By this Thanksgiving, skateboarders should have been able to return to LOVE Park again. The park, one of the world’s great skating meccas, was renovated by Mayor John Street on purpose to deter skaters from using the grounds.
But the sad fact remains that the City of Philadelphia is unable to appreciate LOVE Park’s existence as both a major tourist attraction and as a local icon for young people throughout the region. It is not surprising. Even though ESPN’s X-Games came to Philadelphia twice due to, among other things, the park’s fame, the city government has treated skaters as a public nuisance.
That’s why it’s not surprising that the compromise LOVE Park skaters hoped to make with the city, allowing post-3 p.m. skateboarding, fell through. It is also incredibly disappointing. In the past year, skateboarders have seen their cause co-opted by Sam Katz in a shameless attempt to grab the youth vote. While other politicians, notably Richard Mariano and Blondell Reynolds Brown, have rallied hard for a compromise for skaters there, results just haven’t been showing up.
Meanwhile, the city hems and haws about office workers on lunch break being scared by skaters, property damage to the park and of insurance liability worries. Unfortunately for Mayor Street and company, cities are organic entities whose greatness comes from the little spontaneous things like this. Yes, skateboard wheels may be wearing down park benches when skaters jump off them. But they’re also getting Philly’s name in magazines, encouraging 17-year-olds from Delaware and Long Island to come down for day trips and giving us fame for something besides cheesesteak, Will Smith and the Iggles.
There’s also the small fact that a block away from LOVE Park, the homeless have virtually colonized the plaza around City Hall and in Fairmount Park, joggers were not warned of a rapist until it was three days too late. Philadelphia parks have much more grotesque threats than a bunch of skateboarders goofing off and having fun. It’s a shame more politicians don’t recognize that.
Fortunately for all of us who care for Philly, there are people out fighting the good fight. Apart from the many politicians supporting the compromise, we’ve got people like Andrew Hohns, ex-City Council candidate and member of Young Involved Philadelphians, LOVE Park creator Ed Bacon, Joshua Nims of Franklins’ Paine Skatepark Fund, pro-skating merchandising legend Tony Hawk and a host of others.
The October 5th rally in Love Park brought thousands of protestors in support of that cause. When that cause is nothing so simple as allowing skateboarding in a place legendary for it, at a time when they would be reasonably expected to have the park all to themselves, is just common sense. Nothing could be easier or healthier for this city. City Managing Director Phil Goldsmith promised rallygoers that post-3 p.m. skating was coming and that they had no need to worry. But once again, city government has gone back on its word and the people have been the ones to pay for it. In Philadelphia, that’s the oldest story around.
Neal Ungerleider can be reached at N_Terminal@yahoo.com.