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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia City Paper
Date: August 15-21, 2002
Byline: Rick Valenzuela


Love Crimes

"Hey, Dirty Baby, I got your money donít you worry I said, hey, baby, I got your money"
–Kelis, on "Got Your Money" by Olí Dirty Bastard

The way it stands, Mayor John Street has screwed the cityís skaters, but not before using them to serve his own ends. This was apparent at the X Games contest at City Hall last week, which seemed devoid of the hope that marked last yearís competition. At that contest, despite the obvious cynicism of the temporarily legal, city-approved contest, optimism lurked that the event might help city skateboarders recover if not their proud home, at least a replacement for Love Park.

During the next year, it seemed that many skateboarders put on serious faces and made their first forays into civic participation. Moreover, the organized effort behind the established Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund was making public and private allies, inching closer to a downtown substitute for what was already an international landmark in skating.

Then, earlier this year, the mayor unveiled plans "to renovate and reclaim" Love. In other words, he wanted to make it unskateable. And in the face of heavy opposition — and using his classic M.O. — he ramrodded his plan through, listening to no one and pausing only momentarily to give face to the Fairmount Park Commission, whose mandatory approval he had forgotten to get.

On July 3, Love Park reopened. As the mayor stood proudly before his newly greened Love, police prevented anyone with a skateboard from walking into the park, while the Mummers played "Happy Days Are Here Again."

Happy days? Bullshit. For nearly 20 years Love Park's happy days have revolved around skating. Now the park's filled with cheap planters, some of them already damaged from water stains, and dying flowers, which were wisely planted during the peak of the drought. To add insult to injury, one park ranger recently commented that the park was lucky to attract 20 people to its Wednesday lunchtime concerts, even on sunny days. Compare that to at least 20 skaters using the park in the dead of winter.

The same day Love reopened, Street announced a surprise "demonstration" skatepark, which was news even to Franklin's Paine. Turns out that the rinky-dink park, which comprises six obstacles on a temporarily unused judges' parking lot, runs its course on Tue., Aug. 20 — the day that ESPN packs up shop.

A statement from the mayor's office says that the city "plans to purchase similar skateboard ramps and equipment for installation at city recreation centers to provide children with safe, appropriate places to skateboard." When asked where the "children" should skate after Tuesday, spokeswoman Mary-Rita D'Alessandro simply repeats this, as well as the line about the mayor's commitment to finding an alternative for Love Park. Then she admits that the city has yet to determine which rec center will house the obstacles currently at 13th and Arch.

But local skaters don't care much for the new park. In fact, it seems that it's mostly used only after cops run through City Hall. Then a few skateboarders will head over to the sanctioned park, across from Doc Johnson's adult store. But because of unnecessary pad regulations, they're not allowed to skate the obstacles, and are then reduced to playing a flatground game of H-O-R-S-E.

It's a foregone conclusion that city skaters care so little for the park, considering the thought put into it by the city. City skateboarders, notably Franklin's Paine, have been telling the mayor and public and private officials that downtown skateboarders don't want ramps. The je ne sais quoi that made Love Park famous has nothing to do with what makes current commercial and public skateparks popular. For two years Franklin's Paine has told the city that it could be at the forefront of skatepark design by building not another ramp-based park, but what might seem to anyone else to be a paved city park. Slightly nuanced features of familiar street furniture would cater to the urban street skater. Instead, the mayor bought a handful of prefab ramps and dumped them across from a porn shop, a weak gesture that could only be meant to placate skateboarders until the X Games, action sports' do-nothing patron, wraps up its contract. Or rather, once the X Games' own commercial skatepark opens in Franklin Mills. This on top of hearing that the mayor's office has been giving Franklin's Paine the runaround, so much so that one of its founders, Brian Nugent, has quit in disgust. According to Franklin's Paine, not one call has been returned since July 3.

Two years ago our stubborn mayor signed a law effectively banning skateboarding in the city. It was specifically written to outlaw only skateboarding. Not inline skating, not BMXing — just skateboarding. In City Council hearings, all damage to Love Park was attributed to skateboarders. At the same time, Street's administration rode Philadelphia's popularity within the worldwide skating community into landing a two-year contract with ESPN for the X Games. To make matters worse, the city acquiesced in letting ESPN use both Love Park and City Hall for skateboarding. These havens for skateboarding were broadcast to millions of viewers worldwide.

Free advertising for the city, and for its skate spots. Welcome to Philadelphia, come and get chased by our police. And watch out for undercovers. Or cops who'll drive against traffic to get you, as if you had committed a felony. The city has taught its "children" to fear police, simply for skateboarding.

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