With a new skate spot opening in Woodside Park this Friday, the Silver Spring Regional Services Center decided this week to ban skating in Veterans Plaza after complaints about noise and property damage. The Regional Services Center made the decision after a meeting last week in which local residents, community leaders and skateboarders discussed uses of the three-week-old plaza.
"We want our skateboarding community to embrace Veterans Plaza," writes Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Regional Services Center, on his blog. "However, the activity of skateboarding itself is simply not an acceptable activity on the Plaza."
Skateboarders have been unceremoniously shuffled around downtown Silver Spring for the past fifteen years, though Rodriguez was initially open to allowing it in the plaza, which has already become a popular gathering spot. Here's what he told JUTP just two weeks ago:
"Definitively an issue," writes Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, in an e-mail to JUTP. "It is a balancing act between how to be welcoming of all activity that brings the Plaza alive with the charge to keep it clean, safe, and in good condition." He notes that he's seen a "very positive reception" to skaters from other people in the plaza . . .
"I am in conversation with the skaters - and many others - to see that we do this in a way that is respectful of all," writes Rodriguez.
The assault of a 32-year-old man next to the plaza two weeks ago led many to point fingers at skateboarders. Though one of the individuals charged in the attack, Dante Chriss of the District, is seen with a skateboard on his Facebook profile, there's no proof that Silver Spring skaters who use Veterans Plaza on a regular basis were involved.
With the new policy in effect on Monday, the plaza was eerily quiet despite the nice weather. Anyone entering the space with rollerblades or a skateboard was turned away by a security guard. Even young kids with toy skateboards were forbidden from using them.
While in the plaza, I spoke to Gwen Haney of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, who says that reality stifled their good intentions. "We tried," she laments. "In the beginning, we were sympathetic to them and their need for a place to go. It didn't work out."
"I've heard some complaints," she says. After spending time in the plaza, she began to see what people were saying. "I came out and sat. It can get irritating," Haney notes. "I heard the thumps."
There was also considerable damage to the plaza caused by skaters, she claims. Haney points to multiple handrails that have been marked up. She suggests that the open concrete area where an ice rink will be installed this winter was also harmed by skateboarding, though there weren't any visible impacts she could show me.
Local skaters say that it's kids from outside the area messing things up in Veterans Plaza. Last week, skater Alexander Terc left this comment on Greater Greater Washington:
I was told that skaters were allowed to skate there as long as we just skated the ice rink and we didn't grind or mess up the benches and what not. i complied with that and so did many other skaters who usually skate down in dtss. but now it wasn't until all these other people came and started skating and decided that it was a good idea when others and myself told them not to.
In a flyer being handed out by security guards in Veterans Plaza, Rodriguez suggests that skaters start using the new skate spot in Woodside Park a half-mile away, set to open on Friday. While it will be the first dedicated space for skating in the area since the East of Maui skatepark closed in 1998, figures from advocacy group Skaters for Public Skateparks suggest that it won't be nearly large enough to accommodate the local skater population.
Nonetheless, Haney says, that doesn't give skaters the right to use Veterans Plaza. "This wasn't designed as a skatepark," Haney explains. "It has to be regulated. There has to be a way to prevent any danger."
The Regional Services Center will hold a meeting to discuss the new skateboarding policy and "where we go from here," as Rodriguez states it, tomorrow night at 6:30pm at the Civic Building, located at Ellsworth Dr and Fenton St in downtown Silver Spring.