Paine’s Park with a side of Bacon becomes reality

Source: The Philadelphia Business Journal
Date: May 24, 2013
Byline: Peter Van Allen

Philadelphia’s long-awaited $4.5 million “public space for skateboarding.”

Paine’s Park’s roots were in the 2002 protests when the city banned skateboarding from LOVE Park.

The most famous person to ride a skateboard in those protests was not a skateboarder at all but Philadelphia’s most influential urban planner, the late Edmund Bacon.

Along with the opening of Paine’s Park, the incident is timely because of the new biography of Bacon, “Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics, and the building of Modern Philadelphia” (University of Pennsylvania Press) by Gregory L. Heller, a senior advisor at Econsult Solutions.

Heller was working for Bacon in 2002 and recalls Bacon’s outrage about the city’s ban on skateboarders. Especially because it was he who conceived of LOVE Park (also known as JFK Plaza).

“He said, ‘I want to skateboard in LOVE Park.’” Heller recalled in a phone conversation.

“He loved people finding original uses for a public space — whether it was in-line skating or dancing,” Heller said. “He believed this is what the city is about. He loved the skateboard as a new use of urban space. He was enraged that the city was outlawing this.”

Bacon, who was 92 at the time, wanted Heller to get him on a skateboard at LOVE Park. And he wanted Heller to find a journalist who could write about the escapade.

Heller immediately thought of City Paper’s editor at the time, Howard Altman, an investigative journalist who isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers.

A photo now in the Ed Bacon Collection at the University of Pennsylvania shows Altman holding up the feeble Bacon. There’s also a clip of it on Vimeo.

“My whole damn life has been worth it, just for this moment,” Bacon said after riding the board with helpers on both elbows.

Altman, who is now at the Tampa Tribune, is on assignment in Afghanistan. But he tweeted last week: “I confess I did organize it, at the behest of Ed Bacon, who called me and told me he wanted to get arrested.”

What would Bacon think of Paine’s Park?

“I think he would love it, though not the solution to build it at an isolated space by the river,” Heller said.