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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: September 15, 2003
Byline: Carla Anderson


Some biz owners don't share LOVE

Prefer No Skateboarding Downtown — At All

City Controller Jonathan Saidel has joined the movement to allow skaters in LOVE park.

City Controller Jonathan Saidel is one of many city leaders who've recently been convinced that Philly should allow skateboarding in LOVE park.

What he said:

"I need small wheels, tight trucks, and a sweet deck so I can grind!"

THE PEOPLE who manage big buildings downtown don't want skateboarders in LOVE Park.

In fact, they don't want skateboarders in Center City, period.

"We have real concerns that even if LOVE Park were to be reopened in some capacity, we still don't know that we'd have success in keeping skateboarding off private property, and causing many thousands of dollars of damage," said Larry Zipf, chairman of the Building Owners and Manager's Association of Philadelphia. The group's Board of Directors met last week to discuss a compromise plan to allow skateboarders back in LOVE during restricted hours.

"We really struggle with the idea that skateboarders belong in the downtown environment," Zipf told me.

Excuse me, but did I hear that right? This sounds dangerously like these managers believe they can say who belongs downtown and who doesn't.

Building owners and managers are right to be concerned about what happens to their property. It's theirs, after all, and they pay to maintain it.

But those rights end when it comes to property that's public, as LOVE Park is. Because, unlike these real-estate executives, government officials have a responsibility to run this city on behalf of everyone — and that means skateboarders as well as corporate executives.

There are those who say skateboarders can't come back because it would be difficult and expensive to enforce the rules of the compromise: No skating before 3 p.m.

But we pay to enforce rules now — the ones against skateboarding in LOVE Park.

I say we change the rules. Give the kids a legal place to skate, and focus enforcement on keeping skaters off private property.

No one can guarantee total compliance on the part of any teenager, whether or not they have a skateboard under their arm.

But I think it's fair to assume that having LOVE Park as a legal spot would help.

And so do the skateboarders.

"The skateboarders would much rather go to one of the best places in the world to skate than anywhere else downtown," Scott Kip, a 28-year-old local skateboarder, said of LOVE Park.

Skateboarders and city officials both agree that skateboarding on corporate property got worse when LOVE Park closed down, not better.

The kids who got chased out of LOVE moved on to the marble steps and railings of nearby office buildings.

And the city's own records suggest that enforcement can work. City Controller Jonathan Saidel said so four years ago, when he referenced LOVE Park skateboarding in a 1999 report.

"Skateboarders generally avoid the plazas surrounding City Hall and the city's Municipal Services Building where anti-skateboarding laws are usually enforced, but they flock to John F. Kennedy Plaza Park [LOVE Park], just across the street, where their activities are rarely challenged," he wrote.

It should be noted that Mayor Street recently said he'll move forward on a two-year-old promise to replace LOVE Park with a brand-new skatepark on the banks of the Schuylkill.

If built, this park would provide a legal place for skaters to go.

But that park has been two years in the waiting, and is not likely to open soon.

Also, it would serve a different strain of the sport, offering "park" skating as opposed to the "street" skating which made LOVE Park famous.

So it's not likely to lure most skaters off our downtown properties.

Job Itzkowitz, a law student and one of several young activists who are leading the compromise effort, said he thinks building managers could expect more help in keeping skateboarders off their property if this compromise is passed, not less.

But while preventing costly damage is important, he said, so is the message that city leaders are sending.

"The question is, are the next generation of young professionals, who ultimately will fill these offices, going to want to be in this city if we continue to send this very exclusionary message to young people?"

Research shows that a diverse mix of activities, as well as people, are essential to the kind of vibrant city life that attracts creative professionals.

This research is so compelling, in fact, that many cities are actively adopting pro-skateboard laws. Vancouver, for instance, recently legalized skateboarding on city streets — in a direct attempt to cultivate an innovative and artistic population.

"It's like a canary in the cage down in the mine," Vancouver city planner Michael Gordon told the Globe and Mail, Vancouver's daily paper.

"If we want to attract the creative people, we have to accept that they are somewhat on the edge and want to do different things."

I agree.

Skateboarders need to be included in city street life, not excluded.

Because the teenagers who show up to skate our streets will soon become the young adults we'll need to live here, work here, and help this city thrive.

Do we really want to tell them they're not wanted?

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