Wednesday, June 24, 2009

why we need a skatepark on fenton street

Kid Falls Off Board, Everyone Laughs
This photo of a kid tripping over his skateboard on Ellsworth is hilarious every time I look at it.

As a kid, I used to walk by the East of Maui Skatepark on Ellsworth Drive (currently the site of Silver Plaza) with apprehension, fearful of the Bad-Ass Skater Kids and the Dangerous Skater Moves they perpetrated there. While it's long gone, the skaters haven't gone away, but the County hasn't been too good about accommodating them. They quietly killed plans to build a skatepark on Fenton Street and re-opened a block of Ellsworth Drive that, while closed to car traffic on weekends, was quickly becoming known as a place for skaters to see and be seen.

There's a dearth of places to skate in this area, and in no other sport save for maybe Frisbee golf have I seen as much organization among its participants to create more. My seventeen-year-old cousin, who lives in the District, has organized a petition with his friends to have a new skate park built in the city. (The city's existing skate park in Shaw is "mediocre," he complains; besides, for many in the city it's just easier - and safer - to travel to MoCo to skate.) They've collected some two hundred signatures both from fellow skaters and people who merely sympathize.

But when activism doesn't finish the job, where does a bored skater kid go? In Woodside Park, they look for houses whose occupants are at work. Comments on the listserv over the past week mention kids "skateboarding on a neighbors' nice slate walkway and grinding the edges on the steps." Many residents I contacted declined to talk more about the recurring incidents, saying it was an issue for the residents and the kids' families. But one who did respond suggests that the problem goes much further than that:
"It is tough with different types of teenagers. They don't have anywhere to go, but they like it like that. They don't want to go somewhere that has been approved or provided. They want to not belong."
Kids want a sense of "ownership" to a space, not one that has been handed to them. When you're sixteen, you live in a house that belongs to your parents and go to a school that's only yours so long as you're attending classes there. That I think is the reason why there's such a push to create new skate parks in the region, or even to preserve "the Turf," the ultimate "un-approved" space. The fact that "the Turf" was ripped up despite calls to save it only heightens the legend.

In another e-mail, the resident proposes a way to fudge a skate park by disguising it as something more benign - so it can be "discovered":
A basketball court, half soccer field, and a 'fake' skate park made to look like a regular sitting areas with extra curbs and ledges and stairs built into it without saying anything overtly about it. Made of materials that would be easy to clean. Maybe an area with a slight bowl to it. Then have them join a group to take care of the park 'suddenly' take shape after it is discovered kids are skating in it.
That sounds like "K-Town," the makeshift skate park in Kensington maintained by the people who use it. Talk about "ownership." You know why kids would deliberately harm someone's front walk? Not because they're inherently destructive. It's not theirs, so they're not held accountable for it. They don't care. They have nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. You have to give them a sense of responsibility.

If Woodside Park wants to keep kids off of their front walks, it should lobby to have a new skate park built in Downtown Silver Spring. It's not right for young skaters to willfully engage in the destruction of private property, but worse still if there's no perceived alternative.


jhd said...

Superb idea: create a space. Now let's get practical. Where would it be? (Hopefully not directly on Fenton Street. That's a highly trafficked area that needs to be user friendly to more than just skateboarders.)

Bauhaus Bob said...

The same problem crops up anywhere there are kids with pretentions to coordination.

BTW that kid who you have in the photograph, tripping over his skateboard? I've seen him (or his twin) falling off of his skateboard as many as three times a minute, up here in Aspen Hill. He appears to be an accident waiting to happen so that litigation may commence.

I should mention that since skateboarding is a mobile sport, creating a skate-park is sort of like building a NASCAR track for people who do road-rally racing. It might work, it might not, not going to do much about the people who prefer thrills to commonsense.

Sean P. Carr said...

It's probably unfair to tar with such a broad brush, BUT not caring what you do to someone else's property IS how an inherently destructive person behaves. Is there a skater alive who cares one bit about how he behaves? I thought these kids were jackasses when I was in high school and they sure still act like jackasses 20 years later.

WashingtonGardener said...

Why are they waiting for the county govt or others to solve their problem? If there is SO much pent-up demand, than an enterprising young entrepreneur could make BIG bucks off this. Seriously, someone put their money where there mouth is and duplicate what East of Maui did.
But if, as we all suspect, the skate park is not an ecomically viable idea, then stop pushing it on county taxpayers.

Casey A said...

I don't see why we can't create a place (or even several places) for kids to skate in county parks. The parks department is about to get Sligo Creek Golf Course handed over to it whether it likes it or not -- an area for skateboarding would take up only a tiny portion of that land. Of course, the neighbors will hate it (although it is probably in their enlightened self interest, because it would reduce the likelihood that skaters will be tearing up their property). The question is, why isn't the interest of kids in a place to skate not entitled to as much weight as any other group that wants to use the parks (for soccer, tennis, softball, bicycling, or having a picnic)? We provide tennis courts, softball field, bike trails, and picnic tables, so why not skating facilities?

WashingtonGardener said...

Soccer, softball, etc. pay fees for county field use. Would skaters come together in a league of sorts and agree to pay user fees for site up-keep?

Dan Reed said...

Maybe. I think it would have a limited audience . . . there are kids who already skate in County parks, and those who don't. This would be for those already "in the system," so to say. I also wonder if parents pay for their kids to skate in the same way they would for soccer or softball? It's hard to apply the structure of a soccer league to skating.

midlight said...

actually a skatepark can potionanall bring in more revunue for the surronding buisnisess if the skatepark is big enough and nice enough it could potentially be a tourist attraction for the city itself