Did you know that until the last decade, it was completely illegal to skate in Philadelphia's city parks? But today, Philadelphia is home to a bygone skateboarding mecca (LOVE Park) and a park filled with intentionally skateable sculptures (Paine's Park).
When you see a group of kids carving concrete at a skatepark, the phrase "city-transforming potential" might not cross your mind. But those who skate hold enormous power in their hands.
Need proof? Here are 3 specific examples of the transformative effect skaters can have.
1. LOVE Park: From Plaza To Skateboarding Mecca (And Back)
Just as skate videos started to pick up in the early '90s, local skaters took one look at the granite-slab benches in Philadelphia's JFK Plaza and decided they were the perfect place to do some sweet tricks and catch 'em on film, despite the fact that it was totally against the law.
Nicknamed LOVE Park after the iconic Robert Indiana sculpture in the heart of the plaza, this little square quickly became a skateboarding hotbed--particularly once the California skate scene caught wind of the Philly films.
Suddenly, professional skaters were relocating to Philadelphia just to skate in LOVE Park every day. The location even made it into Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2. It was a veritable skateboarding destination.
Then, the city decided to crack down on the sport. In 2002, they spent $1 million to remove the skateable granite benches.
That's not to say that the park went down without a fight. In fact, the founder of the park, Edmund Bacon, got on a skateboard at LOVE Park (at the age of 92!) to protest the loss of the skateboarding legacy. At the time, he reportedly proclaimed, “Thank you! My whole damn life has been worth it, just for this moment!”
Even though they didn’t win this one, skaters turned an unassuming park into a hotbed of debate.
2. Burnside: From Sketchy Bridge To World-Renowned Skatepark
If skaters essentially "built" LOVE Park into a skating mecca, they upped the ante with Burnside in Portland, OR. Named for its location under Burnside Bridge, a group of dedicated skaters in the '90s literally built the park. With a crew including Mark Hubbard, Mark ‘Red’ Scott and Bret Taylor, these tenacious skaters took on the challenge of rehabbing a "wasteland beneath a road bridge."
Over time, they upgraded from sneaky (and illegal) concrete banks to hardier skating platforms, and eventually got city approval to turn it into a full-blown skate park. Today, Burnside is internationally recognized as one of the most challenging skateparks in the world.
Furthermore, Burnside is also credited with improving the city, in that they displaced the bridge's original seedy crowd, and replaced them with a skatey crowd.
3. Paine's Park: A Space Designed For Skaters
Finally recognizing the tendency of skaters to scope out and take over spaces, architect and skateboarders' rights activist Tony Bracali worked with local skateboarders to design Paine's Park.
Bracali argues that skateboarding improves the life of public places, and this Philadelphia space has plenty of space for skaters and non-skaters to mingle and enjoy themselves. 2.5 miles of landscaping, walkways, and skateable architecture abound.
Aside from the skateable benches, Paine’s Park was also home to a public outdoor-arts exhibition called Open Source: Engaging Audiences in Public Space that featured skateable sculptures by artist Jonathan Monk. And they really are meant for skaters; he insisted that his exhibit wouldn’t be complete until skaters began to actually use his sculptures.
When skaters are practicing their moves, they're not only changing their brains and the local skate scene; they just might be changing the city on a deeper level.
Skaters—what other examples can you share of skateboarders changing a city? Comment below!
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