With the Olympics finished and fewer flashes of physical genius to distract – but the madness of March well underway – it’s tempting to consider the unsung hero in the arena: the infrastructure. And I don’t mean the actual arena; there have already been many words written touting the poetic qualities of Herzog + de Meuron’s Bird’s Nest (and subsequent under-utilization), the relative constraint and sustainable pragmatism of Vancouver’s glorious Glu-Lam Oval, the geopolitically-sensitive and environmentally-questionable construction underway in Sochi (Where is Sochi anyway?)…. That has all been covered. What’s interesting is the smaller-scale and impromptu “infrastructure” that closely tracks sports mania. (My favorite example from the Winter Olympics: the fabulous Fatboy chairs sitting breezily at the base of the mountain/ half-pipe for those in the temporary winner’s circle – a supreme clash of mental anxiety with coerced physical reclining. Genius!)
These thoughts were brought to the fore by a trip last Thursday to Providence, a trip coincident with the 1st round of the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament. (Not to be confused with the Opening Round, which is always – ALWAYS – held in Dayton, Ohio. Who knew?) Arriving in Providence, one might have mistaken the city for Crazytown, USA. Streets were closed to create pockets of temporary open space, makeshift bars had materialized in the unseasonably warm Spring air, and drunk men, continuing the partying from St. Patrick Day festivities the night before, attempted three-pointers at basketball hoops that had appeared from nowhere. It was great.
But festivities aside: How are cities chosen as venues for the NCAA tournament? It seems the process is considerably more opaque than the very public and politicized Olympic bid process. There also seems to be a strong tendency to favor second-tier cities as starter venues, as evidenced by this year’s first round sites: Oklahoma City, San Jose, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Spokane, and, of course, Providence (New Orleans also hosted, but has earned the right to be called a top-tier sports city this year. Go Saints!) Depending on whom you ask, this display rivals the action going on inside Dunkin Donuts arena, and prompts the question of whether this kind of spontaneous urbanism would appear if first-round tip-off were held in a larger city?