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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Who's Got Next? Social Integration at a Public Park Basketball Court

  • Author(s): DeLand, Michael Francis
  • Advisor(s): Katz, Jack
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the ongoing formation of a public park as a particular type of public place. Based on four years of in-depth participant observation and historical and archival research I show how a pickup basketball scene has come to thrive at Ocean View Park (OVP) in Santa Monica California. I treat pickup basketball as a case of public place integration which pulls men out of diverse biographical trajectories into regular, intense, and emotional interactions with one another. Many of the men who regularly play at Ocean View Park hold the park in common, if very little else in their lives.

Empirical chapters examine the contingencies of the park's historical formation and the basketball scene's contemporary continuation. Through comparative historical research I show how Ocean View Park was created as a "hidden gem" within its local urban ecology. Then I show that the intimate character of the park affords a loose network of men the opportunity to sustain regular and informal basketball games. Without the structure of formal organization men arrive at OVP explicitly to build and populate a vibrant gaming context with a diverse array of others. Through forming teams, developing strategy, and enforcing rules players at the park construct the very context in which they mix together.

Through this portrait of pickup basketball at Ocean View Park I show how the integrative potential of a public place is held in a fragile balance. In its historical formation, the park was created to provide public access but without being so open that the scene would be undone by the chaos of the public sphere. The network of men who participate mix up together but never integrate so completely that they efface their differences and become a uniform social group. The outcome is a form of park use in which a Buddhist philosophy enthusiast, Israeli immigrant carpenter, a black hip hop band leader, a white real estate developer, and a Latino bar tender arrive at the park to build, populate, and dwell together inside a vivid gaming context before bidding farewell and re-entering their separate biographical trajectories. Accounting for pickup park use as a form of social integration has important implications for understanding urban social life well beyond the particulars of the case.

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