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History of Skating in LOVE Park
Philadelphia's JFK Plaza, popularly known as LOVE Park, is the brainchild of former Philadelphia City Planner Edmund Bacon and architect Vincent Kling. Its beautiful design connects the City Hall complex to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The skateboarding culture that its unique design spawned has been a focal point of Philadelphia's international reputation for over a decade.
Unfortunately, despite its international fame and ability to attract youthful energy and interest in the City, it has been illegal to skateboard in LOVE Park since 1995. In 2001, amendments were added to increase fines and scope of the existing ban; enforcement of the skateboarding ban was stepped up significantly thereafter. Finally, in the summer of 2002, an attempt was made to render LOVE "unskateable": a facelift that blocked access to the most popular skateboarding areas within the plaza was executed and a uniformed police officer was placed on a nearly 24-hour guard.
LOVE's international reputation as an ideal skateboarding locale has been strengthened by the successes of some its most famous users. Internationally known professional skateboarders like (Philadelphia native) Ricky Oyola, Josh Kalis, Stevie Williams, and Anthony Pappalardo made their names in the multibillion-dollar skateboarding industry by being identified with their frequent use of LOVE's famous ledges and stair sets. Additionally, the status of LOVE Park in international skateboarding culture led to Philadelphia being chosen to host the 2001 and 2002 X-games, viewed by 150 million people in over 18 countries and attracting nearly a half million spectators during the two year stay.
But LOVE has been more than the proving ground for professionals or a source of international media interest in Philadelphia, according to Rick Valenzuela, author of City Paper article, "A Eulogy for a Fallen Landmark":
"...LOVE hosted dozens who were content merely to skate there. These were the [skaters] who composed LOVE's core of regulars—kids who rode the El (the Market-Frankford subway) from the Northeast and Frankford, skated downhill on Market Street from West Philly, through the neighborhoods of South Philly, Center City residents who moved specifically to skate nearby LOVE. It's these folks whose daylong sessions generated the murmur that would eventually spread throughout the East Coast and to the [skateboarding] industry."
Before LOVE was officially closed in late April 2002 for the redesign, skateboarders and others organized a protest on April 22, 2002. Dozens of skaters and supporters flooded the park for one last session together before police came and dispersed the skaters and the session. However, before the protest was over, skateboarders and their advocates made numerous statements to the media. Some noted the sad loss of this great skate spot, others pointed out that the loss of skateboarding at LOVE is a scar on the attractiveness and accessibility of Philadelphia to a younger generation.
Many people still feel that the redesign of LOVE reflects a general inability of this City to attract or retain young people, largely due to a municipal inability to embrace the youth and energy that was once identified with LOVE Park. There is no doubt that, as the 2003 Philadelphia mayoral election looms, LOVE could be the key to an otherwise unreachable demographic.