Thursday, July 29, 2010

rodriguez defends skateboarding ban in veterans plaza, seeks new venues

About forty people met at the Civic Building in downtown Silver Spring last night to discuss the new "No Skateboarding" policy in Veterans Plaza that took effect Monday. Though the meeting seemed to be productive, no sooner had it ended that two skaters had their boards confiscated in the plaza.

Rodriguez talks to police officers who confiscated two teens' skateboards. Photo by Chip Py.

Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, organized the meeting after an earlier one last Wednesday to which local skaters hadn't been invited. Signs went up Monday listing several prohibited activities in Veterans Plaza, including skateboarding, vending without a permit, or drinking alcohol without a permit.

Rodriguez repeatedly insisted that the skateboarding ban was decided by County Executive Ike Leggett's office and that skaters shouldn't wait for it to be lifted. "Please look forward at possibilities beyond the plaza," he says. "It behooves you."

The thirty local skaters who came, organized by Takoma Park resident Maryam Balbed - also known as Sk8ter Mom - were frustrated about being left out of the process. "Why did you make this decision without someone to represent us?" asks 17-year-old Adrian, a Takoma Park resident who says he picked up skateboarding last week.

Echoing a statement on the policy he made earlier this week, Rodriguez argues that skateboarding has caused damage to the plaza. Just a few hours after the plaza's grand opening July 8, he saw damage to handrails from grinding, he says. "The decision had been made . . . on what had been evidenced, the damage caused."

16-year-old Alexander Terc of Silver Spring questioned the county's budget priorities. "You wanna spend $22 million on this building, but only $75,000 on our park?" he asks, referring to the Woodside Park skate spot at Georgia Avenue and Spring Street, which will open on Friday.

Over thirty local skaters attended the meeting. Photo by Chip Py.

Balbed and the skaters say the spot will be harder for them to reach, as many of them - those living in Silver Spring and in surrounding areas like Takoma Park, Chevy Chase and Kensington - come to the area by public transportation. They're also worried that they'll "overwhelm" the 3,000-square-foot space, which lines up with a formula from Skaters for Public Skateparks that JUTP crunched last fall that says are over 900 skaters in Silver Spring alone.

"If you're not gonna give us Veterans Plaza," she says, "you have to give us something more than Woodside. We need a piece of a street. A park. An alley."

Those in the room threw out ideas for creating new spaces for skating in Silver Spring. Casey Anderson, a bicycling advocate and resident of Woodside, suggested creating special "skating hours" in Veterans Plaza, which might attract spectators. Many of the skaters suggested building a skatepark themselves on an underused parking lot, specifically the one behind the Park and Planning Commission on Georgia Avenue.

'K-Town,' Summit at Knowles, Kensington (Cropped)
Skaters built "K-Town," a skatepark in a parking lot behind the offices of the Housing Opportunities Commission in Kensington.

It's already been done twice in Montgomery County, behind a county-owned office building in Kensington and at a police station in Germantown. When Rodriguez asked how many of them had built skating apparatus before, twenty-one kids raised their hands.

Jewru Bandeh, program manager for the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, was working in Germantown when the skate spot there was being built last winter. "We had a very similar experience," he says. Shopkeepers were upset about skaters disrupting business in Germantown Town Center, and so they worked with the police and the skateboarding community to find a solution.

Non-skaters were excited about the possibilities. "It's a tremendous waste to leave parking lots unused," says David Rotenstein, a Four Corners resident who writes the blog Historian for Hire. "We have an opportunity to take advantage of them."

Skaters demanded that he hold Leggett accountable. "Can we trust you to go out tomorrow, talk to your upper command, and tell them about this?" asks Adrian.

Anderson was upbeat about the meeting's results, and even offered to help skaters reach their elected officials. " I think there are a lot of people . . . who recognize that skaters are long overdue for some adequate space to do what they love," he says. "Some way, we gotta accommodate these kids."

One Sweet Jump
Skaters in Veterans Plaza in July. Photo by the author.

Out in Veterans Plaza, two skaters leaving the meeting had their boards confiscated by Montgomery County police officers, which have been increasing their presence in downtown Silver Spring after a man was assaulted there two weeks ago.

Mark Spencer of Petworth says he was sitting on his board in the plaza when the officers approached him and demanded he hand it over. "I have no idea why he took my skateboard," he says. "I can call my [guardian] and get it back. I just want to know why."

Officer Brian Nesbitt, one of six cops standing at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive at the time, tells the story differently. "After the meeting, they all came and skated out," he says.

"It doesn't matter," grumbles Officer Chad Bleggi, pointing out that a group of skaters had congregated a few feet away, outside Baja Fresh. "As soon as we leave, they'll start skateboarding again."

Rodriguez, who followed the skaters outside and stayed for nearly an hour to listen to them, remains confident about the evening's progress. "The meeting wasn't in vain," he says. "It wasn't a show. There were some legitimate ideas in the room."

"I think our police did what they are here to do. I want to commend them for it," he continues. "If this incident overwhelms the idea of a group of skaters coming together and coming up with ideas, that would be unfortunate."

5 comments:

Patrick said...

I am sympathetic to giving our teens something to do. I am, however, not sympathetic to creating skate parks and other facilities for teens from Takoma Park, Chevy Chase, Kensington and other areas to use. If teens from those areas want a place to skate, they should work with their own governments to get their own facilities. DTSS doesn't need to be the de facto hang out for teens from all over the region.

We do need a permanent skate park for Silver Spring teens (maybe multiple ones), but we need need to be conscientious of other citizens. DTSS has a curiously high amount of teens hanging out in it considering that not many teens actually live in the 20910 zip code. We should take into account the needs of the 20910 zip code residents first, then larger Silver Spring, then Montgomery County.

I support a dedicated skate park in Silver Spring. I don't think it should be that close to Ellsworth. The area is already over crowded and filled with loitering teens. I realize that if they had more to do, they would loiter less, but DTSS would benefit from a dedicated skate park being at least a few blocks away or so, if not by one of the other metro stops.

Dan Reed said...

You may want to think of downtown Silver Spring as a vacuum, but it is a regional destination and will attract people from surrounding areas. Chevy Chase is closer to downtown than where I live, but I still benefit from the parks, shopping, transportation, etc. that's available there.

That said, according to census figures from 2008, there are about 18,000 people between 5 and 24 in Silver Spring below the Beltway, which includes 20910. Don't assume that all the kids you see in downtown Silver Spring don't live there.

Sk8ter Mom said...

Dan you got part of this wrong -- I never said anything about Woodside being harder to get to. Woodside's location is not at all a concern to me, and my only concern about this skate spot is what Peter Whitley, publishing director of Skaters for Public Skateparks, explained in the comments of one of your blog posts.

He clearly explained that a skate spot is NOT meant to replace a full community skatepark, and that when "budget-minded bureaucrats" think they can do that, there's a good chance the skate spot will fail due to overuse, and that the very kids the skate spot is meant to serve, become victimized by the poor planning.

Public documents show that in 2007, Park & Planning stated that Woodside Park was too small to house a skatepark. And yet 2 years later, when Silver Spring had far more skaters than in 2007, they suddenly decided to build there, and to ask for the smallest possible skating facility.

They planned this with NO DATA on how many skaters would be able to use the park safely, or how many skaters we have in the area. That's what I call bad planning.

It turns out that Skaters for Public Skateparks' projections were WAY optimistic, in that their formula suggests that 20 skaters should be able to use the park at one time. The reality is that no more than 7 skaters can skate there safely at one time.

It is not logical for anyone to expect the 100 or so regular skaters in downtown to all cram into this park, and if we are forced to do that, there will definitely be a negative impact on the surrounding community. And as a result, we could very well lose the park.

Patrick said...

@Dan,

I don't think of DTSS as a vacuum, and there is nothing wrong with it being a place that people want to come to. In fact, that's a good thing and will only help SS become more vibrant.

The problem is that if we attract too many teens, we'll have issues attracting people in older age cohorts (or people with younger children). The other cohorts are the ones that actually spend money and encourage other people to come to an area.

I'm not far removed from being a teen (neither are you), and I'm sure you'll agree that teens are not always the most fun to be around. We want to attract a diverse crowd, but right now, DTSS really seems to mostly attract teens from outside the area. A better mix of age cohorts from outside the area would be better.

Silver Spring also needs more than just 20910 to be a destination. The other metro stops in Silver Spring should also become destinations and need development by then. As I've said before, I work in Arlington, and people don't cluster around one metro stop. Despite the fact that there are more people in Arlington and more people coming there to work, it is less crowded. It really comes down to Arlington having more streets and metro stops that people want to go to.

DTSS could really use more blocks like Ellsworth, and this would help disperse the crowd bwtter. I also think that redeveloping City Place into a mixed-use building would do a world of a difference. I know there is a lot of stuff on Georgia and Colesville, but the traffic is terrible. Fenton Village doesn't have a lot open at night.

I'm not anti-teen. I'm not pro-teen. I'm just pragmatic.

If I were a county planner or politician, I'd look into converting the outgoing library location into a youth center and skatepark. It's not that far from the metro, but it's not right on top of the main part of Ellsworth either.

John M said...

I completely agree with Patrick: the skatepark should not be near Ellsworth. We shouldn't be concerned about metro-accessibility if our target crowd is (as it should be) Silver Spring kids, and particularly those in 20910. I actually think that the Woodside location is a good one (even though it is close to the metro, it's far enough away from Ellsworth), but it's too bad it can't be bigger.

Also building on Patrick's point, other areas of SS are in the process of redevelopment, and skateboarders should really consider pushing for skateparks in those areas in addition to 20910. For instance, Wheaton has had significant development recently, but there are still many locations in the downtown area that could be home to a huge skatepark. Same thing with Glenmont, where the county is currently trying to figure out what to do with the Glenmont Shopping Center.