What World Cup Soccer Tells Us About Using Public Space in Los Angeles

Join 4000-5000 people watching South Korea
How often does Los Angeles find 4,000-5,000+ people assembled in public space? Come to Wilshire Blvd. and Serrano Ave. in Koreatown, on Thursday June 26th at 1 p.m. and experience it. If South Korea can upset Belgium on the 26th, there could be additional outdoor viewings, which grow bigger and bigger as Korea progresses toward the final. Larger image and full K-pop audio experience at Radiokorea.com

I assume that most Streetsblog readers who have any interest in sports turn elsewhere for insightful sports coverage. We barely cover competitive bike racing here. I don’t claim much in the way of sport expertise, nonetheless, as a somewhat-closeted soccer fan, I am going to try my hand at writing about the World Cup Football. It’s not Football in the American sense though, it is, of course, Soccer.

For the uninitiated, there’s a big international soccer tournament that’s being played right now in Brazil: World Cup 2014. It is already being watched by record numbers of television viewers worldwide.

LA Mayor Garcetti Talks World Cup from KPCC on Vimeo.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, in the above video, connects the World Cup with Los Angeles traffic. He suggests that if just enough people skip work and instead watch the games, then L.A.’s streets and freeways could flow more smoothly.

But, there are some other aspects of World Cup Soccer that get me thinking about L.A.’s streets and public spaces.

First off, let me acknowledge that there are plenty of serious downsides to all this. This is the guys cup, the women’s will take place next year and will be awesome and receive virtually no attention. Plenty of folks from the host nation, Brazil, are protesting the warped priorities of spending billions on stadiums while ignoring much-needed stuff including housing, transportation, health, etc. Streetsblog readers have seen the way big sports stadiums plague neighborhoods and create massive parking craters. The international soccer governing body, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association,) is a corruption-plagued old-boys-network, and they’re raking in the dough on this tournament. Like other sports and many other aspects of daily life, there’s plenty of racism expressed by soccer fans.

So, what’s the upside?

Soccer crosses cultures and national boundaries. As Mayor Garcetti mentions in the above video, Los Angeles is home to huge populations of immigrants from many of the nations playing in the World Cup.

Most days, it’s not easy for me to strike up a conversation with immigrants from Mexico, Korea, Cameroon, etc. in my neighborhood. Now, when my family is out walking, we’ll spot people proudly wearing their national team’s kit (soccer-ese for shirt) and we’ll at least have a short conversation about how their team is doing.

Nationalism and patriotism can be really destructive, generally, and especially in support of U.S. militarism. I find nationalism comforting, though, when it takes the form of immigrants proudly supporting the soccer team from their home country. Latin Americans get behind colonial teams overcoming their imperialist colonizers. African immigrants similarly rally behind teams from their continent. Though there’s never quite a level playing field, there are upsets. The U.S. is fun to root for, precisely because we don’t dominate soccer the way we do other sports and other arenas.

I watched many 2010 World Cup games at the home of a Guatemalan neighbor. His friends asked me, in Spanish, where was I from? I responded, my Spanish not so great, that I was born here in the United States. No, they pressed, where were my ancestors from – before they came to the U.S.? Well, mostly Germany I responded, but that was a long time ago. Then I should root for Germany in the World Cup. From then on, to them, I was “the German.”

I think that being a sports fan is can be similar to being a pedestrian. When someone is driving, all other traffic is just in my way. Walking is the opposite. Walking is a lot better, safer, and more inviting, when and where there are a lot of other pedestrians walking in the same area. Watching sports is ok when it’s just me and my screen, but it’s much better to be out somewhere with other folks watching and getting enthusiastic about the same things that I am.

For many fans in the U.S., we can watch with fellow aficionados at local bars and restaurants. In most places around the world, though, the World Cup is just so popular that it spills out of these “public houses” and into public spaces: our streets, plazas and parks. From Argentina to Zurich and in big cities in every continent, public spaces fill up with fans watching and cheering on their teams. In some places, for example Iran, the public taking to the streets can be a little threatening. The USA may be slightly late to the game, but an estimated 20,000 showed up for a street-closure public viewing yesterday in Chicago.

What about Los Angeles?

There are guides to restaurants where fans gather – such as watching Chile at Rincon Chileno, Brazil at Cafe Brasil, France at Taix, etc.

But I really recommend seeking out free public viewing. Public viewing comes in a lot of flavors, from big to small, from semi-public to fully-public. Sometimes it’s a neighbor with a decent sized television that’s set up in a front yard or street-facing window. Sometimes it’s thousands of people camped out watching a jumbotron.

There’s an organization, called World Cup L.A., that’s promoting small-scale “pop-up” public viewing. A few community venues, including Mercado La Paloma in South L.A., have been hosting pop-up viewing events.

I haven’t found any L.A. public spaces specifically for cheering on the U.S., though the L.A. Times covered a gathering at Lot 613, a large warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. Like many other aspects of using public space (and as James Rojas has long taught), L.A.’s immigrants are leading the way, and teaching the rest of us Angelenos how to use our public spaces.

Here are two of my personal favorite free places to view World Cup soccer with fellow Angelenos:

The biggest and best public World Cup viewing I’ve found in L.A. is watching South Korea. Ever since South Korea did surprisingly well in the 2002 World Cup, L.A.’s Korean-Americans close a few streets and gather by the thousands to cheer on their Red Devils. See the photo at the top of this post.

Unless Korea can upset Belgium, this Thursday’s game could be their last. Watch South Korea vs. Belgium at a mass public viewing at 1pm Thursday June 26th at the grassy area in front of 3700 Wilshire Boulevard. That’s at Wilshire and Serrano, just one block east of the Wilshire Western Metro Purple Line Station. The game shows on a 2-3-story tall screen, plus on the adjacent electronic billboard. Finally a good use for those electronic billboards!

For the rest of the games, when I’m not, ahem, working, I’ve enjoyed watching some of them at a smaller free public viewing at Niky’s Sports in Pico-Union, not far from MacArthur Park. The address is 1536 West 7th Street.

Mini-soccer pitch, mostly used for soccer-volleyball in between televised games, at Niky's Sports on 7th Street in Pico Union. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Mini-soccer pitch, mostly used for soccer-volleyball in between televised games, at Niky’s Sports on 7th Street in Pico Union. Jumbo screen in the center. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The soccer shop has re-purposed the front parking area of the adjacent body shop at 7th and Union, re-configuring it with 200-300 seats worth of bleachers, a mini-soccer field, and a 20-foot tall screen. Entry is free, but it is first-come first-served. This is a predominantly Central American immigrant neighborhood, so it fills up early when Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, and other Latin American teams play. Once it fills, viewers spill over into the adjacent sidewalks.

At Niky's Sports, big screen to the left, working auto to the right, behind a fence. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
At Niky’s Sports, big screen to the left, working auto shop to the right, screened off by a fence. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
At Niky's Sports, during  Holland vs. Australia. The stands weren't too full for the 9am kick-off game that didn't feature any team from Latin America. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
At Niky’s Sports, during Holland vs. Australia, last week. The stands weren’t too full for the 9am kick-off game that didn’t feature any team from Latin America. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Readers – In what public spaces do you enjoy watching World Cup games? Is there a great free/public space in L.A. to watch and cheer on Team U.S.A.? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Herbie Huff

    Love this! I rode past and admired the Niky’s sports setup a few days ago. From this post and what I’ve been reading on twitter, I’m not the only one appreciating how the world cup brings us out into public space.

    I liked your run-down of the downside, too. Keeping it real, and not getting caught up in nationalistic hype, while loving the game and the communal aspect it brings.

    Now you have to do a follow up article on the downside and a Huntington Park underprepared for public celebration and raucousness. Governments must do more to let people get out and gallavant while still keeping it safe. Think Grand Park on NYE, Huntington Park! You can do it!

  • Joe Linton

    yah – incidents in Huntington Park and Pacoima occurred right after we posted this article… for now links will be in the headlines.

  • LAifer

    Thanks for posting this. Grand Park could make a big deal of World Cup fever and show all the games there (and the higher-priority games when they overlap). They could charge a small admission, have food trucks around, and it’d be a way to get people out into the public space. Sadly, they don’t seem to have figured that out for this year’s World Cup. Perhaps in four years’ time?

  • True Freedom

    It would destroy the park.

  • Joe Linton

    It would activate the park!

  • davistrain

    Although we haven’t done it in the past few years, my wife (who is the NFL fan in the house) would invite friends over for Super Bowl parties. If we weren’t doing it, someone else would invite us to their party. I may be playing into a stereotype, but I think there are a lot of Super Bowl related gatherings in “private spaces”, because NFL fans are more likely to have large houses and big TVs, and American suburbanites tend to shy away from large crowds. (pickpockets! rioters! hooligans!)

  • James Gross Jr

    I know the Galaxy host USA viewing parties. The Ghana game on 6/15 was on Pier Avenue in Hermosa. The Portugal game was somewhere in DTLA.

  • True Freedom

    do it at LA Live. No plants to trample

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Today’s Headlines

|
Metro Staff Recommendation for Crenshaw Connection to LAX (The Source, LAT) Walkability Report: L.A. Ranks 16th Out of 30 Big U.S. Metro Areas (LAT) Why Aren’t More People Outraged? Boy on a Bike at Slain Cyclist Phillip O’Neill Memorial Ride Audio Reporting from Cedillo’s #Fig4All N. Figueroa Bike Lane Meeting (Bike Talk) Shocker: Traffic Forecasts […]

Lessons from Mexico City: Ciclovia

|
When I woke up on Sunday Morning here in Mexico City and looked out my window down at the giant Reforma Blvd., it was full of hundreds of cyclists. Without knowing it, I had stumbled into one of Mexico City’s weekly Ciclovia events where miles of major Boulevards are closed off to automobile traffic and […]

Riding the Westside with Venice Critical Mass

|
(Editor’s note: this is third in a monthly series of ride reports on Critical Mass from throughout the region.  In April it I rode Pasadena.  In May, Los Angeles.  This month was going to be Costa Mesa, but I decided to put it off until the fall so instead it’s the nascent Venice Critical Mass.) […]
STREETSBLOG USA

Liberating the Schoolyard

|
For a time, a few years back, my friends and I used to play pick-up soccer every Sunday at a high school in my neighborhood. As many as 30 people, mostly adults in their twenties and thirties, would show up for a match on a particularly nice day. New moms would bring their babies to […]