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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: May 22, 2003
Byline: Carla Anderson

LOVE Park skating war resumes AND STREET SHOULD TAKE HEED

TWO YEARS ago, the LOVE Park controversy was mostly a fight between skateboarders and City Hall.

City Hall won. Mayor Street spent $1 million to skate-proof the park, blocking off with ugly pink planters what had been popular speed ramps.

But now the fight's back on. Philly skaters, and their supporters, are launching a grass-roots effort to "free" the park for skateboarding.

And this time they have more allies.

The Independence Hall Association's Congress of Web sites is today launching a site dedicated to the issue, complete with a chance to sign a petition.

"We believe that history is not entirely Colonial, and that there is an important link to be made between the history of the past and the reality of the present," said Johnathan Schmalzbach, executive director of IHA.

"The fact is, what the skateboarders did at LOVE Park in the late 1980s and early 1990s is history. It's Philadelphia history, and it's skateboarding history."

The nonprofit's Web site includes official sites for many of the Philadelphia area's most notable historic sites: Betsy Ross House, Carpenters' Hall and Valley Forge. It gets more than 1 million visits per month.

By all appearances, this new site is just one clue that the controversial discussion about LOVE Park may not be over. And I think it's time we talk about it honestly.

At a recent breakfast meeting of Philadelphia business and civic leaders, hosted by the Pennsylvania Economy League, several hundred middle-aged suits burst into applause when a young student stood up to call for the return of LOVE Park skateboarders. And leaders like University of Pennsylvania President Judith Rodin have recently said the LOVE Park controversy is relevant to this city's effort to become a place where graduating college seniors want to live.

Schmalzbach also sees a politician momentum in this contentious election season.

"It seems to me we have a disenfranchised and marginalized younger generation, and that this is an issue they can rally behind," he said. "They really feel they were a very public presence in a very public space, that they've been evicted, and that this is worth fighting for."

Mayor Street, meanwhile, is sticking by his choice.

"LOVE Park is just not a public space that's meant for that type of damaging activity," said Street spokeswoman Christine Ottow. Ottow was referring to the fact that hard riding by skateboarders had damaged and cracked much of the marble edging in the park.

Ottow also said progress continues on a plan to provide a replacement park for skateboarders along the Schuylkill, but could not say when it will get funded or when it will open.

Clearly, the time has come for a more informed discussion of an obviously emotional and contentious issue.

In the words of City Councilwoman Marion Tasco, "I'd like to see a cost/benefit analysis."

Maybe the mayor's right. Maybe it's true that this park can't stand up to skateboarders, that city workers want to sit outside and eat their lunch in peace, and that urban taxpayers shouldn't have to pay when suburban kids come downtown and wreck their property.

But maybe he's not.

Perhaps there's some truth to the idea that LOVE Park is an important icon for a certain generation of emerging voters, and that our city has squandered a thing of value by not being able to see it. Perhaps the kids do spend money when they come downtown, and maybe the sport does help keep them off drugs.

As for lunchtime picnics, I say City Hall itself is a beautiful spot to sit with a sandwich. Me? I'd pick the public courtyard inside over LOVE Park any day. I can't wait until it's ready to open.

And damage? If we can spend $1 million on the ugly planters meant to keep skateboarders out, it seems to me we could have found the money needed to steel-tip the marble, as other cities have done in their skate parks.

Schmalzbach, who had no opinion on the issue during the original debate in 2001, said he's since been persuaded that city officials wiped out a valuable part of its past and squandered a valuable asset when it closed LOVE Park to skateboarders.

It also wrote off a passion that skateboarders had for the park - a passion so deep, and so acknowledged, that skateboarders were immediately suspected when pink water mysteriously started flowing through the park's fountain yesterday.

"Did the Vet really replace Connie Mack Stadium? No. Connie Mack was irreplaceable, a grass park with history, a singular destination," Schmalzbach said. "For skateboarders, LOVE Park is similar. Skateboarding was an organic movement, owing to the design of the park itself, that spread from a hard- core beginning to become one of the things that Philadelphia was best known for among young people."

All I ask is Street and other city leaders is this: give up your either/or mentality and simply investigate the facts. Let's measure the costs and the benefits. If skateboarding really does hurt us, I'll give up the fight.

But if it doesn't, will you? homepage

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