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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: June 17, 2004
Byline: Michael Gordon


A city that loves skateboarding

PHILADELPHIA and Vancouver: two cities facing the same skateboarding issues.

Why are these young people rolling down sidewalks, riding hand railings and flying through the air over stairs? And why are they so passionate about doing it in highly public places?

Philadelphia, like Vancouver, L.A. and Barcelona, is a mecca for skateboarding, one of the most popular and fastest-growing youth sports. It is worth the time to compare experiences.

Five years ago, the Vancouver Skatepark Coalition invited me to a meeting. They were frustrated that, after three years of talk, no site had been identified for a downtown skatepark.

In the mid-'90s, city council, in response to the significant number of skateboarders using downtown public and private open spaces and plazas, banned 'boarding on streets and public spaces. This limited it to two public skateparks for thousands of Vancouverites.

Meanwhile, owners of downtown buildings and the Vancouver city staff were busily altering ledges and railings to deter skateboarding. Of course, this was a piece of public policy doomed to failure. All of these things have been happening in Philadelphia and particularly, Love Park across from City Hall.

Despite these initiatives, skateboarding kept growing in popularity. A 2001 city survey revealed it was the third most popular sport among teenage males after soccer and basketball.

Things have changed a lot for skateboarders in Vancouver over the past few years. Our mayor and city council are now very supportive of accommodating skateboarding as a sport and a sustainable mode of transportation.

Vancouver's city council and park board have given clear direction that skateboarding should be accommodated in public areas, including these downtown initiatives:

  • Street-style skate elements in several parks.

  • "Uncapping" park ledges.

  • A new downtown skate park.

  • Permitting 'boarding on streets and eliminating the law that let police confiscate skateboards.

The mayor also proclaimed the last week of April Skateboarding Week to celebrate Slam City Jam. which was accompanied by skateboarding demonstrations and other events throughout the city.

We are now working with the Downtown Business Association and the University of British Columbia pursuing the designation of skate spots in the downtown. (Skate spots are different from a skatepark because they involve only a handful of skateable elements like stairs or railings in a park or plaza, like Love Park.) We do not want to hide skateboarding on the margins of our downtown and neighbourhoods.

THE DIRECTOR of security for the University of British Columbia is particularly interested in skateboarding because he sees it as a means to improve the safety of lone women on campus at night.

He said that car break-ins have declined since they started allowing skateboarding in the university parking area under our downtown courthouse.

It is my job as Vancouver's downtown planner to help groups who run into roadblocks on a variety of issues. In particular, our city council has made it clear that the downtown should be friendly to families with children. That includes youth-friendly activities like skateboarding, BMX bikes, wall-climbing, music, dancing and art.

Creating spaces for skateboarding helps me fulfill my job of planning a great downtown. In Vancouver, we are turning our young criminals into citizens by embracing their activity. It is heartening that your city is taking the time to consider whether they are on the right course when it comes to skateboarding and our youth.

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