Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Confluence of Public Events.

Posted by Gavin Vincent

Its been a busy couple of weeks around the neighborhood. This particular blogger has been to two meetings about the prospect of the oft discussed skate park, and one school board meeting about a rather steep tax increase. The results so far? A mild headache, lots of notes, and more questions than answers.

-Regarding the Meetings at the Boys and Girls Club's Teen Center, I've been blown away by the engaged and energized response of neighborhood youth to the idea of the skate park. These are kids commited to the long term realization of civic action and its something both encouraging and to be encouraged. The turnout for the meeting last week was quite impressive. Kids of a great many backgrounds lined the sidewalk on Northampton St and watched older boys from a "Skate Church" (I'm still musing over that) pull tricks off a ramp with a mixture of admaration and envy as I arrived. This being my first meeting, I wasn't sure what the overall objectives were to be, but I could see there were indeed a lot of kids in the neighborhood who skated- and figured there were a lot more who likely did not go through the effort to attend. A tall young man popped his skateboard high in the air off the ramp, landed inelegantly and found his skateboard careening quickly into the street without him. Quick to make it a teaching moment, he added calmly "See why we don't like to practice on busy streets, kids?" The gathered group nodded and agreed.

The meeting itself began with a large (at least larger than I'd anticipated) group of interested adults present as well. Boys and Girls Club Director Dean Young marshalled the interest and goodwill here
and steered the gathering towards working on solutions. He went over a slide presentation, as explained by a young lad from the center, about their recent site tour in which several of the youngsters went to skate parks other local communities had constructed and did something of an informal analysis. The outgoing assesment seemed mixed, some communities had set up quite nice parks that were a.) ultimitley too far for local kids to travel normally and b.) not of use to those without vehicular transportation, and c.) not a real solution for this community. This exersise was benificial though, in that it gave the group a baseline, or a frame of reference in which to compare its concept to.

Next, logistics, locations and feasibility were discussed. Options for local parks the skate park could be constructed on were weighed, with the majority of the already informed actors on the project returning again and again to South Hacket's Park. My initial concern here was similar to the above issue about transportation. What's the purpose of funding a skate park and getting kids involved in the process ...if they can't readily access the end result? It has since been brogut to light that Hackets park isn't too far off the beaten path to make pedistrian travel there from the West Ward illogical, but I still have some concern that those that could most benifit here, might not be able to get there. Perhaps there's a solution beyond location that can be parsed out by the time this now conceptual skate park materializes.

Next, the issue of funding came up and as of last week, its come to light that there are funds ($25k) to draw from. Which is both good news and a nice start, from what I've asked of more finance minded persons present for later meetings. More recently, There's also talk of a local church group providing a donation, and even more interestingly, a suggestion that the City of Easton might match whatever's raised dollar for dollar. (This seems quite ambitious annnnd the cynic in me says not entirely likely. It would be brilliant if this would come to pass, but I wouldn't hold my breath on a promise of this nature not in writing).

From a glance, the youth involved are both energized and interested in this cause- behaviors I'd up until recently thought teenagers and pre-teens been led to believe were averse to displaying- invested in the outcome and seeming to have a sense of ownership of every step of the process. Signing up for and being vocal about ideas in every aspect of every committee. Even while the logistics are being ironed out, it seems evident that this ownership in the community activitism, that empowering these youngsters to be a part of the process is on the whole something we should emphatically encourage. The outcome may or may not be to our liking, but the result of civically engaged young people learning the ins and outs of local political involvement is a lesson worth learning.

(I'll update this entry w/ notes from the 2nd Skate park meeting yesterday, and thoughts from last week's School board meeting later in the day, so stay tuned)


Julie Zando-Dennis said...

I've posted my opposition to the skate park on this blog, but after seeing the Express-Times photo of rapt young faces watching a skate board demonstration, have been swayed by the idea.

Still, let's be clear -- when we say the skate park will benefit "youth," we are talking about boys. There's nothing wrong with all-boys activities, and in fact, studies have shown that in classroom settings the separation of the sexes can encourage maturity and focus. But to say a skate park will engage the local "youth" is disingenuous.

After .5 million is raised for the skate park, what is left for the girls?

David Caines said...

My own issues here are somewhat different than Julie's, safety, liability, upkeep, adult supervision, etc...
I would be less opposed if the kids/ adults worked with or were accepted/ accepted the rules of one of the national skateboard orgs.
In an effort to make that possible I'll present one
The skate park association of the united states of America.
And Julie you might have an interest in
A girls skate boarding org affiliated with spausa.
I am still somewhat in opposition, but if it can be done right and safely, I wouldn't argue. Have a skate board upstairs myself, can't remember when I didn't own one.

g_whiz said...

I'd say you make a fair point Julie. Although, if we're talking about providing venues to "at risk" youth and preventing overall delinquency the lionshare of this DOES come from boys. Failing to address that does little to confront the problem of agressive behavior on the part of adolescent males. That said, I have seen more than a few girls with skateboards at these meetings and out in the street. I'm not suggesting that a high proportion of women skate, or that its not a predominantly male aimed activity...but it doesn't have to be.

You remind me of an interesting area of juvenile delinquency I'm looking at for next week's lecture: Gender implications. One in 4 acts of delinquency (which yes, is a broad umbrella) is conducted by a female. What is interesting is that girls are committing different types of delinquent crime now than in former years (or more possibly that they are getting arrested for different types of crime) and coming up with solutions for this trend would be useful as well.

David: I don't think your reservations are unrealistic, and again they are issues I for the most part share. If these issues can be tackled safely and realisticly (which it is yet to be seen if this is probable) then I would like to see something positive come of it.

noel jones said...

Gavin~thanks for mentioning that there were a few girls at the skate park meeting. With Julie's question in mind, I went to the first skate park meeting and asked Dominique Moser, who was part of the meeting if she had other friends that were girls who skated. She said no, but Keyshawn Range was listening and piped in to say that his friend Amber skates. So it is a predominantly male sport so far, but not entirely, and in my mind, it's a lot like snowboarding, where a lot of girls snowboard now (myself included) but not as many girls as boys yet. So I would like to see a strategy for encouraging girls to feel comfortable skating with boys, rather than withholding support the boys, partially for the reasons Gavin mentioned about giving kids something positive to do to keep them out of trouble. But I do take Julie's concern very seriously in the context of sports in Easton in general, considering the Easton Area School District demanded that every department propose cuts to alleviate the proposed tax hike on residents, and all the athletics department came up with was cuts to girls sports (one cut involved delaying the making of girls lacrosse into a JV/varsity sport--which makes me wonder--especially since girls don't play football, and boys do play lacrosse, if the EASD is in compliance with Title IX?)

David, thanks for the links--one thing to remember is this is not a new idea developing in a void--this is done successfully all around Easton. Easton has got to break out of its enclave mentality of only considering ideas in the context to whether or not its been done successfully before in Easton, and instead look to successful examples of projects in the rest of the world.

I'm glad to hear of all the positive progress on this, including the positive response from the mayor in offering a match--thanks Gavin for continuing to report on this!

Anonymous said...

Sal Panto says:

I am committed to the city match but I cannot speak for the rest of Council. Four votes are required to amend the budget to provide for more than thr $25k already appropriated.

please remember to remind yourself and your friends, the most important aspect of skate boarding still has to be safety. And bikers must remember that they are considered a motorized vehicle if they are on the street and must obey all traffic rules and regualtions. Proper safety equipment is also important.

You are absolutely correct in your point about the location of Lower Hackett Park and I concur. However, we have not been able to identify a better location so we are open to suggestions.

Thanks for your input and passion about seeing this project to fruition. It's great to see young people engaged in our city.

noel jones said...

I believe that El Warner and Jeff Warren have pledged support so far, so then I guess we only one more since the mayor is also president of council--that's a great start.

As for Lower Hackett Park, all that the kids would need is for a bus stop to be negotiated with LANTA or another company so that kids could hop on with their skateboards to ride there and back--this would help keep them safe and off the streets too.

One boy, Keyshawn Range, had also suggested the construction of wooden ramps near the Bushkill trail near the back side of the cemetary, near where the dog park is planned. If both of things parks existed at low cost to taxpayers, it might be a great way for the community to interact and be drawn to use the trails...

noel jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Caines said...

I am aware that we are trying to draw in outside influences and definitely support the idea, Easton as a city has neither the money nor the citizen participation to reinvent the wheel. Nor do we have the need in the internet age.
As to skating without safety equipment?
Warning- pretty raw footage, bad language et al...

This stuff is pretty disturbing and some indicator of the liability issues that keep skating illegal in most areas.
What can I say, I did some of this in my youth...thank the gods for helmets.

g_whiz said...

Mr Mayor,

thank you for your comment. I'll be updating this account with more information from my notes (I've just been a little busy of late), but I can assure you that safety and responsibility have been stressed quite a lot at the meetings I've been present for. I appreciate your candor here, and your interest in making a safe space for this group.

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

You are absolutely right that boys are at a greater risk for delinquency and I support building positive recreational spaces for them. But while girls might be less likely to become delinquents, aren't they more likely to become unwed mothers? Aren't we concerned about recreational opportunities for these young women, one third in the West Ward who won't earn high school degrees?

And to be absolutely clear, of course I think that girls are CAPABLE of skating. Damn well too.

But clearly we can agree that junior and high school age kids are under tremendous pressure to conform to gender stereotypes. That's why I would not be at all surprised if the girls in our community congregate in the "spectator" section while the boys show off on the course. Human nature? Yes. It would take a strong, confident, brave girl to walk in and plunk down a skateboard in their midst. Didn't anyone go to high school? :)

But what of our young women? Don't hear anyone talking about building a 1/2 million dollar park for them. These girls will grow up with limited education, at risk of teenage pregnancies, raising children alone, and making 60 cents for each dollar a man makes. If 1/2 million dollars in this recessionary economy is poised to be spent, can't we figure out a way to include either full participation by the girls, or an equal alternative?

Dennis R. Lieb said...

This comment is more to draw attention to an associated problem than to give opinion - one way or the other - on the feasibility of a skate park (though I also believe getting end users to Lower Hackett's efficiently and safely is unrealistic without some tie-in scheme from the new Bushkill trail head at 13th Street due west to Wood Avenue).

What I want to make the readers and city aware of is a constant problem in downtown. There are skateboarders and BMX bikers trespassing in the evenings at my office's parking lot, shared by Prudential Paul Ford Realtors and Genesis Bikes.

They use the change in elevation and retaining wall between out lot and Frank & Dot's Beverage as an obstacle course. As weather improves and days lengthen they will be there in the daylight hours as well. They have little regard for the fact that active auto traffic is moving in and out of parking's hard enough checking for cars and pedestrians without dealing with irresponsible BMX/skateboarders.

Last fall I pulled into my lot after dark and saw a bunch of bikes in the lower lot. They obviously saw me pulling in, but despite that, one of them rode his bike up the wall right in front of the space I was entering and went airborn over the hood of my car while it was still moving. I screamed at the jerk and would have strangled him if I'd got my hands on him.

This type of behavior is the norm - not an exception. They even drive in from the suburbs and take their bikes and boards out of the car trunk to ride in our town, so we are also providing reckless recreation for suburban nitwits as well.

So far this might all be considered a personal rant on my part but the latest escapade is serious enough that the city should pay special attention. The new kick is to take the bikes to the intersection of N. Second and Bushkill, where the eastbound on-ramp to 22 merges with city street traffic. At the height of rush hour they group on the SE corner and race through moving traffic, up the side of the embankment (Toll Bridge Commission property) and do airborn tricks off the base of the overhead highway sign support pylon.

With all the uncertainty confronting drivers at this intersection (Bushkill St. traffic merging onto 22 without a stop sign going east; cross traffic edging out from N 2nd St and west bound Bushkill) it is only a matter of time before someone gets killed. Oh yeah...they like to video tape this shit while they're doing it. These aren't little kids; they're old enough to be held responsible.

Not having a safe place to ride is one thing but skateboards and bikes were around when I was a kid. We didn't seek out places to be deliberately anti-social and publicly intimidating to use them. As long as I am witness to this type of behavior on a weekly basis I'm afraid I have little sympathy for the plight of the BMX/skateboarder in Easton.


David Caines said...

Hey Dennis,
We get a different bunch of problems here on our street, but you are right in that those are serious problems. On the plus side it's pretty obvious that someone at EPD is paying attention to what is said on this blog and hopefully they'll get over there and write some tickets and the like.
If they do, let us all know, and if they don't (give it a week or two) also let us know. Personally I've found EPD to be pretty on the ball though their response may be somewhat limited by just what laws are being broken.
I won't dive back into the greater fray here as I have a lot to do today, but it is always nice to see that you are still out and about,

g_whiz said...

I think there's a real danger implying that all 13 year old skateboarders are created equal and therefore "little sympathy" can be parceled out. If anything, it would seem that if a rational, aware young person knew of a skatepark in which to go nearby the need to use the parging lot in question for an obstacle course would be drastically lessened. There are always going to be exceptions to the rule, but I'm reluctant to cast doubt on the conduct of an entire group because of isolated incidents on the whole.


Dennis R. Lieb said...


I don't want to be misunderstood here. What I'm saying is my personal, long-term experience with skaters and BMXer's in Easton over the past 10 years has been overwhelmingly negative. What percentage of the total population they represent is unknown to me but I'm still waiting for some "control group" to disprove the empirical evidence so far. This is not to say I wouldn't support a skate depends on how it's handled.

I know two things: First, a park won't keep the dopes I contend with happy because they get their thrills disrupting other peoples lives and damaging private property.

Second, if we do this again it better not be a repeat of the last skate park fiasco. We can't afford to waste money on any more dead-end projects at this point in history. By all means investigate it and do it if all aspects pencil out, but don't screw it up again.

Just one last but sad point. A few years ago, when I had more time and money, I'd sit outside Porter's in the summer evenings with a beer and watch the goings-on in the street (free entertainment). I can't count the number of kids who came down 7th Street hill full speed on bikes and skateboards right into Northampton Street without stopping. This would sometimes unfold up till 10 o'clock at night.

LANTA buses would careen through the intersection at high speed, running yellow and red lights on a regular basis. I remember thinking back then how long before somebody got killed. I guess we know now.


noel jones said...


I'd like to offer this point for philosophical debate/consideration with regard to your comment,

"...I know two things: First, a park won't keep the dopes I contend with happy because they get their thrills disrupting other peoples lives and damaging private property..."

Is it possible that this is a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg scenario? Which comes first, the absence of a safe place to pull stunts, or risky behavior on our streets?

An example of a similar situation, in my mind, is the gaggle of kids that many of us have seen hanging out on Pine Street, who like to jump out in front of the slow-moving cars that turn up that alley, on a dare, seeming to get their kicks off scaring the drivers and themselves. If they were allowed to play in the parks, would this be happening? Is it because there isn't a designated place for them to hang out and have fun, or would it not matter, because as you suggest, it is the danger that they are after? I'm not sure--all I know is that I never had kids on Pine jumping out in front of my car for fun before the parks were closed, and there is a large group of young teens that are doing everything in their power to engage with their community and local political system to try to get a skate park where they can do their tricks and impress each other in a safe environment.

For the political will alone, I am excited to see them go for it. Aside from reducing their time on our streets, where they can get hit, it also bodes well for Easton's political future if these kids learn that engagement with their local governmental process is a worthwhile endeavor. Many of them will be voting age within four years.

Julie--good point about teen pregnancy--I share that concern, and we should be thinking as a community about what could be developed that would attract girls away from trouble. Where did you hear .5 mil? The numbers I have been hearing are more in the $50k range, especially with regard to Lower Hackett park, which already has the concrete.

David--As for supervision, I have heard three incredibly low-budget options: 1. The motorcycle club of a Boys & Girls club volunteer, Michael Turner, has offered to schedule regular drive-bys to help provide supervision and security for the kids who don't want their park ruined by bad kids, 2. Jason Burson, who started the Skate Church--is also involved with the Boy Scouts, and suggested that they could help provide security. My neighbor, Greg, who has worked with Boy Scouts for years, said that they have a program called ScoutReach, which is the outreach arm of Boy Scouts, coordinated out of the Minsi Trails office in Allentown and is always looking for new ScoutReach activities for their scouts Valley-wide, 3. parents of these kids could volunteer to cover 2 hour slots and trade off with each other. When people talk about supervision and security, they often start thinking of having police officers or security guards involved, which is not necessary for the park to succeed. All that is needed is for someone responsible to always be around to call the police if bad kids are disrupting the park for the good kids.

As for liability--somehow parks outside Easton in PA, NJ and across the nation have figured it out, and I'm confident that we can too.

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

$50,000? Ahhh. I guess I'm mistaken. Don't know where I heard $5M. In my mind I guess.

Well, if it's only $50,000, I support a skatepark -- if there is a plan to keep it well maintained and secure from fights and illegal activity.

Access to Lower Hacketts concerns me though. 13th Street by the Route 22 interchange is dangerous enough for vehicle drivers. Can't see adding to the mix kids on bikes and skate boards.

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

One last thing . . . can't we get the kids from the Boys and Girls Club to join our debate? I'd like to hear from them. And they would develop their argumentation skills.

g_whiz said...

I think we could encourage them to check out the blog, and I'll make a note to do so on the 14th, which is when the next meeting coencides.


Julie said...

By the 14th, this original post will be swept aside to the archive section. Can we get a kid (young adult -- god, I'm showing my age) to post regularly?