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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: June 23, 2003
Byline: Carla Anderson

Sk8ers, TV ask: Where's the LOVE?

MAYBE CITY Hall doesn't think much of LOVE Park skateboarders, but a group of New York TV executives sure seems to.

Noggin, a Nickelodeon network that carries evening programming for teenagers, has been in town to interview Philadelphia skateboarders as possible stars in a new reality series.

While the show won't be about skateboarding, producers say they want skateboarders as hosts because they're considered "cool" even by peers who don't skate.

The sport — which has spawned a very specific teen culture — also happens to be a guaranteed ratings boost.

"It's really interesting, even among kids who aren't skaters, whenever we run a segment that includes skateboarding, we see a ratings spike," said Noggin producer Kim Howitt. "And what's particularly unusual is that we see that spike for both boys and girls. Usually, boys and girls tend to react differently."

Excuse me if I take a moment here to point out that this is potentially good information, should any of Philadelphia's elected officials decide to do actual research on what we lost when they closed LOVE Park to skateboarders.

Because like it or not, kicking the skaters out was tantamount to issuing a worldwide alert to this generation of youngsters: This city doesn't want you.

Noggin's Howitt told me last week she's looking in Philadelphia because the LOVE Park controversy seems to have stirred deep passions.

"There's a really strong skate scene there, and all the political issues in relation to skateboarding have made the kids really passionate," she said. The controversy "just provides fuel for the kids who believe in the sport, and in this particular culture."

Liz Kerr, a local skatemom and founder of a scholarship fund for skateboarders, said it's also triggered more awareness of politics among the kids — something she thought might be a turn-off for the casting director who called her for help.

"I told him, 'Look, these kids aren't just goof-offs. They're political, they're activist,' " Kerr said. "Still, he wanted to meet with them. And then, after it was over, the girlfriend of one of the casting directors, who happens to be a skater himself, said that this was the coolest bunch of kids they'd met so far."

Patrick Martin, a Fox Chase resident and one of about a dozen kids interviewed for the show, said he and his peers all think city leaders just don't want them around.

"They think we're just like a bunch of vandals, who have fun waxing up ledges and taking chunks out," said Martin, 15. "But it's really not that. It's kind of like, a lot of kids accomplish goals by skating. They care so much about it that it's all they do. And when the city closed LOVE, it's like they took something that mattered and just broke it."

That feeling appears to be global, if this sample of entries on a Web site dedicated to the issue is any guide:

"I always wanted to go all the way to the states to skate in the LOVE Park. You should keep it. So many people love that place." –Glenn Jorgensen, Copenhagen, Denmark

"LOVE Park was the main attraction of stopping in PA while in the US." –Kevin Parrott of London, England

"I was saving money to go to LOVE Park after my graduation, but I will have to change my destiny." –Kenn Volbrecht, Ghent, Belgium

"My dream is to go to Philly and skate LOVE Park!" –Mikael Skanberg of Sweden

"I wanted to skate the LOVE someday, but if they close it, my dreams will be unfulfilled." –Attila Haraszti of Slovakia.

This is a city that desperately needs to attract and retain more young people. How crazy is it to close down a park that had clearly become a world-class icon for this generation?

I'm not a skater myself, and I get why longtime Philadelphians might resent the kids who come downtown with their skateboards in tow. Because it's true they've damaged some of the marble surfaces.

And some city people may justifiably resent suburbanites — many of whom moved out for lower taxes and better schools — when their kids come downtown and damage their home turf.

It's also understandable if some are just plain annoyed by the noise and commotion these teenagers brought to one of the city's most central squares.

But consider these facts:

  • The city's own economists have said that last year's X Games, drawn to Philadelphia largely because of LOVE Park, generated millions in revenue for the city.

  • Skateboarding is one of the nation's fastest growing sports, with some data suggesting that more kids skate than play baseball.

  • Many other cities, with growth as their goal, have been investing in skateboard parks and wish they could create what LOVE Park was.

  • Design and development professionals, including Daniel Keating and the city's revered urban planner, Edmund Bacon, agree that a properly designed LOVE Park could easily accommodate skateboarders without threatening others.

The future of this city will, ultimately, depend on the kids who come after us.

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