A proposed skate park at Rose Playground in Overbrook Park has been wheeled to another location.
Instead of the skate facility, Overbrook Park residents have received a new walking track and exercise area at Rose. These actions have produced mixed reactions from community residents.
Resident Madison Wayne said she is relieved that the skate part project was moved away from her home.
“I don’t want a skate park in my area. I’ve seen pictures of skateboard parks on the news and on the Internet and they are all covered with graffiti. It looks disgusting and filthy,” Wayne said.
Wayne is just one of many who voiced similar sentiments toward skateboarders in particular and that sport in general.
Skateboard advocate Claire Laver said she does not disagree that people hold “different preconceived” notions about skateboarding.
Laver, of Franklin’s Paine Skate Park Fund, said, “Some think skaters are lazy, that they are drug users and that they don’t care about anything.”
Franklin’s Paine is a skateboarding advocacy and fundraising group based in Philadelphia. The fund was founded about 10 years ago in response to debates over banning skateboarding at Love Park in Center City. Since then, the fund has launched initiatives with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation and the Commission of Parks and Recreation to build and operate a number of skate parks throughout the city. The City’s Department of Recreation and the Commission of Parks and Recreation did not respond to requests for comment.
“Those preconceived notions couldn’t be farther from the truth. Skateboarders have creativity and endurance. They just lack the structure of team sports but that just leads to individuality,” Laver continued.
Ann Nungesser said she knows those sentiments well because her sons are skateboarders. With no facility in her neighborhood Nungesser has taken her sons as far as suburban Bensalem for a safe space. One of Nungesser’s sons once fell while boarding in the street near her home and narrowly missed being critically injured by a car.
Nungesser said that while basketball, baseball and soccer facilities are readily available there is nothing “for the sport of skate boarding” in Overbrook Park.
Kesho Watson, president of the Neighbors of Cobbs Creek, said his organization was successful in obtaining funding for a skate facility within the revitalization of the Granahan Playground. Watson agreed with Laver of Franklin’s Paine about the impact of negative images.
“Of course, we had the expected negative response at community meetings. But a lot of parents didn’t realize how many skateboarders there are in the area,” Watson said. “Once the people realized this, the response became pretty consistent and the park wasn’t such a hard sell.”
The project at the Rose Playground began when community leaders approached Franklin’s Paine with interest in constructing a public skate facility.
“They sought us out. They told us they were getting funding and grants to put in a new walking track, new basketball courts and the skate park,” Laver said. “But then that funding fell through as part of Councilman Jones’ budgetary crunch.”
Overbrook Park Civic Association President Farida Saleem said, “Residents mostly were supportive of the skate park. We just lost funding and now we have the walking track and the [skate] project went to a new area.”
The basketball courts and skate park projects were left out of the budget for Rose revitalization, but the outdoor walking track is currently open to the public. Shiny new exercise and playground equipment were placed within the walking track.
When Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. made budget cuts to funding for the project at Rose, he did allocate funds to continue the skate project at a new venue, the Granahan Playground. Jones’ office did not respond to requests for comment.
Granahan Playground, located at the intersection of 65th and Callowhill streets, is a mostly concrete playground, lacking the grass and green space found in many parks and playgrounds. The project at Granhan, which is set to get underway in a few weeks, will do more than just build a skateboarding area.
“The skatepark is just one stage,” Cobbs Creek community leader Watson said. “The other stages will add seek to add more adult areas, including permanent chess tables, as well as add more green areas to the playground.”
But amid the project’s relocation and rebirth, the importance of public skate parks in Philadelphia was not lost.
“Philadelphia has high prominence in the skateboarding community nationwide,” Franklin’s Paine Laver explained. “After the controversy surrounding Love Park, the Philly scene took a hit and we slowly recovered. And recently, new skateboarding laws were passed, hurting a younger generation of skaters.”
In late September, the City Council approved a law brought forward by Councilman David Oh that sought to add public artwork and memorials to the city’s ban on skateboarding on public property and increase fines from $300 to $2,000 with possible jail time of up to 90 days.
Skateboarding advocates have continued to fight the law, claiming the wording is too vague. Advocates have also continued to use the pending legislation as further reason to have more publicly funded skate parks.
Skateboarding proponents proclaim that there are community and health benefits to having public skate parks.
“Skateboarding has an extremely low cost of entry compared to other team sports, allowing for nearly constant growth of the number of skaters,” Laver said. “It’s also fiscally conservative,” she said, adding that the maintenance costs for a skate park are incredibly low compared to other sporting facilities.
Boarding proponents also pointed to the underestimated health benefits.
“My son started skateboarding a little while ago and he has lost 25 pounds since then,” community leader Watson said. “There were just some tricks he couldn’t do because of his weight so as he continued to skate and practice he lost the weight and now he can do the tricks.”
Currently, Granahan houses a single skateboard ramp. By the end of Spring 2013, the playground is scheduled to house a full blown skate park. And while skaters in the Overbrook Park area may not have a skate facility in their backyard some still are thankful for just having a park.
“I may have to wait a few months,” Ann Nungesser said, referring to her two sons who partake in extreme sports. “But traveling to Granahan will beat the heck out of traveling to South Philly or Bensalem to skate.”