And it's safe, too. When I took the nighttime shots at 11pm last Wednesday night, I saw two young women on benches using their laptops. Women alone using expensive electronics at night? Sounds like a safe space to me. People are certainly shaken by the assault that happened next to the plaza last week, but aren't too afraid to continue going there.
Of course, there were skaters in the plaza each time I was there, but they appear to be sharing the space with everyone else. In the video, you can see teenage skaters taking turns using a space with much younger kids on scooters. In another scene, skaters have taken over the ice skating rink (covered up for the warmer months) as a sort of arena and spectators have gathered to watch.
Ellsworth Drive has a history of random crowds forming around skateboarders, which makes me wonder if these kids are really the nuisance they're made out to be on listservs or a pretty raucous comment thread on Greater Greater Washington. I wonder: do non-skaters consider spontaneous displays like skating an attraction to downtown Silver Spring?
But good things aren't what Reemberto Rodriguez - director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, whose new offices are in the adjacent Civic Building - is hearing. I asked him if "No Skateboarding" signs will be going up in the plaza, as Sk8ter Mom suggested in a comment here the other day.
"As of now, they are not banned," he replied. "There is increasing evidence of destruction to property and disruptions of others sharing the space by skateboarders." It appeared that my fears of conflicts arising over skating in the plaza had become a reality.
But what damage was Reemberto talking about? I gave the plaza a thorough looking-over Friday afternoon and found very little. The wood slats on the benches aren't chipped. The pavers look fine, and the concrete pavers have tire tracks on them - signs of construction vehicles, not skateboards.
Of the several handrails in the plaza, a few of them appear to have been skated on. But just one (pictured above), located next to the ice rink, has been seriously marked up, suggesting that the skater kids have picked a favorite.
And what do skater kids think? Alexander Terc, a 16-year-old Silver Spring skater left this comment on GGW last week about why he goes to Veterans Plaza. It's very rare that we hear anything straight from a skater's mouth, so I was interested to hear his rationale (emphasis mine):
it's the safest and best spot that all of us have skated and all us skaters know that it wasn't meant for that but i mena come on now, it should've been known from the start. now last week when it first opened up and i went to skate it, 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 . . .
don't let the actions of others overshadow the actions of many. in which in this case don't blame all skaters for what one did. if you're gonna ban a group of people ban the people who choose to fight there or rob people in that area not the skaters.
Note the concept of "ownership." "It's the safest and best spot that all of us have skated," Alexander says: these kids appreciate the plaza. They were given guidelines and are following them: only once did I see kids away from the ice rink, and even then, they didn't do anything to the benches. "Others and myself told" kids from "outside" their peer group not to screw around there.
This is what public space is supposed to be about, y'all. As I wrote last year, "Give these kids a prominent place in the community and they'll show it respect. Push them aside and they'll act out." It sounds like these kids are doing exactly what they're supposed to do - exactly what you or I or anyone should do with a public community space.
Those who complain about damage and misconduct in Veterans Plaza might want to go down there themselves before they speak next time.