Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: May 19, 2008
Byline: Gregory Heller

Skate into a better Philadelphia

I am not a skateboarder. I am a young professional who wants a youth-friendly Philadelphia.

Skateboarding is a sport of choice for my generation, but even for non-skateboarders, cities that are skateboard-friendly are generally viewed as welcoming to youth. If Philadelphia is serious about competing for the nation’s best and brightest, we need to embrace skateboarding. We can act now by supporting Paine’s Park.

Richard Florida, author of several best-selling books on cities’ ability to attract young professionals, said, “Skate parks are very important to young people, an intrinsic part of their creative culture, part of their identity.”

In 2003, skateboarders, backed by the Independence Hall Association, Young Involved Philadelphia, and a majority of City Council, pushed to legalize skateboarding in our renowned LOVE Park. (There were 10,000 petition signatures from 40 countries, and a California shoe company pledged $1 million — no strings attached — to maintain LOVE Park if skateboarding were permitted.)

The city has not legalized skateboarding in LOVE Park, but it has presented an exciting new opportunity. The city donated land along Schuylkill River Park for a plaza called Paine’s Park (after Thomas Paine). It will be a multi-use urban plaza, much like LOVE Park or other downtown spaces, not a single-use skate park.

Skateboarding is more than 60 years old, but over the last 30 years it has evolved from a suburban West Coast phenomenon to an urban, internationally popular sport. Instead of self-contained parks with ramps, today’s “street skateboarders” want natural urban obstacles, such as low benches and ledges. Skateboarders today want to be participants in mixed-use spaces. At Paine’s Park, skateboarders will mingle with people reading, eating, performing, sunbathing and playing Frisbee.

Some people question the viability of skateboarding with other uses. Let’s get a few issues out of the way:

Skateboarding is not dangerous. American Sports Data Inc., a market research company, ranks skateboarding less dangerous than soccer, basketball, baseball and volleyball.

Liability is not an issue. The city and the Fairmount Park Commission are no more liable for injuries incurred by skateboarders than those by any athlete or passerby in other public parks.

Skateboarding does less damage than you think. The black marks you see where skateboarders practice is wax that can be power-washed.

The sport is not just for “punk kids.” Skateboarders I know are lawyers, Realtors, engineers, artists and kids — punk or not. Skateboarding is a mode of transportation, exercise and profession; it is prevalent and is here to stay.

When times change, it is our challenge to integrate new uses into our urban spaces. William Penn’s 1683 street grid was not designed for cars and buses, nor were 19th-century industrial buildings designed for luxury condos. It is the duty of designers to innovate and harmoniously incorporate new uses into the urban fabric.

Paine’s Park, designed by Anthony Bracali of Friday Architects/Planners, won a citation from the American Institute of Architects and was featured in national publications. Paine’s is a beautiful park by any estimation. To the trained skateboarder it is a utopia — every ledge and angle perfectly designed. Meanwhile, the materials and dimensions minimize damage and potential conflicts with pedestrians.

Cities are realizing that skateboarding is big time, with more than 10 million participants nationally, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Cities such as Vancouver have legalized skateboarding in existing plazas. Philadelphia can be the first to design a new, multi-use plaza that incorporates skateboarding.

The Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund’s Capital Committee, of which I am a member, includes investment bankers, lawyers, legislative aides, Realtors, designers, skateboarders and non-skaters. It has commitments nearing $3 million from public and private sources toward its goal of $7 million for the park.

Paine’s Park is endorsed by Gov. Rendell and Mayor Nutter. Let’s show the world that Philadelphia is a progressive, attractive place for young people to play and to stay.