Football’s building homes: on an under-discussed source of brownfield land

England manager Gareth Southgate is a man, we reckon, who would favour building more bloody houses. Image: Getty.

The whole of England is convinced that Football’s Coming Home. We at CityMetric are more interested in the “home” bit than the football, of course – but don’t worry lads, I’ve found a link.

For much of my teens and twenties I followed Hull City around the country. The football was miserable, but the trains, beer and friendships were great, and more than compensated for the inevitable defeat in Burnley or Brighton.

The event that stopped me going was Hull City’s move to a shiny new stadium. All my mates got season passes grouped together in an all-seater stadium. I couldn’t face that level of commitment, and quickly drifted away.

Hull is far from the only football club to have upped sticks from a dilapidated ground to swanky stadium – so I’ve started to wonder what has happened to the former sites of the national game. Researching this turned out to be simple, mainly because football attracts geeks in much the same way transport does, and so there are plenty of helpful websites.


My first task was to pick a cut-off date, so I didn’t have to go all the way back to 19th century. Fortunately football transformed itself in 1992 when the structure of the game was changed with the creation of the Premiership. Following this, money poured into the game: for many teams this was the catalyst for the recent trend for teams to move to new homes.

Of the 92 teams in the Premiership and Football League in the 1992-93 season, 29 have since left their grounds. Here’s what has happened to the abandoned stadia.

Premiership

Off the 22 teams that were in the inaugural Premiership, five have moved on to pastures new.

First to leave were Middlesborough, abandoning Ayresome Park in 1995 for The Riverside. This move was designed to kick-start the redevelopment of the town’s docks area. It didn’t. The old ground, like many, was in a residential district. Homes now stand where Brain Clough once scored for fun. I’m sorry to say that The Turnstile and The Midfield are the actual street names here.

A new development in Middlesborough within a sea of back to backs. Image: Google.

In 2001 Southampton left The Dell for St Mary’s Stadium, a similar dockside location to The Boro. The Dell is still The Dell. It is a rather impressive apartment block, which follows the footprint of the old stands.

The pitch is a car park, and the stands are homes at the Dell. Image: Google.

Manchester City were attracted to the shiny new stadium which had been built for the Commonwealth Games. The club moved out of Maine Road in 2003. The site has since been redeveloped into rather attractive terrace housing.

More terracing has been replaced by terraced housing at Maine Road. Image: Google.

Coventry City ditched Highfield Road for the out of town Ricoh Arena in 2005. The scene of too many years of topflight football is now the Signet Square Children Park, which is surrounded by modern high density housing.

Coventry’s compact ground has been replaced by tall housing. Image: Google.

Arsenal was the last of the original Premiership teams to relocate, moving a couple of hundred meters from Highbury to The Emirates Stadium adjacent to the East Coast Mainline. Listed building status means that two of the stands at Highbury remain: they’ve been repurposed and now house apartments.

Highbury Square, still recognisably an ex-football stadium. Image: Google.

All housing so far – a trend that will continue as we descend down the leagues.

Division 1

Millwall left The Den for The New Den (now The Den) in 1993. The pitch has been replaced by a distribution warehouse and a London Overground depot. I wonder if South East London wasn’t in much demand for housing in the early 1990s? a housing estate (sorry, we got this bit wrong).

No evidence of the old den in south east London. Image: Google.

Derby County left The Baseball Ground in 1997. It’s now housing, with a large green. Derby was one of few teams with its own railway station, and it’s still there. Opened in 1990 and closed in 1997, only 4 trains ever stopped at the Ramsline Halt.

The modern housing that has replaced the baseball ground. Image: Google.

Sunderland also relocated in 1997. Roker Park has been replaced by a housing development.

In 2001 Oxford United left The Manor Ground. It has been replaced by The Nuffield Manor Hospital, which is different.

With a central atrium, the hospital in Oxford follows the lines of the football ground it replaced. Image: Google.

Leicester City abandoned Filbert Street in 2002. Most of the site appears undeveloped apart from a large block of Halls of Residence, these days called “Unite Students – Filbert Village”. Things have changed since I was at Leicester Poly.

There’s still plenty of room for more student accommodation at Flibert Street. Image: Google.

West Ham United left Upton Park last year. It’s already been levelled: the developer has plans for 838 new homes, retail outlets and leisure facilities.

Divison 2

Counterintuitively, teams lower down the football ladder in 1993 are more likely to have moved to new stadiums. For many down in Division 2, the new location has been a springboard to a big upturn in their fortunes: 8 of the 9 teams with new stadiums have made it into the top flight, whereas only six of the 15 teams who have kept there traditional homes have achieved that.

  • Huddersfield Town left Leeds Road in 1994: it is now a B&Q.
  • Bolton Wanderers left Burnden Park in 1997: it has become the Burden Park Shopping Centre.
  • Brighton and Hove Albion left The Goldstone in 1997: it quickly became the Goldstone Retail Park.
  • Stoke City left The Victoria Ground in 1997. The site is undeveloped, but earmarked for housing.
  • Reading left Elm Park in 1998, and it has been developed for housing.
  • Wigan Athletic left Springfield Park in 1999: it is now housing.
  • Hull City left Boothferry Park in 2002: that is also housing.
  • Swansea City left Vetch Field in 2005. This one is odd. It is earmarked for a housing development with “safe streets”, but currently hosts allotments. The centre circle of the pitch will not be built upon, because people have had their ashes spread there.
  • Rotherham United left Millmoor in 2008. The ground is still there. It’s still in use with an Under 18’s team playing their home fixtures there.

The Victoria Ground, Stoke, will be 2, 3 & 4 bedroom homes, soon. Image: Google.

Division 3

Lots more housing from the lower league. Darlington (2003), Doncaster Rovers (2006), Shrewsbury Town (2007), Colchester United (2008), Cardiff City (2009) and Chesterfield (2010) have all become residential developments. Barnet (2013) appears to be joining that group as demolition started this year. Scarborough (2007) now hosts a Lidl.

Northampton Town left their traditional home for pastures new in 1994 but the County Ground is still going strong. The Cobblers shared the ground with Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, and First Class cricket continues to be played there, on the odd occasion it’s not raining in Northampton.

Cricket remains in the county ground Northampton, taking up a big chunk of land. Image: Google.

In Summary

Some 29 teams have relocated. Two grounds continue to host sport. One is a hospital; four are retail outlets. The remaining 22 are, or will shortly be, providing homes.

It’s hard to calculate how many people now live in these developments. Some of them have produced a lot of homes: Highbury Square contains 650 flats. So do 10,000 people live on these sites? 20,000? More?

Whatever the figure, they have been a significant supply of brownfield sites in many towns and cities. Yet it is a very limited supply of land.

If only there was another sport that could deliver land for housing? Anyone up for re-classifying all golf courses as brownfield sites?

 
 
 
 

Just like teenagers, self-driving cars need practice to really learn to drive

A self-driving car, of unknown level of education. Image: Grendelkhan/Flickr/creative commons.

What do self-driving cars and teenage drivers have in common?

Experience. Or, more accurately, a lack of experience.

Teenage drivers – novice drivers of any age, actually – begin with little knowledge of how to actually operate a car’s controls, and how to handle various quirks of the rules of the road. In North America, their first step in learning typically consists of fundamental instruction conveyed by a teacher. With classroom education, novice drivers are, in effect, programmed with knowledge of traffic laws and other basics. They then learn to operate a motor vehicle by applying that programming and progressively encountering a vast range of possibilities on actual roadways. Along the way, feedback they receive – from others in the vehicle as well as the actual experience of driving – helps them determine how best to react and function safely.

The same is true for autonomous vehicles. They are first programmed with basic knowledge. Red means stop; green means go, and so on. Then, through a form of artificial intelligence known as machine learning, self-driving autos draw from both accumulated experiences and continual feedback to detect patterns, adapt to circumstances, make decisions and improve performance.

For both humans and machines, more driving will ideally lead to better driving. And in each case, establishing mastery takes a long time. Especially as each learns to address the unique situations that are hard to anticipate without experience – a falling tree, a flash flood, a ball bouncing into the street, or some other sudden event. Testing, in both controlled and actual environments, is critical to building know-how. The more miles that driverless cars travel, the more quickly their safety improves. And improved safety performance will influence public acceptance of self-driving car deployment – an area in which I specialise.

Starting with basic skills

Experience, of course, must be built upon a foundation of rudimentary abilities – starting with vision. Meeting that essential requirement is straightforward for most humans, even those who may require the aid of glasses or contact lenses. For driverless cars, however, the ability to see is an immensely complex process involving multiple sensors and other technological elements:

  • radar, which uses radio waves to measure distances between the car and obstacles around it;
  • LIDAR, which uses laser sensors to build a 360-degree image of the car’s surroundings;
  • cameras, to detect people, lights, signs and other objects;
  • satellites, to enable GPS, global positioning systems that can pinpoint locations;
  • digital maps, which help to determine and modify routes the car will take;
  • a computer, which processes all the information, recognising objects, analysing the driving situation and determining actions based on what the car sees.

How a driverless car ‘sees’ the road.

All of these elements work together to help the car know where it is at all times, and where everything else is in relation to it. Despite the precision of these systems, however, they’re not perfect. The computer can know which pictures and sensory inputs deserve its attention, and how to correctly respond, but experience only comes from traveling a lot of miles.

The learning that is occurring by autonomous cars currently being tested on public roads feeds back into central systems that make all of a company’s cars better drivers. But even adding up all the on-road miles currently being driven by all autonomous vehicles in the U.S. doesn’t get close to the number of miles driven by humans every single day.

Dangerous after dark

Seeing at night is more challenging than during the daytime – for self-driving cars as well as for human drivers. Contrast is reduced in dark conditions, and objects – whether animate or inanimate – are more difficult to distinguish from their surroundings. In that regard, a human’s eyes and a driverless car’s cameras suffer the same impairment – unlike radar and LIDAR, which don’t need sunlight, streetlights or other lighting.

This was a factor in March in Arizona, when a pedestrian pushing her bicycle across the street at night was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle. Emergency braking, disabled at the time of the crash, was one issue. The car’s sensors were another issue, having identified the pedestrian as a vehicle first, and then as a bicycle. That’s an important distinction, because a self-driving car’s judgments and actions rely upon accurate identifications. For instance, it would expect another vehicle to move more quickly out of its path than a person walking.


Try and try again

To become better drivers, self-driving cars need not only more and better technological tools, but also something far more fundamental: practice. Just like human drivers, robot drivers won’t get better at dealing with darkness, fog and slippery road conditions without experience.

Testing on controlled roads is a first step to broad deployment of driverless vehicles on public streets. The Texas Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds Partnership, involving the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, University of Texas at Austin, and Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, operates a group of closed-course test sites.

Self-driving cars also need to experience real-world conditions, so the Partnership includes seven urban regions in Texas where equipment can be tested on public roads. And, in a separate venture in July, self-driving startup Drive.ai began testing its own vehicles on limited routes in Frisco, north of Dallas.

These testing efforts are essential to ensuring that self-driving technologies are as foolproof as possible before their widespread introduction on public roadways. In other words, the technology needs time to learn. Think of it as driver education for driverless cars.

People learn by doing, and they learn best by doing repeatedly. Whether the pursuit involves a musical instrument, an athletic activity or operating a motor vehicle, individuals build proficiency through practice.

The ConversationSelf-driving cars, as researchers are finding, are no different from teens who need to build up experience before becoming reliably safe drivers. But at least the cars won’t have to learn every single thing for themselves – instead, they’ll talk to each other and share a pool of experience.

Johanna Zmud, Senior Research Scientist, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Texas A&M University .

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.