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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia City Paper
Date: May 22-28, 2003
Byline: Daryl Gale


Love (Park) Is All They Need

A diverse group lobby for skateboarders.

Local skateboarding enthusiasts screamed bloody murder when Love Park was closed to skaters in April 2002. Unfortunately for them, it was already a done deal since city officials started refurbishing the park, in part, by plunking down hideous pink planters. You'd think fear of criminal prosecution and the skateboard-unfriendly redesign would deter skaters from ever wanting to skate Love Park again, but you'd be wrong.

Philly native Greg Heller, a senior at Wesleyan University, has teamed with Ed Bacon, legendary city planner and creator of Love Park, to decry the anti-skating changes to the park and to lobby exiled skateboarders to return. Heller has even urged Republican mayoral candidate Sam Katz to make the park a campaign issue and has received favorable feedback from the Independence Hall Association, a group dedicated to identifying and preserving all of Philly's historic treasures. In fact, by late this week, the Association's website (www.ushistory.org) should have a section devoted to the history of Love Park skateboarding along with a grassroots petition asking the city to reconsider the skating ban.

"You hear politicians talk a lot about getting young people to stay in Philly but I question their sincerity," Heller says. "Love Park was a symbol of youth and energy all over the world, and [Mayor John] Street destroyed that energy by closing the park to skateboarders."

Heller, an urban planning major who's taking a year off from school to co-write a book with Bacon, says Love Park was more famous and revered as a skatepark than most Philadelphians know.

"At Wesleyan, students only know two things about Philadelphia: the Liberty Bell and Love Park," Heller grumbles. "It was a destination for skaters from all over the world but you'd only know that if you were truly interested in what attracts young people."

Liz Kerr isn't a skateboarder but the 42-year old oncology nurse is a skateboard mom. As such, she'd been lobbying on behalf of skateboarders before Love Park was even rendered off-limits.

Three years ago she helped start Franklin's Paine (a fund named after two of the founding fathers) with the purpose of rallying support for public skateparks. Last June, Kerr's 15-year-old son Patrick was killed after falling off his skateboard and into the path of a truck on Old York Road in Jenkintown.

"My oldest son still skates," Kerr says, "and I've known these kids for years. They're not bad kids, just unfairly stereotyped. The city said that skaters made Love Park dangerous but I believe the opposite. I think they made the park safer, especially at night, because they were always there and if there was trouble, they'd go for help."

Kerr says that as unofficial skateboarding headquarters, Love Park gave her sons the opportunity to hang out with a diverse group of like-minded individuals.

"The park brought all kinds of kids together. My sons made lots of friends who were black, Latino and Asian — kids they may never have met if they just stayed in their own neighborhood," Kerr continues.

Both Heller and Kerr say they have no objection to the city's plan to build a new skatepark in the Art Museum area but they're convinced a brand-new facility could never capture Love Park's spirit.

"If the city wants to attract and retain young people, they just have to look across the street from City Hall," says Heller. "They chased away the young people."

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