Skaters in the former Silver Spring Metro Urban Park.
Yesterday's Gazette discusses unrest over 'K-town,' a makeshift skate spot in a park behind the Housing Opportunities Commission offices on Summit Avenue in Kensington. Four years ago, Kensington skaters made an agreement with neighbors to take care of the space themselves, but a rotating cast of kids has led to a drop in upkeep and unsafe conditions for both skaters and park users alike.
This is a literal example of giving kids a stake in the public realm, something I've really taken an interest in over the past few months. (I've always wanted to be a skater, you see, but I am deathly afraid of putting my feet on anything that moves by itself.) The K-town skaters 'own' this space, much in the way that young people owned "the Turf," though it was clear who was responsible for maintaining it.
The County will face an increasing demand for public or semi-public urban spaces for people of all ages to hang out/do recreational activities/hold concerts, festivals and parties. I mean, it already happens with skaters, who make a hobby out of repurposing the rooms and furniture of the city. With today's budget crisis, it's feasible to imagine a whole network of these informal public-private partnerships on underutilized government properties throughout Montgomery County. (In fact, County Council candidate and frequent commenter Thomas Hardman suggested doing exactly that with vacant parking lots in a comment thread here a few days ago.)
But where K-town fails is that there was an unclear delineation of responsibility - the neighborhood and the County gave the space to the skaters to maintain, but didn't install a framework to keep it maintained; i.e., nobody was put in charge. It's a tenant-landlord relationship. A tenant makes a contract with the landlord to take care of the space given to them; in this case, neither the tenant or the landlord was clear. No one was held accountable and there's no one to be held accountable to.
Accountability is also a major concern in Downtown Silver Spring. Ever since the redeveloped area opened, people have asked if the patrons are held accountable for their own [bad] behavior; if it's the County or Peterson Companies that are accountable for maintaining Ellsworth Drive; or who should be held accountable for the post-concert violence two weeks ago.
The lesson learned here is that it's not just about providing spaces for people to go, but making it clear who's in charge and what the rules are. There's no reason why a County office building, a skate spot and a neighborhood park can't coexist - but the boundaries of use and responsibility need to be made clear.