Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: June 11, 2004
Byline: Gregory Heller and Andrew Hohns

Op-Ed: A few suggestions to make skatepark a good neighbor

Last week, DC Shoes offered Philadelphia $1 million for the upkeep of LOVE Park for 10 years. The condition: The city must lift its ban on skateboarding.

Why would a California company care about LOVE Park? For these reasons: The park arguably is the world’s most famous skatepark; there are more under-21 participants in skateboarding than in baseball; skateboarding is a multibillion-dollar industry, with LOVE Park a capital of the sport; and thousands of people travel every year to visit the hallowed grounds of LOVE, as seen in movies, magazines and video games.

LOVE Park is a landmark of youth in a city growing older and losing population by the day. It has brought millions in revenue to a city struggling to find new sources of tourism dollars. Now, Philadelphia has been promised $1 million to take the park’s maintenance costs off the shoulders of taxpayers — not something to take lightly in a city deep in debt that is closing recreation facilities to make ends meet.

Skateboarders are our children, participating in America’s fastest-growing sport, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Skateboarding is a sport that fosters community, discourages drug use, and requires a high level of skill and commitment. A 1999 sports-injury study said skateboarding is safer than football and soccer, even ranking less dangerous than volleyball.

Skateboarding often is viewed as a white, suburban sport. However, LOVE Park was instrumental in transforming the sport into a diverse, urban one. The world’s most famous African American professional skateboarder, Stevie Williams, grew up in Philadelphia, practicing at LOVE Park.

The city is trying to change its image from stodgy and old to hip and progressive, able to compete with New York, Boston and Washington. Among the 8,000 signatures on our petitions are people from 40 countries. There also are dozens of testimonials from students with a choice of universities who chose Philadelphia because of LOVE Park.

Why not move the skateboarding elsewhere? Just as we cannot move Independence Hall, we cannot move LOVE Park. This location is the world-famous mecca. Like it or not, if Philadelphia wants to capitalize on LOVE’s fame and tourism, it must incorporate skateboarding into the park’s activities.

Skateboarding, like any sport, causes damage and has maintenance costs. The city believes that maintenance and repairs will cost $60,000 a year. However, with the $1 million and tens of thousands in additional promised private and corporate donations, we can easily allocate $100,000 a year, without a penny from taxpayers. Working with experts, we have detailed cost estimates for granite repair and replacement and power washing.

We propose the following solutions to make LOVE Park safe and enjoyable for everyone:

Limit skateboarding to after 3 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. People can enjoy their lunch in peace. Neighbors have told us that after hours, skateboarders bring a renewed vitality and make the park safe at night.

Create a pedestrian-only zone between the grass and the south wall of LOVE Park, reserved for pedestrians all the time. Install “rumble strips” (like on a highway shoulder) so that skateboards will not work here.

Enforce the rules by stationing an attendant — paid for by Friends of LOVE Park — to make sure that no one skates before 3 p.m. and to make sure everyone follows the rules.

LOVE Park is distinctly Philadelphia and brings us world fame. When skateboarders discovered LOVE Park, this reuse of a city park left us with a treasure of which other cities only dream. Let’s seize this opportunity. Let’s return skateboarding to LOVE Park and show our children the LOVE they deserve.