“It’s almost like a sin to be able to go skate freely.”
Next week at our Dilworth Plaza cafe we have a fundraiser event for the new Philadelphia skatepark. We will have limited edition La Colombe “fresh roasted skateboards” available for purchase and for a raffle. If you haven’t heard about this event check out this blog post (you’re all invited!). Designed and conceptualized by Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund, this skatepark has been in the works for 10+ years. Last week, we met Claire Laver and Josh Nims from Franklin’s Paine at the site to get updates about the project. Also now we have “before” photos to compare to the “after” photos when the park is built.
First thing everyone wants to know is “when?” so we found out that recently they got final approvals on the design from Parks and Recreation and the Art Commission. Groundbreaking for building the skatepark is planned to be in Fall 2012. It’s quite soon but right now the site is green and completely vacant (except for one guy throwing a football into a tire). “You really are in the spot!” says Josh, “this site is unparalleled. It just is. It’s the nicest piece of real estate in Center City Philadelphia and we’re going to build a skatepark on it!”
Josh was a part of Skater’s Defense Lobby in 2000 against the ban of skateboarding in the Love Park. This was when he was still in Temple law school. We mentioned a photo, published in an old magazine, of a bunch of skaters with some people in suits, packed into City Council meeting. “I think I wore a suit. I only had one suit I’d wear. I had a law school suit and I wore that thing to death. It was awesome! It was Jones of New York (laughing) I would never say that. I never care about brands but it was that great. It was the most fantastic suit.”
That City Council meeting also marked the beginning of Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund (FPSF). Josh says: “It was this idea of first lobbying for skateboarding and then we thought: ‘OK, now that they’re listening to us and then maybe they care about skateboarding. What are we going to with that power?’ And the answer was, you know, ‘we’re going to develop skate spots.'”
Since then, FPSF has built 6 skateparks and proposed 7 more skatepark designs in and around the city as well as establishing an after-school skateboarding program, Gear for Groms (G4G), and partnering with the Charter High School for Architecture and Design (CHAD) for a new kind of after school skateboarding and design workshop.
The name Franklin’s Paine comes from Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine. “We all know Ben. He was, you know, a rebellious spirit” says Josh.
Ben was definitely a rebellious spirit, like most of the skateboarding teenagers who will flood the park when it opens. “There are conflicts that come with teenagers but when you look at a lot of our neighborhood skateparks around the city, it’s amazing how much conflict has been avoided because of the skatepark” continues Claire. “Pops [skatepark] is actually a famous case of huge improvement. In the first year and a half after we opened Pops, the crime rate in the 2 block radius went down 80%. It completely changed the way people used that space.”
Josh explains: “That’s what happens when you focus kids into something that they really dig. Skateboarding is so visceral. It’s almost like a sin to be able to go skate freely. And it’s that rebellious sense that’s still in you. That’s why street skating is so awesome, but even just going skating in a park; that freedom and the chances you take and the response you get from your peers… it’s really intense.”
The Philly Cup Skateboard Series this year is one manifest of the effect of skateboarding. This is a series of four skate competitions running from June through October, engaging “groms”, teens, and adults. They’ve had close to 100 skaters participate across the 3 events so far. Some kids have said that this was their first contest, they were really excited and asked how they can practice more before the October event. “So it’s been really positive.” Claire says, “actually, the cops came by that event just in the beginning to say ‘hi’. They are like, ‘We know we don’t have to worry about guys, but we just thought we would just stop in.’ (laughing)'”
They also have plans for some bigger organizations, such as the ESPN X-Games that have been in Philly before. Claire says “I mean, we’ve been thinking about that for years. We’ve had some conversations with some of those larger organizations, like ESPN, just to sort of start to network in that way, but we also feel like we could have just as much success creating Philadelphia’s own skate competition here.”
Claire, like Josh, also went to school in Philadelphia and she majored in Urban Studies at UPenn. “I grew up getting involved with Habit for Humanity projects starting around the age of 10, with my dad who’s an Architect. We started a group called the Interfaith Community Building Group and we’ve done physical building projects to build community for about the last 17 years in Philadelphia, El Salvador, New Orleans, Mississippi… a lot of places around the country. So that sort of helped to fine tune my interest in the built environment; using physical space to build community.” She grew up playing competitive soccer and Lacrosse, didn’t skate growing up, but was very much involved with coming downtown and hanging at Love Park. She also went abroad to Peru for a year 4 years ago now and managed a sports program for girls there and came back to work for FPSF.
We, as La Colombe, are very excited about the park’s groundbreaking. Josh says: “One of the nice things about something like this being a long time coming is although there’s all kinds of negatives and people bummed that it didn’t happen sooner, at the end of the day a whole generation of skaters in Philadelphia grew up with this on the horizon. And I think we are going to deliver something really good. I mean, you can’t be all things to all people. There’s going to be a stage element; there’s going to be a beautiful view of the city, the city skyline, there’s a beautiful view of the trail, there’s a beautiful view of the river. You’re up against the Art Museum. You know, I think the architecture is going to respond to all the things that we’ve been given. It’s going to be a fun place to ride a skateboard. It’s not going to be the cosmic skatepark, I don’t think. Maybe it will…”