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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: August 12, 2003
Byline: Carla Anderson


Try to get this: No alternative to LOVE Park works

IGOT a call last week from the latest city official to weigh in on the case of Mayor Street vs. Philadelphia skateboarders.

"They're already taking over the southern portion of Dilworth Plaza," said Councilman Frank DiCicco. "Why not let them skate there? It would be relatively easy to cordon the area off so it would be safe for people to walk by, and it's right in the center of town. So there'd still be great access, which I know is an issue."

Nice try, councilman. But this — like so much of what the city has done on LOVE Park — simply misses the point.

Dilworth Plaza can never replace LOVE Park. And for that matter, neither can the so-called "alternate site" now being planned on the banks of the Schuylkill River.

The only way to fix the mistake Street made when he closed LOVE Park to skateboarders is to reverse the decision.

Or, if that's not possible, to accept an elegant compromise worked out by some of this city's young leaders: share the park by limiting skateboard hours.

I admit I'm being stubborn.

But that's because this fight is about much more than our city's skateboarders, or whether they get a legal space to skate.

It's about our city's image as a lusterless mecca for the middle-aged and our desperate need to turn that image around.

It's about the fact that Philadelphia is shrinking fast and that young people are not moving here in anything like the numbers that we need.

It's also about the international cachet we got from LOVE Park's reputation in skateboarding circles, and the chance that gave us to reach an entire new generation.

Besides, I'm pretty sure you can't just decide you're going to replace a cultural icon and expect it to work. If that were true, then I know more than one ad exec who'd be out of a job.

What we had at LOVE Park was not just a skate park, but a bit of serendipity, the kind of marketing gift that other cities can only dream about.

On their own, without any help from marketers or elected officials, Philadelphia skaters "discovered" the flowing marble stairs and ledges that made LOVE Park perfect for their sport.

And then they put it on the map.

Professionals began making pilgrimages. Locals started showing up regularly, 'cause they knew odds were good they would catch a hero or two, in person, working the rails.

Ultimately, LOVE Park became so significant that it was featured in one of the best-selling skateboarding videos to date. It became the place where some talented teenagers broke into the skating stratosphere, bringing in up to $100,000 a year before they even got big. It helped draw ESPN's X Games to town twice — for an estimated benefit of $40 million to city businesses and taxpayers.

And that was only the beginning of the skaters' economic potential. According to American Demographics magazine, skateboarders are the trendsetters of their emerging generation. They are 32 percent more likely than their non-skating peers to say they are the first to try new things, and 58 percent more likely to consider themselves an expert in technology — an industry, you'll remember, that Philadelphia wants to encourage.

LOVE Park could once again be a powerful tool in our effort to grow our population, one that creative leaders could use to our benefit.

I also know that closing it down did more than just rid the park of skateboarders.

It sent a message, straight from us to the world, that Philadelphia doesn't get it.

Sorry, councilman. That's just not a message I want to send.

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