms of Atlanta’s sustainability initiatives, however, the move couldn’t be further from the city’s efforts to become a progressive, sustainable city.

According to the City of Atlanta Sustainability website, the city has already begun implementing 1/3 of the suggested best-case practices for a city to promote sustainability. Efforts include:
• The BeltLine, a public-private project that includes a “22-mile loop of parks, greenspace, trails and transit around the city to ultimately serve as a bundle of solutions to the very challenges that threaten to limit Atlanta’s health and prosperity – traffic, deficient greenspace and recreation, and inequitable economic development.”
• Requirement of LEED Silver certification for all new city construction and renovations,
• Water conservation,
• Recycling,
• Commute Alternatives Program; and
• Connect Atlanta, a comprehensive transportation plan that incorporates expanded MARTA, light rail, BRT, and expanded HOV and express bus systems.

How does the new stadium fit into this vision of a sustainable, world-class city? Let’s see:
• Parks and greenspace – These may be included in the design of the new ballpark and surrounding areas, but no final designs have been confirmed yet. On the other hand, the chosen site is an undeveloped parcel of land near the Chattahoochee River. Turner Field, however, sits within a couple of miles of the Atlanta BeltLine corridor, which will continue to develop into multi-use paths and light rail over the next decade.
• Recycling and conservation – These ideas go hand in hand since both practices promote using less material or reusing materials to prevent using virgin materials. It is possible that the new development will use recycled materials for construction, but not likely. This translates to using new steel, brick, plastic, concrete, etc. for construction, a complete waste of perfectly good materials at Turner Field. What would the maintenance at Turner Field require? Upgrading seats, lighting, and plumbing, according to the Braves. Fenway Park in Boston has a section with seats from the 1930s. They work perfectly well. Think about it. On the same note, what will happen to Turner Field, a 17-year old, Olympic stadium? What will happen to the brick, steel, and plastic? The concrete? This part may be up to the city, but it’s worth noting what is left behind when you abandon such a place.
• The new site will sit near the intersection of I-285 and I-75, one of the busiest intersections in the metro area. You don’t have to drive it every day to imagine what a drive to a weeknight game might look like. What is Cobb County’s plan to address this? Joe Dendy, chairman of the county’s Republican Party, claims, “It is absolutely necessary the (transportation) solution is all about moving cars in and around Cobb and surrounding counties from our north and east where most Braves fans travel from, and not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta.” Ignoring the obvious traffic issues the new stadium will inherit and exacerbate, is always a good idea, especially when traffic is one of the issues claimed by the city to “threaten Atlanta’s health and prosperity.”

Supporting sustainability to truly make Atlanta a world-class, progressive city, it seems, was not even a thought in this process for the Atlanta Braves. Will the move have some benefits for the team as a business? Yes. Is it a solid long-term investment in the direction the city is going in terms of sustainability? Probably not. I know that I personally won’t be attending games without a way to ride my bicycle there, as I did 14 times this past season.

Good luck in Cobb, Braves, Atlanta will move forward with or without you.

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