Wednesday, October 28, 2009

skate debate continues in silver spring and beyond

'K-Town,' Summit at Knowles, Kensington (Cropped)

It's all about skateboarding in this week's Gazette. While Germantown's celebrating the opening of a new skate spot right in their Town Center (despite attempts to go all Giuliani on the little delinquents), one beleaguered office-worker in Bethesda wants one to make her lunch breaks on Bethesda Row more civil.

Meanwhile, Wheaton's formerly untouchable downtown seems to have finally arrived. Local shopkeepers are complaining that the new walkway on Georgia Avenue (where Barry's Magic Shop used to be) has already been "taken over" by skater kids just two weeks after it opened.

And this is a problem because . . .? These kids may not be Ray Picture Framing's target consumers, but I certainly doubt they or the walkway are hurting their business. Downtown Wheaton needs more activity. People need to see that other people are here before they're willing to spend their time or money in the area - and, it seems, the new walkway's already gotten some attention.

That being said, those curmudgeonly residents who complain that it's "a waste of money" are a little right. Unless the path is connected to other pedestrian improvements in downtown, you won't see much more foot traffic because it'll continue to be an unsafe and undesirable place to walk. In the meantime, though, there are far bigger things keeping people from going to Wheaton than a few kids on skateboards.

Skaters Getting Busted
Skaters are regularly chased out of Downtown plazas by security.

And in Woodside, some residents of Woodside are nervous about the proposed skate spot in Woodside Park (the park) at Spring and Georgia - because the Department of Parks says it'll clear them out of Downtown's unused plazas and courtyards. I can appreciate their concern that the skater mob will march up their quiet streets as well.

It seems unlikely that everyone's going to give up their Downtown haunts because, after all, skating's as much about sport as it is about spectacle. You want to see and be seen, and a park several blocks away from the hustle and bustle of Downtown's main streets will not only seem unnecessarily secluded (not to mention too restrictive - how many kids do you see wearing the helmets and kneepads that'll be required here?) but a hassle to get to.

Skater Kids at Colesville and Second
Skaters congregating by the bus stop at Second Avenue and Colesville Road.

I could be wrong, of course. Many of the kids interviewed, sick of being hassled by security guards, feel having a place to go where they can skate and not be bothered is worth going to Woodside Park. You'll probably find that the kids who do go to Woodside Park will be more respectful of the neighborhood than those who will remain Downtown. After all, many of the kids who'll skate in Woodside Park already live nearby, and they aren't going to cut up if adults they know are watching.

The fight between Ruthless Skater Kids and Everyone Else seems to be shifting, as the county finally agrees to make accomodations for them. Police are aware that giving these kids a place to go will keep them out of trouble. And those in neighborhoods that will receive skate spots - one is planned to be built at the new White Oak Recreation Center - should feel comfortable that the right precautions will be taken to make these spaces as unintrusive as possible. I still don't skate (don't like things underneath me that move), but I'm really happy to see new skate spots opening across Montgomery County.

(Before we go, let's take a second to admire the glaring errors in just one of the Gazette stories mentioned here: referring to Woodside as the "downtown Silver Spring neighborhood of Woodside Urban Park," a County official who says skaters like to go to the "first level of an office building on the corner of Georgia and Wayne avenues" - are they inside the building? - and of course the photo, which is supposed to be of the Kensington Skate Park K-Town (pictured above) but is actually a plaza in Downtown Bethesda. Seriously, do Gazette reporters all live in North Dakota, or are they just underpaid and overworked?)


Sligo said...

I would say it's not so much an error as an interpretation of what constitutes the first level of the building. The ground level has little to no office space and is mostly exposed. The "outside" portion is covered by the second floor and therefore might be considered part of the first floor. Were we in Europe, then their statement would definitely be incorrect.

I saw a kid absolutely eat it on the stairs of this building Saturday night.

Sk8ter Mom said...

A definite mistake The Gazette made -- they wrote that the Nov. 4th meeting at Park and Planning is scheduled for 7 am, when it's actually 7 PM.

A few relevant facts. Skateboarding is one of the fastest growing teen trends, and according to ESPN, it's THE fastest growing sport in America. In the past couple of years this area has seen huge growth in the numbers of kids (and adults) who skateboard, and it's only going to continue to grow as young people are trending away from team sports and towards action sports.

In 2007, the board-sports market was a $13 billion industry, and that has likely grown substantially since then. I'm amazed that no one has seen the economic opportunity there and opened a skate shop in City Place, especially since there are virtually no stores left there worth shopping at.

While skateboarders are often painted as rough kids with bad attitudes, I know of no other sport that regularly sees large groups of teens self-organize around an activity with everyone getting along. In the year that I've spent skating with these kids, I've seen no fights among skaters and virtually no serious arguments.

It should also be mentioned that many of the problems currently being discussed did not exist until DTSS and the Regional Office stopped allowing skateboarding on the lower part of Ellsworth. That area was never ideal from a skater's perspective since it's only flat pavement. But because of the desire among teens to congregate, most skaters skated there, and back then no one was skating Discovery and almost no one skated the office building mentioned in the article.

When a veteran Montgomery County police officer told me the reason kids were no longer allowed to skate on Ellsworth (because businesses said it was hurting sales), he noted that this was said right around the start of the recession, and he agreed with me that the reason given was bogus.

Dan Reed said...


If we say the ground level is along Wayne (where the Subway is), then the plaza would actually be the first level, according to the Europeans.

But you're right. I think the statement was accurate but not precise - they should've been clearer that it was outside, not inside the actual building.

The listservs are lighting up with concerns about the Woodside Park skate spot. It'll be interesting to see how neighbors respond to it when it finally opens in January.