Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: August 21, 2003
Byline: Carla Anderson
City considers showing skaters some LOVETWO YEARS after banishing skateboarders from LOVE Park, thereby killing one of Philadelphia's most potent attractions for young people, Mayor Street's administration now appears willing to reconsider.
Maxine Griffith, executive director of the City Planning Commission, has approved a compromise worked out by some of this city's young activists: share the park by limiting skateboard hours.
"It's a very interesting idea and one that we recommend the city really take a look at," said Griffith, who, with a representative from the managing director's office, met with the group last week. "Using time to separate the uses of the park, quite frankly, is not an idea we had thought of. We have to give props to this group for coming up with it."
Griffith also told me that Managing Director Phil Goldsmith will work out the details and decide whether the city can do it.
Does that mean the mayor's on board?
"I can't speak for the mayor, but I know he has a great deal of trust and respect for Phil and believes he has a real grip on the issues," Griffith said.
In recent years, LOVE Park had become second only to Barcelona as the world's hottest spot for street skaters, making Philadelphia central to one of the nation's most rapidly growing sports. When Street closed the park to skaters, he shut down a spontaneous Philadelphia phenomenon with international appeal and tremendous marketing potential.
Now, the compromise worked out by the group of young professionals, historians, political activists and skateboarders known as the Coalition to Free LOVE Park gives us another shot at using that accident to our advantage.
Their idea, to recap, is to share the park with the lunchtime crowd by limiting skateboarding until after 3 p.m. They'd also establish a nonprofit group to raise money and help maintain the park, and they suggest putting a cafe or shop in the empty visitors center on the southwest corner of the park. The nonprofit could use it, they say, to raise money by selling LOVE Park merchandise.
It's an elegant solution to a thorny political problem for Mayor Street. Because as long as LOVE Park remains closed to skateboarders, its fate and the fate of the people who miss it will be the subject of controversy.
Mayoral challenger Sam Katz, who called for the reopening of LOVE Park several weeks ago, yesterday issued a press release that said the park's closure points to a "generation gap" that has hurt the city.
The Coalition to Free LOVE Park "has made the effort to close the generation gap by educating policy-makers," Katz said.
"LOVE Park has been attracting attention to Philadelphia from around the world there can be no substitute. It's been a month since this plan was proposed, and I urge Mayor Street to stop delaying, take the next step and put this plan into effect."
Street isn't saying whether he will ultimately support the time-share plan.
"We have to cross that bridge when we get to it," said spokeswoman Christine Ottow.
Both Street and Griffith remain committed to his 2-year-old promise of an alternate skate park, which he agreed to put on the banks of the Schuylkill after deciding to close LOVE Park to skateboarders. He's planning a 4 p.m. press conference today to announce some long-awaited progress on that site.
But this is not necessarily bad news for LOVE. Griffith said yesterday the two parks "are not mutually exclusive."
I'm hopeful that Street is ready to do the right thing and compromise on LOVE Park. Soon.
And I suggest he does it with a splash.
Two years is a long time in the life of a teenager. The park's demise is already well-known in skateboard circles. Its resurrection should be, too.
Throw a party. Invite the skateboard pros who moved out of Philly when the park closed and ask them to show their stuff. Get up and speak to the skateboarders in person, explain the new rules and reach out to a growing constituency.
As a nod to the international appeal of the park, why not toss in a live Webcast of the entire event? That way, the skateboard enthusiasts from Hong Kong all the way to Denmark can get the word and help us celebrate.
By exhibiting this kind of grace, we certainly can't lose.
We might even win.