In Atlanta, the 2013 Major League Baseball season ended in the usual way.
The hometown Braves, winners of the National League’s East Division (again), lost early in the playoffs (again). So began a typical autumn for Braves’ fans, contemplating what could have been, pondering what changes were needed to the team, and, of course, watching other cities’ teams compete for the World Series title. So, it was an ordinary off-season. Until the morning of November 11, when the Atlanta Braves revealed a plan to relocate from Turner Field, the team’s 17-year-old downtown stadium, to one that would be constructed on a site 12 miles to the north, just beyond the city limits, in Cobb County. As an Atlanta Magazine headline put it, “Everyone is kind of stunned,” including, reportedly, the mayor. 1 Fans, elected leaders, journalists, neighborhood residents — “everyone” — grappled with the out-of-the blue-ness of the announcement and marveled at the secrecy maintained throughout the negotiations between the club and county. And many asked, in the words of a Los Angeles Times story about the Braves’ plan, “What is the life span of a modern stadium?” 2 Deeper, existential questions arose regarding the urban-to-suburban vector of the team’s intended move. What is a major league city without a team at its center? Deadspin published a graphic showing the striking divergence between this and other Major League Baseball intra-city relocations–since 1960 no team had moved such a significant distance away from the urban center. 3 Moreover, asked a columnist for BloombergView, what is major league baseball without an urban place? “Baseball is an urban game,” he wrote, and, “surrounded by . . . sprawl,” the new Braves’ stadium is “going to be an affront to baseball.” 4
Attracting major league baseball to downtown Atlanta had been an explicit goal and a triumph for the city’s governing elite in the 1960s. 5 In 1966, Atlanta became a major league city when the Braves, having relocated from Milwaukee, played their first home game at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, a home field built on a downtown site that had been cleared of houses and their poor, mostly African-American inhabitants. 6 Atlanta Fulton County Stadium was demolished in 1997 after the team moved across the street to Turner Field, a new stadium built for the Olympic games and subsequently modified for baseball. Now, after playing for nearly fifty years in the urban center and only 17 years at Turner Field, the Braves had put in motion a plan to relocate to one of the famed edge cities making up metro Atlanta. 7
The Braves offered a variety of reasons to explain the move, including improved access by private automobile and public transit, increased parking capacity, a better “game day experience in and around the ballpark,” and greater control over adjacent development. 8
But rising above all of these was a map. A Washington Post blog headline proclaimed, “Why the Braves are leaving Atlanta, in one map.” 9 And one atop a USA Today blog asserted, “Why the Braves want to move, in one ticket-sales map.” 10 Newspaper writers were joined by Tweeters, Facebook users, Reddit users, and all manner of online commenters who pointed to the map for an answer. As one commenter to an ESPN story asserted, “Check the map . . . and you’ll see the sole reason why they’re moving there.” 11 Indeed, the map spoke for itself, as Tweet after Tweet, post after post, and comment after comment forewent any discussion of the merits and validity of the club’s reasoning and simply posted a copy of the map or a link to it. Tweeted “Ryan,” for example, “For those of you wondering why the Braves are moving north, out of Atlanta, here’s a map.” 12
So, what was this map with the oracle-like ability to answer the big question, “Why are the Braves moving to Cobb County?” It is a basic dot map published at homeofthebraves.com, a website created to rationalize the Braves’ relocation and to publicize emerging details about the new stadium project. According to one of the map’s captions, “Each dot . . . represents a ticket sold to a Braves’ game in 2012.” The map shows a clear spatial pattern. A wide-angled feature resembling a bouquet of flowers, its bundled stems perching near the city’s center and flowers fanning out 25-30 miles to the north of Turner Field, indicated that most Braves ticket purchasers lived in the northern reaches of the metropolitan region. The map also showed the spatial relationship between the two stadiums and these ticket purchasers — Turner field down by the stems and the new stadium tucked among the flowers of the bouquet.
Several basic cartographic questions arise from the map. Does each red dot represent a single game purchase? How are season tickets represented? What about cash purchases? What about multiple purchases from the same address? And how are ticket purchases actually located on the map? By ZIP code areas which are shown on the map? And, if so, then how are they located within the boundaries of these areas? The purpose of this essay is not to answer these technical cartographic questions. Instead, I examine the performative effect of the map — the ways in which it has acted (or worked) to shape public understandings of the Braves’ relocation and the ensuing discussion of that plan, and ultimately the role it played in altering the geography of the city itself.
My analysis is grounded in critical cartography, an approach to maps that emphasizes the creative work they do. While maps are typically understood to be representations of the already-existing world, the idea that they also make the world by shaping how humans see, relate to, and act in it is usually not consciously brought to bear by map readers. 13 In his A History of Spaces, the geographer John Pickles explains the creative work of maps in this way: “Systems of meaning are inscribed in maps through the lines, boundaries and symbols that give meaning and reality to the world.” 14 Maps code the world–categorizing, differentiating, highlighting, erasing, bounding, excluding, and so on, and in so doing they produce social identities, mediate social interactions, and profoundly influence how people perceive, understand, and relate to the objects in their world. Maps, therefore, play a role in the very material outcomes that they supposedly “merely represent.” 15 In other words, representation (the map) and reality (the world) are always mutually constitutive, as Pickles explains:
Maps create objects whose existence is mythic, at least to the extent that these identities are highly formalized abstractions whose effects (once represented as a real object) become very real. Once conjured up, new spatialized identities begin to work as real places and the discourses of cartography and mapping recognize themselves as representing the real. 16
Or, as map scholar Denis Wood construes it, “The factuality of a map is a function of the social assent granted to [and the collective social energy channeled by] the map’s proposition . . . that this is there.” 17 Acknowledging this “cartographic problematic” (real ↔ representation), allows us to understand that maps do “actual work” in the urban process. 18 What is of interest here, then, is not what urban features the Braves’ map of ticket purchases reflects but those it creates.
The map re-territorialized the city
The ticket purchases map was essential to a key argument made by the club in the initial rollout of its stunning plan. On the morning the plan was revealed, the Atlanta Braves issued a video statement by club president John Schuerholz in which he declared, “this new ballpark will be in the heart of Braves Country.” 19 At the same time, on the website homeofthebraves.com the map of ticket purchases was published over a caption that read, “The new stadium will be situated in the heart of Braves Country.” 20 To make this specific claim about Braves Country was to assert that the team’s relocation would be an utterly sensible, if not natural, geographical change. And convincing the public of that entailed providing an authoritative answer to both an existential question (that Braves Country exists) and a spatial one (that the new stadium will be in the middle — heart — of it). And this required a map.
“Braves Country” is not just another way of saying “the land of people willing to pay” or “market area”. It signifies something deeper than a transactional relationship between buyer and seller. It taps into an emotional and politico-cultural register to connote attachment to and identification with the team. Moreover, as opposed to a “nation” (a group of people unified by a common attachment to or identification with something, such as a set of values, a shared historical experience, or, in American popular culture, allegiance to a sports team), a “country” is intrinsically territorial. As “country” the Braves nation is territorialized. The shared attachment to the team and identification with it that defines the “nation” are now applied to and delineated by a bounded space of particular size, extent, and shape. That is to say, the territory (“country”) both expresses the nation and spatially encloses it. As geographer David Delaney observes, a territorial claim such as this communicates a type of meaning that is “essentially classificatory . . . [and] may have the function (or at least the effect) of reifying forms of identity and difference.” 21 But the cognitive basis and social assent needed for territory to work in this way cannot derive from physical perception. A territory cannot be seen, touched, or heard. Knowing a territory entails representations of it and maps, in particular, “happen to be unrivaled as vehicles for the creation and conveyance of authority about and over territory.” 22 In the map, a territory’s boundaries, shape, extent, inclusions and exclusions, and, importantly, its center, are no longer vague and ambiguous and, thus, difficult to imagine, relate to, and act on. The map gives territory concrete form, discreteness, unity, and thereby provides a necessary basis for imagining, knowing, and identifying with it. Indeed, as Geoff King explains, territory itself resides in the map: “Map and territory cannot ultimately be separated. Cultural mappings play a central role in establishing the territories we inhabit and experience as real.” 23
The map of ticket purchases published on November 11, 2013, did not invent Braves Country. The notion of Braves Country has been around for some time and had long been referenced with regularity by the club and fan groups, as well as the media. If, as King suggests above, knowing a “country” entails knowing a map, then earlier mappings of Braves Country should have existed prior to November 11, 2013.
And indeed there were many, and one common feature of these maps is that the “country” they conjured extended well beyond the metropolitan area. A typical example is the map created to publicize the Braves Country Caravan, an annual off-season tour taken by selected players and team personnel across the team’s “home” territory.
The regional scale depicted in such maps was reinforced by other official spatial representations, such as downloadable “wallpaper” for desktop computers signifying major cities in Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and elsewhere in Georgia, as within the boundaries of Braves Country.
The 2013 ticket purchases map issued by the club on November 11 was not the first evocation of Braves Country but its territorial impact was nonetheless dramatic. It rescaled Braves Country, drastically shrinking its extent to the metropolitan scale and re-territorializing the city in the process. This rescaling was vital to the club’s claim of centrality. Indeed, at the regional scale — say, from the perspective of fans living in Montgomery, Alabama, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee — the Braves’ spatial claim is weak — moving from Turner Field to the new stadium results in no significant or relevant change to the centrality of the team in relation to “Braves Country.” Only at the metropolitan scale does the claim about moving the team into “the heart of Braves Country” make any sense. Because only at this scale can Turner Field’s spatial position be differentiated from a new stadium 12 miles to the north that is, unlike Turner Field, “situated in the heart of Braves Country.”
The Braves’ map’s effectiveness is seen in the territorial authority it passed on to its readers, who could now imagine and speak with certainty about a rescaled Braves Country and a newly differentiated Atlanta. For example, one ESPN.com reader, commenting on a story about the Braves’ planned relocation, asserted, “If you look at the map . . . this move makes a bit of sense since it is just going deeper into Braves Country. Turner Field is on the border . . . ” 24 And just like that, what had once been located in the heart of Braves Country (such as in the Braves Caravan map) now found itself on the distant fringe (in the 2013 ticket purchases map). Moreover, the map drew lines that reflected enduring divisions (white/black, wealthy/poor) but imbued them with new meaning, distinguishing where the Braves seemed to belong and where they did not. As one blog commenter explained in reference to the map, “THIS is Braves Country. It ain’t downtown Atlanta . . . The new location is right in the middle. Simple, really.” 25 A columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution seemed to agree, writing, “According to the map . . . [t]he cold truth is that . . . they’ve become the Northern Arc’s team.” 26
Where a map puts people (on what side of the line, in what territorial unit) and how it represents them (with what colors and symbols) feeds into their self-conceptions, influences how they and others understand their relationship to objects in their world, and, thereby, how they act in it. As Pickles explains, the effect, if not the purpose, of maps is to “territorialize identity” and to “produce identity/difference relations in terms of which the world is structured and understood.” 27 The Braves’ ticket purchases map re-positioned Atlantans in relation to the team, reinforcing the devotion of those living in the deep red and calling into question the allegiance of those residing outside of it, particularly in the neighborhoods surrounding Turner Field, especially those to the immediate south and west of the stadium. These distinctions were then made real by partisans in the ensuing public debate. One commentator asserted, “They are going to where the loyalty is”, while another commented, “Unfortunately the demographics that live nearest the stadium aren’t really baseball fans . . . That’s the main reason they’re moving to the suburbs.” A third summed it up, claiming, “No one in the city of ATL or the southside cares about the Braves. They are finally bringing the team to where the fans are. Smart move.” 28
Counter-mapping Braves Country
It is clear that the map of ticket purchases provided a convincing explanation of the team’s dramatic plan to relocate to northern Atlanta and brilliantly enabled readers to affirm with utter certitude the sensibility of it. But maps, as critical cartographers argue, “are in a constant state of becoming.” 29 The ink used to draw a map may be fixed permanently (more or less) on the page by the cartographer, or in this case, as digital information embedded in a jpeg or pdf file, but the meanings it conveys are not. “Maps are never fully complete,” write geographers Del Casino and Hanna, “nor are they ever completely inscribed with meaning through production [by the cartographer]. Rather, consumption is production.” 30 In other words, map reading is always an act of map production. The meanings of any map emerge and re-emerge as it is read by differently situated people in particular political, social, historical, and geographical contexts. And these different readings often challenge and destabilize what seem to be settled, obvious, and even natural, meanings. Essentially, new maps are produced without changing a material (or digital) thing about the map itself.
And so it is with the Braves’ map. Although most readers seemed to readily accept the map as intended by the club — a map that simply showed a baseball team needing spatial alignment with its loyal fans — other readings produced very different meanings. Read differently, the paucity of red dots south and west of Turner Field called into question not the loyalty of Atlantans living in the stadium neighborhoods but the team’s connection to the urban renewal-era devastation and depopulation of those areas and their decades-long subjection to stadium-related disruptions. 31 For example, one map reader refused to allow the red dots to represent “loyalty,” arguing that those areas [without red dots] are full of “fans who can’t afford to go to many games, but still love the Braves more than every single one of these Cobb County season ticket holders.” 32 And “Phyllis,” commenting on an article about the Braves’ relocation in the SaportaReport wrote, “I am . . . reminded of what nightmarish stuff the neighborhood around Turner Field has endured over the decades. The births of the interstate system, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and then Turner Field . . . plowed under vast numbers of homes.” 33
In this reading, the map shows the historical and spatial relations that have always constituted the “new” Braves Country — the sacrifice of poor, mostly non-white residences for the city’s expressway network and its major league stadium, both of which enabled a northern fanbase to develop. For Phyllis the map reveals not the dislocation of a team from its loyal fans but an urban geography of wealth (in the north) and poverty (in the south) produced by historical and political processes in which the Braves themselves have been complicit. Thus, contrary to the popular and seemingly intended interpretation of the ticket sales map, this counter-interpretation proposes to open the discussion, not foreclose it, about the connections between the physical spaces required for professional baseball (stadiums, roads, parking lots, etc.) and the uneven social and spatial distribution of costs and benefits of developing them.
The purpose of this essay was to examine the Braves map’s role in shaping public and media reaction to, and analysis of, the team’s plan to relocate to northern Atlanta. Overwhelmingly, the evidence is strong that in the months following the relocation announcement it did this. In doing so, the map did “actual work” that went beyond the representational. It socially demarcated the city, re-differentiated its spaces, and created new spatial identities in relation to the club (central city vs. northern edge cities as Braves Country). In the end, by strategically re-territorializing “Braves Country,” the map effectively created new urban subjects (Braves fans “here” and not “there”) and, thus, a new city.
Cover Image Attribution: Courtesy of Flickr user J Hikka, used under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.
Larry Keating, Atlanta: Race, Class, and Urban Expansion (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001); Clarence Stone, Regime Politics: Governing Atlanta, 1946-1988 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas).[↩]
Joseph Hurley, “How a Densely Populated Neighborhood Became Turner Field: A Map Essay,” Selections from the University Library Blog, Paper 9, Georgia State University, accessed June 12, 2015, http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/univ_lib_blog/9/.[↩]
Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier (New York: Anchor Books, 1992); James Howard Kuntsler, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition (New York: The Free Press, 2003).[↩]
Jeremy Crampton, Mapping: A Critical Introduction to Cartography and GIS (Oxford and New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010); Denis Wood, Rethinking the Power of Maps (New York City: Guilford Press, 2010).[↩]
John Pickles, A History of Spaces (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 31-32.[↩]
Rob Kitchin, Chris Perkins, and Martin Dodge, “Thinking About Maps,” in Rethinking Maps: New Frontiers in Cartographic Theory, edited by Martin Dodge, Rob Kitchin, and Chris Perkins (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 20.[↩]
Vincent J. Del Casino Jr. and Stephen P. Hanna, “A Methodological Intervention for Interrogating Maps as Representational Practices,” ACME: An International E-journal for Radical Geographies 4 (1), 50.[↩]