Tuesday, March 16, 2010

To Skate in a Park or To Skate In the Street? That Is the Question.

An example of a skateboard park.

Posted by: Noel Jones

Below is a link to an article in the Express Times today about the teen club taking on the issue of skate boarding.  I will try to make it, but I will be practicing for a rehearsal that night, so I am posting in hopes that others in the community might be able to make it as well. One thing to keep in mind is that it would only work logically if the mayor lifted the park ban for kids over 14 years of age, otherwise it would be illegal for anyone over 14 to skateboard there...

Members of the Boys & Girls Club of Easton will hold a roundtable discussion 4:30 p.m. Wednesday (3/17) about skateboarding restrictions in the city.
The meeting will be at the club's teen center, 1101 Northampton St.
Information: 610-253-5846 or 484-239-2075


Anonymous said...

They keep talking about closing either Eddyside or Heil. Either pool could be easily converted to a skate park.

Tim Pickel said...

The discussion being generated about having a skate park or being allowed to skate in a park has been an issue for quite a few years in Easton.

A skate park was established in Easton years ago on South Side. The promises made by many to keep it clean and to keep out the "undesirables" never panned out. Thus the demise of the park and the end of the discussion for a time.

Now we move to Vanderveer Park.

My first thought goes to ownership of the park. If I am not mistaken, I believe the school district owns it all, save for the small area where the playground equipment resides. It should also be noted that that area is the part of the entire block that stays relatively clean.

The basketball courts are full of litter on a constant basis, with garbage cans thrown about and trash everywhere. I give the school district credit in that they do try to keep it clean but their efforts are futile at best.

The language and the "hanging out" is a whole other story. Some who use the courts are respectful, but most are not. I witness the fights and hear the language every day the weather is nice. I am embarrassed for my friends who come to visit that they have to hear such filth.

This brings me to the skateboarders.

As much as I try or want to believe they will pick up the trash and watch out for undesirable activity, my heart doesn't believe it. We are talking about doing a job that the police cannot keep up with.

I have known Dean Young for a long time and have the highest respect for him and the Boys and Girls Club. The basketball league they ran last summer at Vanderveer was done well. But that was because it was supervised.

Who will supervise these kids. Who will hold them to the promises they are making. Will the Boys and Girls Club take some responsibility? Will the Easton police step up their patrolling of the park?

My heart cries for these kids, but past history and the present state of the park will not allow me to jump on board the bandwagon.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely correct Tim. Plus, how many skateboarders are their in the city. I recall the article in the paper about a year ago when City Hall hosted a meeting like this and more than half of the boarders were from surrounding areas. Believe me, I lived near the one on South Side and it wasn't a pretty picture. Language, noise at all hours, litter, flying into the street -- that's right they didn't stay in the park -- plus they destroyed the equipment which I believe the city paid almost $50,000.

Just like the dog park cannot be located directly in a neighborhood nor should the skatepark. Plus is $50,000 a good investment at this time when our city is trying to hold the line. Let's say there are 100 boarders in the city -- that's $500 each.

noel jones said...

There are several skateboarders ranging from about age 10 to age 20 that fly down S. 8th and sometimes through the intersection with Ferry, where the cars drive way to fast.

As we speak, there is a group of older teens playing football in the street because they can't play in the park.

I would like to see the ban lifted, and if we can find the funds, I would love to see a skateboard park built to give the kids somewhere else to go that is safe.

Skateboard parks can potentially be a revenue generator as well, by holding competitions for prize money and charging admission, that is split with the city. Maybe an annual summer competition could slowly pay off the investment, or a decent chunk of it over time...

hopeunseen said...

I met today with a youth pastor who has had a lot of success with working with youth skaters. He has traveled around the country competing and offered clear, comprehensive approaches to skate parks. He has resources and grounded insight into the failures of the South Side park.

With the right planning, resources, suprevision and 'ownership' by the skaters I believe it could result in an excellent outcome for the youth.

We've banned young people out of our parks with little planning and alternatives to engage them and this is another group of kids that present an opportunity rather than a problem.

Tim's on point with the supervision and engagement. For it to succeed it CANNOT be a city/ government 'program.' Indeed the continued displacement of many of our youth speaks to a city woefully unprepared for an emergening generation of new urbanites youth.

The city should provide resources but NOT manage it and with civic engagement from the right partners I see a lot of promise.


Anonymous said...

Sal Panto says:
Please stop talking about the park age ban. Youth over the age of 14 are welcomed as long as they are engaged in recreational activities.

The ones who criticize the age ban don't live in the neighborhood and either didn't live in the West Ward in 2007 or didn't drive by Centennial Park to witness what thiose neighbors put up with fron the older youths or the young ones that were afraid to go to the park. Other communities have done the same and even have a curfew to address the problem. The age ban is the least of the worries with a skatepark.

Let's see, the age ban has been in effect two years and we have had the two quietest summers in a long time. Coincidental, probably, but like we said, it is a tool for the police to use if there are gnags just haging around doing their deeds.

Oh,let me say upfront that I may not be at the meeting since I will be driving back from DC and I am not sure what time the meeting is nor where it is since I wasn't invited. So before you criticize elected officials on this blog please make sure that they at least knew about it before trhey are criticized. There are very few meetings I miss when I am made aware of them and I never miss a meeting if there isn't something else on my calendar.

The city will be well represented at the meeting.

AprilDiana said...

I have way too many other commitments on Wednesday to go to this meeting, but I want to say that I support a skate park. Like Tim and others, I also believe supervision and engagement should be incorporated into the plan to help maintain the skate park physically, and to help keep the activities healthy, legal, safe, etc.

I hope the youth pastor mentioned by hopeunseen will be present, or that someone like him will be involved with the planning. I think suggestions like fees, competitions, and the coordination of youth/community groups for oversight will give the park and the teens a chance.

I see the kids nearly everyday. Once, on my way to Paxinosa El., I asked the 12 yr old skateboarding out front if there was a park nearby for them to use. He said, "No, there is no where, and we just get in trouble." I believe he and his friends deserve a good spot to just be kids.

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

I may be a minority amongst my peers on this issue, but I support Mayor Panto's so-called park age ban. The neighborhood intervention and commitment that Terrance envisions (and which I support) can only happen if the public space where that intervention is to occur is safe for responsible residents to congregate. Small urban parks are not inviting places to congregate if groups of young adults are slouching around the playground equipment.

Visit a small urban park in New York's Chelsea or Washington Square Park. Teens play basketball, laugh and talk, while parents push their kids on swing sets and older adults play chess/bocce/cards. The harmony exists because of the diversity -- made possible because the residents first took back the parks. (Yes - in the example of Washington Square Park, by Giuliani's controversial get tough tactics.) Without creating a police-state, the parks have to be taken back, and once that is accomplished, then all people, including teens, can co-exist together.

Bringing us to the question of giving the teens something safe to do while park access is restricted.

I think a skate park will be a disaster, for the reasons Tim described. Skating strikes me as an all-male activity. Do young women skate? Or is their role limited to looking attractive for the young men? As described, safe spaces are diverse spaces. However we create public spaces that support teens, those spaces must be inclusive -- for young women, skaters, and non-skaters alike.

Why not put $50,000 into landscaping Centennial Park so it is attractive to parents and older adults, while also installing a quality basketball court? Whatever is done, it must be foster diversity if safety is to be maintained.

David Caines said...

I'm lucky here in that I have the advantage of having grown up on the Jersey Shore. My brother was a skater, and I've been to a bunch of skate parks...all privately owned for profit enterprises with constant supervision and even a few with private security. All had safety codes and standards to limit their liability and most of them did pretty well.
And yet even with all that and skating instructors, it was pretty rare that one of my brothers friends wasn't in a cast with something or another broken. I don't know, maybe the kids around here aren't as crazy as the skaters I've known in my life, but it's a pretty dangerous sport. Barring supervision and some mandatory enforcement on the wearing of helmets and all the other safety gear...sooner or later we're going to end up with someone dead or paralyzed. Street skating is a lot safer than park skating at least in that you fall from much lower heights.
It is of course a shame that we have to think about all of this, but well there it is.
We also support the park ban at least until something can be done about our gang issues. While the city should do it's best to make safe places of recreation for all...it also has a responsibility to offer what protection it can to all.
I remember when the Blog first took on new posters and Terrence wrote an excellent piece about the kid "Banned" from the park and where was that kid to go?
And I remember Jeanette and I both saying to ourselves Gods I'm just glad the kid wasn't shot or we'd all be screaming about why no one had done anything to keep it from happening. Thankfully something was done, it's not pretty but it's working.
If possible maybe the city can work out something to bring a for profit park to town, but otherwise this just isn't likely to work.

noel jones said...

Mayor Panto, I thank you for engaging enough to post to the blog, but please don't preface comments with "stop talking about"--this blog's whole raison d'etre is to engage residents in civil debate and earnest discourse.

I really think that part of the reason our nation has become so polarized politically is because we have lost the art of civil debate and too many people get hyper-sensitive and feel threatened when someone disagrees with them, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to engage in a productive debate. This polarization also happens when people fail to post opposing views in a way that is not insulting. I am very proud of our blog as an alternative to the vitriol that is prevalent in most other blogs in our area. So to take an adversarial posture by prefacing with "stop talking", or on Tim's post, criticizing active residents for not attending meetings that you are elected to be concerned with, is not appropriate, and misses out on the opportunity to have a respectful and productive debate on all the nuances of an issue.

For example: Julie and I agree on a lot, but on this issue we disagree--I do not think the skate park would be a disaster if properly planned and supervised, and I support the lifting of the park ban. However, Julie makes great points that nobody else has really made here about the success of city parks being related to diversity, especially in the gender and age of the people who use it. I would LOVE to see concrete chess tables installed in our public parks, encouraging both young and older residents to hang out in the space while teens are playing ball, small children play on the swings, people walk their dogs, etc. I for one would be out there waiting for someone to play chess with me.

Now, should I be upset that Julie posted in opposition to my position with good arguments? No! That's what a good debate IS, and precisely what this blog is here for. This is a place for everyone to feel safe respectfully disagreeing with (or supporting) each other and posing as many new ideas as possible. So when Julie posted I was excited because she posed ideas and highlighted nuances that I hadn't thought of, and that hadn't entered the conversation yet, and now the conversation is richer for it.

noel jones said...


As far as I'm concerned, city officials should be using this blog as part of their collective brain for problem-solving and developing vision--that collective brain being made up of the community. And the worst thing that community can do is "stop talking." This nation has gone downhill because Americans have stopped talking about issues and have instead withdrawn into a consumerist lifestyle of shopping and TV watching, while the chairs for the public in public meetings go empty, and elected officials who win with only 6% of registered voters support enjoy never being challenged for decades until one day, residents do challenge and the powers that be feel affronted, as if residents have stepped out of their place.

Now, a lot of the ideas in opposition here, are not in all-out opposition, but rather opposition unless conditions are met to insure the success of the park and minimal impact on residents. That is all fodder for a good discussion, as no one--not even those like myself that would like to see one built, want to see money wasted on something fails. But with enough of the good ideas expressed here involved in the PLANNING stages of a skate board park (i.e., the ideas like Julie's or of the pastor HopeUnseen referred to), I think it could work. And the bottom line is that our teens need somewhere to go instead of hanging out in the streets like they have been--we can't just keep ignoring that.

On S. 8th Street, they play ball and skateboard--activities which not only worry drivers and put kids in danger, but also risk damage to parked cars on the street. On Pine Street, there is a gaggle of kids from age 10 - 16 or so (about 10 of them) who hang out in the alley and jump out in front of cars in a dare game out of sheer boredom. The police have responded well to residents who call about this, but still, with no where to go, it just keeps happening.

The idea that kids should feel welcome to play in a park that has a park ban doesn't make sense--you're asking the kids to feel comfortable doing something illegal, which is not only hard to do, but not what we as a community want to be teaching our teens.

All healthy cities have parks where youth are free to play. Maybe if we incorporate some of the good ideas here into the planning for these parks we could begin to see some healthy use of the space for the entire community, not just the youth.

As a final note, I am delighted to see some political will coalescing in our youth, and would like to see them rewarded for that engagement. They are the voters of our future.

David Caines said...

I'm trying to be a bit more active here, so we'll see. I like that for the most part we can all come here and disagree without being too disagreeable.
Julie mentioned the NY parks and that they were "Taken" back by the locals, which I think ties in nicely with Dennis' thoughts on the need for we citizens to be a bit more active in our community and Terrence's wish to work outside of though hopefully along with local govt.
As a thought, why don't we pick a target park and get all of us together, guardian angels, block watch, weed+seed, local church groups, and see if we can as a community reclaim it with an understanding with the city that should that park be brought to a safe, clean and functional state through our actions...that the "ban" be lifted there and there alone. And hopefully by such actions we may have parks for our kids again in a few years. Sadly, I can't at this point suggest myself as a spearhead for such an effort, but Terrence Miller, Paul Barber (?SP) and others do come to mind. This is along the lines of the paths followed by other communities on the brink. And has a good track record.
Well, Thanks,

Cathy said...

Maybe we need clarification on what the use restrictions are on the parks. I interpreted Mayor Panto's "stop talking about the ban" as meaning stop calling it a "ban" not stop talking. Did he mean to say that "ban" may be an unnecessarily confusing and possibly polarizing descriptive because he suggests that youth are welcome if their purpose is recreational?

Perhaps some don't know that there were times at Centennial when children and adults were terrorized by a teen or group of teens and nothing could be done about it. I want to see something for the youth but my message to everybody is that the best point of leverage for influencing a teen is when he or she is less than eight years old. Yes we need places for teens. But we need places for the younger ones where they feel safe and where there is developmentally appropriate social activity for them where we can reinforce self esteem, strengthen social skills, and build attachment to the community. I am not saying teens are "bad" by saying that what is developmentally appropriate for them isnt for the little ones or for most of the rest of us for that matter. Therefore I think rather than having a global policy on park usage, we should specialize the parks, through programs and design, designating them for particular constituencies but with room for diversity and adult presence in each of them. Centennial has been working out for the younger ones with our programs and Weed and Seed. Not so Vanderveer. It seems to be going to waste as is and worse - its used by vandals and bullies. I think some people are working on teen programs for this park. I dont know whether skateboarding is something for the city to provide (sure dont need any more lawsuits) but if there were an outdoor teen programming there might be ways to field trip over to already built parks? Show outdoor skate board movies (there's a ton of them)? in other words address the youth's interests and support their pursuits, help them organize their skill building short of putting in a skateboard park.

David Caines said...

Thank you Cathy you've made some good points that are both actionable and inexpensive. As to the term "Ban" I don't think it's exactly the right term either, I just don't happen to have a better one.
I think your ideas and similar ideas could work. A for instance would be that if the kids at the local HS want to form a skate boarding club, and can find a teacher or other acceptable adult volunteer then they can do what they like on school property with some security and some real limitations on the liabilities assumed by the city and bypass the parks issue entirely. Such things don't happen overnight, but if the kids started getting together now, they might have something workable by next year.

Alan Raisman said...

There was a skateboarder (as reported by Chief Palmer) or bicyclist (as reported by WFMZ) killed today at the corner of 7th and Northampton Street. A park that is suitable for both skate boarders and bicyclists is needed in Easton so events like this do not happen again. Safety of pedestrians and any person who is not driving a motorized vehicle is important in every city, no matter the population. People need a place to feel safe. That includes a park for skateboarders/bicyclists and a park for animals.


Anonymous said...

This was a little boy coming down the south hill - his new bike skidded at Northampton Street.

Anonymous said...

Sal Panto says:
Noel, please don't misunderstand my comments. I expressed before that the problem with blogs and emails is that you lose the delivery and just read words. That being said, I do a lot of listening and go by the rule that God gave me two ears and one mouth. Therefore I should listen twice as much as I speak. My reference to the age restriction goes to the heart of Clean and Safe. Our two parks were not safe. Simple as that. Neighbors were horrified, awakened from their sleep, exposed to vulgar language and the list goes on. For those two neighborhoods their quality of life has improved greatly. And we have not seen it migrate to other parts of the neighborhood or city. And Cathy is right, please talk about the age restriction all you want but please don't refer to it as a ban. All teens are welcomed to the park for recreational activities. Come to summer nights and you will see plenty of them enjoying themselves and even playing bbal with me.

The real issue here is today's event. I came home from Washington to be called to a horrific scene. A scene that we must try to eliminate in our city. A young boy, on his new bike riding down Mulberry Street into traffic on Northampton St. It was a terrible thing and a life too soon taken. This is what I want to eliminate. We need to increase the safety of our young people whether on a bike, a skateboard or running and playing in the streets.

As I saed to the Express reporteer this evening, our youth no longer carry a bat, or football or basketball like we did when i was growing up. They are more motivated by technology and Xgames. We need to address our youth with the activities they are interested in and not the same ole same ole. Together we can make it happen.

Also, I will hosting my Mayor's Camp again this summer for any youth in grades 9 through 12. Please encourrage any youth you know to ask for an application -- it's a great experience for them but even more important for City Hall to hear their ideas. I do not require city residency. I accept any young person in the area as a way of getting them involved in our city.

noel jones said...

The child that died today when hit by a bus on his bike was a friend and classmate of the very kids who met today at the Boys & Girls Club asking for a skate park. When they rushed down to try to see who it was, they were hurt because two things happened simultaneously: an officer turned them away (out of concern, of course, and not wanting them to see the tragedy) and adults on Northampton street who were rubber-necking at the site yelled at the kids and said they shouldn't be skateboarding. I am going to do a real post tomorrow on this, but wanted to post this note for now to illustrate how this was the convergence of three variables that lend themselves to misunderstandings between a community and its kids, and police officers and their community.

First, the kid didn't have a bike/skateboard park to play in and was in the street (the bike riders and skateboard kids often share skateboard parks because the kids on bikes do tricks too)--now this doesn't mean that he wouldn't have been in the street if there were a park, but one of the kids at the meeting asked if it mightn't have prevented this tragedy for the kid to have a park to ride in. The kid was told that this comment was invalid, which I thought was totally uncool.

The kids got turned away by the well-meaning officer, but they were upset because they had just learned that it was their friend that had been killed (cont.)

noel jones said...

(cont.) and felt like they had more right than any of the adults that were hanging around.

Then, the neighborhood adults that had congregated there, started yelling at the kids as if they were bad, for skateboarding at all. When I was walking home from the meeting, they were walking up the hill[they had zoomed down there right after the meeting]. They literally with their heads hanging down, carrying their skateboards. I didn't want to bother them, because I had a feeling that they had learned that the kid was someone they knew, and kept my head down to walk past, but then one said, "hey, aren't you the writer?" and I said yes and then they crowded around to tell me what happened, spilling over, all of them talking at once. I took their names and stories and will blog about this tomorrow, but I have to tell you it broke my heart.

These kids impressed me so much at the meeting--they're all between the ages of 10 and 14, and some of the most visionary kids and creative problem solvers that I have run into in a very long time. These kids are not just sitting around asking for a handout--they were bursting with design ideas, ideas for fundraising, and for creating revenue with the project. These are really good kids that have no where to go, and are getting the message over and over again from the community that they are bad kids.

This convergence of variables confuses the relationship and mutual respect between officers and our neighborhood kids, because the officers get lumped in with the negative adults in the neighborhood, and if they develop bad attitudes about the police because of it, it will be easy for officers to develop attitudes about the kids as well. I really hope that one of the neighborhood police officers can drop in on the kids' meeting next Wednesday to explain that they were turned away out of concern, and to listen to the kids as they are likely in shock and grieving for their lost friend.

My heart goes out to the family of this lost child, and to all who knew him. As Dennis Lieb mentioned in his recent post on public safety, it has as much to do with traffic calming as it does with law enforcement. We have had three deaths in the last two months on Northampton and two out of three were people who were struck by vehicles (an elderly woman and now this child), and one was the recent shooting. So twice as many people have died from traffic, rather than assault.

We need safe places for these kids to go, and we need serious traffic-calming. As 10 year-old Keyshawn Range told me after the meeting, "I feel bad for that boy--they should have more stops--that's how kids get hit, because they don't have anything [stop signs]."

If a 10 year-old can see this, why can't we?

David Caines said...

This is of course horrible, and our prayers go out to the familly and friends of the child involved. Noel, I am impressed that you made the point that this may have happened whether we had skate/bike parks or not.
What we don't and can't know at this point is wheter or not this was a "Preventable" accident. We may never, what I would like to point out here is just something that we've seen and that is that EPD is obviously listening to us (this blog and others) and I assume that means that the mayor is as well. We have the police bike patrols out and about again, we've seen at least one officer on foot patrol and our interactions with them have become more friendly, they have become more personable while maintaining a high degree of proffessionalism.We're getting what we've asked for...cudos.
And obviously the mayor and others are paying attention to what is said here, because they are posting here and doing so in an informed manner.
I at least feel as though I'm being listened to, perhaps not always agreed with, but listened to and that is I think really all that I can ask.
What I do hope is that this tragedy doesn't lead us into a boondoggle. I hope it doesn't become a rallying point for an idea that I think improperly handled is dangerous. And it just doesn't seem as though we are prepared to handle this issue properly. A skate park would be cool, but without the city taking on a few full time employees to manage it, we're just creating a place for kids to engage in dangerous (though legal) sports and hoping that nothing bad happens. Honestly if we go that route...when someones child gets hurt and the city gets sued, we'll deserve it and I think most courts would agree.
No matter how smart, or involved or interested these kids may be the responsability for their safety falls to we adults.
I am not surprised that the kids at the scene were confused and might have walked away with the wrong message, but I wouldn't expect anything else, they are children and to expect them to somehow have an adult understanding of the world is I think first a bit silly, and secondly a bit abusive.

noel jones said...

David, I agree the new neighborhood police officers have been a great addition and much more personable with residents and neighbors are beginning to notice and really appreciate it.

I have blogged in more detail about the meeting in my latest post--the meeting brought together teens and community leaders to discuss the various elements that would have to be taken into consideration in a well-planned effort.

noel jones said...

Also, the kids are currently bussing over to a skateboard park in Jersey--if Jersey can do it, we can do it, we just have to be smart about it.

See more details of what was suggested in the latest post on this topic...