Fun is coming in from the cold: the vital urban role of entertainment

people walking around a green city
The ultimate blurring of boundaries The Shed at Hudson Yards in New York, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, expands and contracts into the public space in front to host performances, exhibitions and events of different sizes. Photo: Philip Scalia / Alamy Stock Photo

“Entertainment buildings are some of the most important and iconic any city can build. They become a source of pride and a hallmark for the quality of life they offer”

David Manica

Entertainment venues were often seen as bad neighbours by city planners and residents — noisy, litter-strewn, antisocial and best banished to the outskirts of town. But their social value is being reappraised, as is the environmental cost of locating them in places that can only be reached by car.

“There are no buildings out in the middle of a parking lot any more,” says Gensler’s Ron Turner. “People understand that stadiums and arenas are destinations that create a footfall, and are therefore great for cities in terms of their longevity and sustainability, and from a transportation standpoint. It makes sense for these buildings to be in cities.”

Downtown destinations are also more likely to draw the punters. “At the end of the day, it’s not iPhones or Instagram we’re competing against, it’s time,” says Craig Hanna at Thinkwell. “So we have to create a new offering that is faster to get to and easier to consume. As densification continues, the future is multi-venue destinations in urban settings, which take less footprint.” Thinkwell’s Lionsgate Entertainment World in Hengqin, China, is a case in point — an indoor, vertical theme park with 30 attractions on 10 levels.

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Entertainment is an essential component of vibrant places, says Albert Paquette at A49 in Toronto. It has several major venues downtown, linked into the transit system and spilling out into public spaces, even when the game is elsewhere. Its Raptors basketball team secured their historic NBA win in California. But back home, the area outside Scotiabank Arena — known as “Jurassic Park” — became a focal point for fans, some queueing to secure a place in front of the big screen for 48 hours. “It was as active there as if the game was happening inside,” he says.

In smaller towns, multipurpose venues refresh the parts that other developments can’t reach: the 5,000-seat Meridian Centre in St Catharines, Ontario is on an awkward brownfield site 50ft below a main street. “They couldn’t get any commercial interest but now there’s this whole hub of sports and entertainment that has reactivated a street that was dying,” says Paquette.

“The arts have a huge role to play as community glue,” believes Robert O’Dowd, chief executive of the Rose Theatre Kingston, a 800-seat venue in outer London. “With the digitization of community life, where does the community meet now? Where are people bumping into each other, sharing experiences?” The Rose is one of those places: it has 100 volunteer ushers, the majority of them retirees, an active youth theatre group, and a cafe where various social activities take place.

But for O’Dowd, the most successful theatres are more than a meeting place — they go beyond their walls and engage directly with people in the street. “How theatres integrate into the cityscape is potentially the future of trade and commerce. Who still wants to just go shopping? Performance can turn town centres into experiential places.”

This is already happening, not just with culture but sport too. When venues are centrally located, it’s even more important that they are well used, and this drives more porous designs.

“I think the whole city should become a space for entertainment, where retail, performance and the city blend”

Robert O’Dowd, Rose Theatre

Entertainment boosts property values

Office and retail space close to a new entertainment  development commands a 20-30% rental premium.

Vacancy rates for more than 7,000 office buildings across the US show that occupation increases with proximity to an entertainment development.

statistics around the value of entertainment

Data: Cushman & Wakefield

Cricket fans watching the 2019 World Cup final in Trafalgar Square, London
Just add screen … Cricket fans watching the 2019 World Cup final in Trafalgar Square, London — public spaces are becoming extensions of stadiums or spectator venues in their own right. Photo: Peter Manning / Alamy Live News

“We include places for people to gather, whether they’re coming to an event or not, so it creates a new town square”

Ron Turner, Gensler

The nascent trend for “sports-oriented development” takes this to its logical conclusion: if a transport hub can be an anchor around which housing, workplaces and retail facilities are built, why not a well-connected, amenity-rich sports facility? “We’re starting to see many cities looking at entertainment facilities as a component of that anchor,” says Wratten at WSP. “What if you had apartment buildings that looked into the bowl, or all around it? What if on your way to work or the subway station, you could walk through the concourse and buy a coffee from the concession stand? It becomes part of the community, as opposed to the gates being closed except for a few times a week or a month.”

Stadiums already include amenities that new communities need. “Many have health facilities that outpace most urgent-care centres,” says Wratten. “What if we started to use them as everyday healthcare facilities? Or maybe stadiums could house battery banks as part of the sustainability strategy for the surrounding grid.”

Sport in the city

  • London football club Fulham is redeveloping its Riverside stand to open up the walkway along the River Thames: “It’s designed as a riverside venue that just happens to have a seating tier on the back of it,” says Peter Chipchase at WSP.
  • Polar Park in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts, is a 10,000-seat baseball facility with an office built in the outfield. “Office workers will be able to look into the park,” says WSP’s Wratten.
  • San Francisco’s Chase Center is a sports and cultural venue, and a major mixed-use project, designed by MANICA, with interiors and retail by Gensler. There will be offices, shops,  bars, restaurants and a public plaza. “The entire development becomes a part of the fabric of the city and a draw even on non-event days,” says David Manica.

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