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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: March 21, 2002
Byline: Liz Kerr

A park skateboarders love could be a tourist magnet

Having grown up in Philadelphia, I've seen the city make some tourism blunders. We let Interstate 95 cut a wide swath through our most historic area. Tourists seeking to experience colonial history flock to Williamsburg instead. Philadelphia's riverfront nightlife is best described by the recent Inquirer headline "Death and disorder overshadow club scene." Meanwhile, Baltimore's Inner Harbor tourism is booming.

Philadelphia is about to commit another tourism blunder - the destruction of LOVE Park. The site is a mecca to young skateboarders from around the world, yet the city is moving forward with plans to make it unskateable. Would New York City tear up the ice rink at Rockefeller Center? Of course not. New York realizes that tourists enjoy sipping hot chocolate and lattes while watching a youthful display of graceful leaps in a vibrant urban setting.

That's the way this town should think about skateboarding: as an opportunity, as something that, properly managed, could help draw people to this town. We should keep LOVE Park as a skatepark and encourage construction of neighborhood skateparks throughout the city.

People don't realize the fame Philadelphia has in a particular segment of our youth culture. Failure to appreciate this means we are missing an opportunity here to draw people to a great town.

Proof of LOVE Park's international fame is that it is featured in one of the top-selling video games in the world, Tony Hawk Pro Skater II.

My sons brought their skateboards along on a family trip to Ireland. The Irish boys they met had one question: "What's it like to skate LOVE?"

Meanwhile, some in City Council have made the complaint that suburban kids come in to Center City to skateboard. Isn't that a good thing for a city whose population has been on a downward spiral for decades? Ask many of the suburban kids you find skateboarding around here where they want to live when they grow up and you'll get the same answer - downtown.

The question too often heard in Philadelphia has always been, "How can we reverse the exodus to the suburbs?" Skateboarders are turning that tide. They're moving into the city, starting businesses and starting families. Several successful galleries and studios in Old City are owned by skateboarders. A surprising number of X Games athletes, including gold medal winner Kerry Getz, live here. The best skateboard magazine photographers live in Philadelphia.

Local colleges are benefiting from the draw of our town's skateboard culture. I did an informal survey of college students skating at LOVE, and every one said they chose a Philadelphia school because of its legendary, albeit illegal, skate park.

My own boys chose to attend Roman Catholic High School at Broad and Vine. While it is an excellent school, I didn't understand why they would choose the hassle of a long commute when there are many closer schools in the Northeast and Montgomery County. Then I realized the major perk: They get to walk past LOVE Park twice a day. It's a powerful magnet.

Last year Edmund Bacon, the former Philadelphia city planner, sent a letter to the Inquirer. He wrote: "We have a highly hypocritical society. We decry drugs, theft and vandalism. Then we try to suppress the most innocent, nontoxic, nonpolluting, healthy, creative, wonderfully skillful activity invented by the young."

Philadelphia is the Cooperstown of skateboarding. I hope it's not too late for the city to realize that.

Liz Kerr, a founder of the Franklin-Paine Skatepark Fund, is a nurse at Fox Chase Cancer Center. homepage

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