Source: Philadelphia Weekly
Date: July 23, 2003
Byline: Mike Newall
No Free LOVEA young Philadelphian joins Ed Bacon to save the city's famous former skate park.
Greg Heller doesn't skateboard. "I never took to it, but I do enjoy photography and used to be a professional magician," says the 22-year-old West Philadelphian.
Heller's lack of interest in the sport is a bit odd when you consider that over the past year he's become a leader in the fight to once again let skateboarders skate in LOVE Park.
"I may not be a skateboarder," admits Heller, "but I am a young Philadelphian and recognize the park's importance as a world famous icon, in attracting new residents and establishing our image as a hip, progressive place."
LOVE Park officially JFK Plaza had by accident of design earned an international reputation in the '90s as a skateboarding hotspot. Skateboarders from all over the world would come to test the park's granite and marble benches and edges. The park's status as a skateboarding mecca was key to Philly landing the 2001 and 2002 X Games, the extreme sports tournament that attracted nearly 500,000 spectators to the city.
But in April of last year Mayor Street decided that it was time to give the park a facelift, and had it renovated to make skateboarding more difficult there. As a further deterrent, a skateboarding ban was enforced by 24-hour police surveillance.
Heller had just finished his junior year at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and was doing research for his senior thesis in urban studies when the newly renovated LOVE Park was opened last July. As part of his research, Heller contacted the retired Philadelphia city planner Edmund Bacon, who had conceived the idea of LOVE Park as a student at Cornell University in 1932.
The two struck up a working relationship, and Heller took a hiatus from school to co-write a book with Bacon examining city planning in Philadelphia.
The two men also shared a mutual anger over the renovation of LOVE Park, and last October they staged a protest during which the 92-year-old Bacon skateboarded through the park.
This past May Heller spoke at a forum sponsored by the Pennsylvania Economy League held to discuss ways for Philly to attract and keep new residents. He says he was met with "thunderous applause" after taking the mike to speak about how the closing of LOVE Park had damaged the city's vibrancy.
"This is an awareness issue," he says. "Those who understand how vital LOVE Park is to the future of this city support its return to a skate park."
Heller has since spearheaded the "Coalition to Free LOVE Park," an organization consisting of various local civic groups such as Young Involved Philadelphia, the Independence Hall Association and, of course, the Skateboard Advocacy Network.
The group counts mayoral candidate Sam Katz and City Councilman Rick Mariano as supporters, and this past May it released an online petition to "Free LOVE Park" that has already garnered more than 3,000 signatures--some from as far away as Malaysia and Australia.
Since the book he co-wrote with Bacon is nearly finished, Heller plans to return to school in September and finally tackle his thesis. He remains confident that the coalition he formed will keep going without him.
"We will continue to work to increase our allies so that we can get what is perhaps the world's most famous skate park back open."