[ law and order ]
Last Thursday, the hallowed chamber of Philadelphia’s City Council was visited by an unusual demographic: skateboarders. They were there to present testimony against new regulations, proposed by At-Large Councilman David Oh, that would have expanded anti-skateboarding rules to include “any publicly accessible outdoor artwork or memorial,” and would have increased the fines for such activity from $300 to $2,000 and “imprisonment for up to 90 days.”
The opponents drew a series of approving roars from the audience as, one after another, they attacked Oh’s regulations for being unnecessary, vague and unfairly punitive. After various sympathetic remarks from several other Council members, the bill was held and the day — if not the war — was won by the skateboarders.
It isn’t every day that an outpouring of public testimony stops a bill in its tracks, but the history of attempts by city officials to regulate skateboarding — and of efforts by skateboarders to resist those regulations — is a long (if not always glorious) one. Let’s review.
August 1996: A year after a skateboarding park opens in FDR Park, city controller Jonathan Saidel publishes a scathing “audit” of illegal — but largely ignored — skateboarding in Love Park. He suggests police confiscate boards when they issue tickets.
June 2000: Councilman Michael Nutter proposes a bill that would ban skateboarding on all public property and allow the seizure of skateboards from violators. He gets support from a Council committee — but not from Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who says Love Park “is a microcosm of who we are.” In response, skaters organize as the Skater’s Defense Lobby (it will have various names over the years), led by skater and law student Joshua Nims, who calls Nutter’s bill “using legislation as a baseball bat to kill a fly.”
September 2000: Nutter’s bill, delayed amid controversy, finally passes 14-3, with Blackwell still opposed and joined by Council members Rick Mariano and David Cohen. But a series of profound ironies follows: That September sees the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, in which Love Park is a playable level. In December, newspapers report that ESPN’s X Games will come to Philly — but that its sponsors are upset that the games won’t be taking place in Love Park.
April 2002: Skaters and the John Street administration go head to head when the mayor cracks down on skateboarding and introduces a nearly $1 million renovation plan for Love Park to make it less attractive to skaters. A Street spokesman says the administration will find skaters a new site, possibly on the Schuylkill behind the Art Museum. But in May the Fairmount Park Commission quickly nixes the idea, offering nothing in its place.
May 2003: Longstanding skater opposition to city regulations gains new momentum when the issue gets caught in the gravitational pull of a mayoral election. Republican mayoral nominee Sam Katz declares his intention to lift the ban on skating in Love Park — which, it turns out, $1 million in renovations later, still has enticing steps and ledges. “If we can’t keep young people here, there won’t be a tax base,” Katz proclaims alongside none other than 95-year-old former city planner Ed Bacon, who, amazingly, declares that Philadelphia “will never live down the inhumanity” of kicking the skaters out.
July 2003: Momentum for the skaters’ return to Love Park builds when Council members Rick Mariano, Blondell Reynolds Brown, Marian Tasco and Frank Rizzo commend efforts by the newly named Skater’s Advocacy Network to come up with a plan for Love Park. City officials balk. In August, Mayor Street announces plans (again) for a skate park along the Schuylkill.
March 2004: The city implants metal “cleats” on Dilworth Plaza railings and benches to prevent skateboarding.
May 2004: A California sneaker company offers $1 million to the city if it ends the ban on skating in Love Park. Street administration officials decline. One year later, plans for a new skatepark on the Schuylkill, eventually named Paine’s Park, are unveiled. The estimated cost is $2 million. It will grow to more than $4 million.
October 2012: More than a decade since skaters were kicked out of Love Park, the mythical Paine’s Park lives — mainly on franklinspaine.com, where supporters are encouraged to donate to the Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund, volunteer and support a proposed skate park on the Schuylkill designed by Brian Nugent and Anthony Bracali. At long last, earlier this month, the Fund and Schuylkill Banks announced a groundbreaking ceremony for Paine’s Park on Oct. 12. “We are very excited,” the press release said, “to announce that the long wait ... is almost over!”