Monday, November 30, 2009

Darren Harper, Pro-Skater from DC

Coming from South East DC, Darren Harper changed his life and his future through skateboarding. Darren is a friend and supporter of many of our skaters in Silver Spring. The 2nd interviewer (wearing a green shirt) is Jimmy Pelletier, who's been skating for 21 years, and who attended the November 4th meeting in support of the proposed skate spot in Woodside Park.

The Changing Face of Skateboarding

Silver Spring skatersThis is what most Silver Spring skaters look like today — the vast majority of them are minorities. I've talked to quite a few who rarely, if ever, attended summer camps or other programs outside of school. I've talked to many kids who feel like skateboarding has saved their lives, and that if it weren't for skating, their lives would have taken a different turn. This is why so many of our kids are so passionate about skating. And this is why we should not only allow kids to skate — but encourage them to.

One day when I ran into a group of skaters getting citations for skating at Discovery, the police officer was being really nice and he kept suggesting other places for the kids to skate, and asking them why they didn't skate in those locations. The answer to each and every one of those suggestions: "we get kicked out there too."

Skater-hating in DTSS

Most kids who skateboard in downtown Silver Spring will tell you there's a very intense anti-skateboarding and anti-skateboarder atmosphere in DTSS. Here's some of what contributes to that atmosphere:
  • The DTSS no-skateboarding rule and its enforcement. I and many skateboarders in the area have not just been asked to stop skating on Ellsworth, we've been yelled at, harassed, and threatened with police action, and two skaters reported being physically grabbed by DTSS security, and one said his skateboard was taken (the skater said he was able to snatch his board back.)
  • I and other skaters were threatened with police action for simply standing on Ellsworth Drive while carrying our skateboards. Some kids had been skating, but they had definitely and clearly stopped when we were told to leave Ellsworth, and when a DTSS security guard actually reported us to the police via his walkie talkie.
  • I'm not aware of a no-skateboard sign in the Majestic Theater, but they don't allow patrons to carry skateboards into their theaters.
  • Fuddruckers has a sign near the entrance stating that patrons cannot bring boards inside the restaurant.
  • Several skaters reported being kicked out of Potbelly's for carrying skateboards. I have not seen a no-skateboard sign in the store.
  • The new Rainbow store in City Place recently asked me to leave their premises, (I'm a 48 year old mom), for carrying a skateboard inside their store.
There's a long history here. Richard Jaeggi wrote about it back in 2005:
Nowhere in Silver Spring is the prohibition of skateboards more rigorously enforced than in the heart of Silver Sprung on Ellsworth Drive.
Since Montgomery County does not have an anti-skateboarding ordinance, I find it difficult to understand how and why the lawful act of riding on a skateboard or even carrying a skateboard is often treated like some terrible crime in DTSS. And I can't understand any of this in light of County Executive Ike Leggett's letter to DTSS, after photographer Chip Py was almost arrested for taking pictures in in DTSS back in 2007:
"The County considers Ellsworth to be a public forum permitting the free and unfettered exercise of First Amendment rights by residents of the County and its visitors to the extent as those rights are exercisable by residents and visitors to the County on any public sidewalk or public street within the County...I trust that you will agree with me and will ensure that your rules and regulations for the use of Ellsworth by the public appropriately recognize and protect the First Amendment rights of residents and visitors."
And I can't understand why, after emailing the DTSS Property Manager and her head of security on November 14th, asking what legal basis they're using for prohibiting skateboarding on Ellsworth Drive, I still have not gotten an answer.

I question the rule and the way its been enforced. And I seriously question the logic of essentially criminalizing kids for participating in a sport.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christian Villatoro, Silver Spring Skater

Christian Villatoro, Silver Spring SkaterSilver Spring has amazingly talented skateboarders, but unlike our most talented football, or basketball, or soccer players, or exceptional athletes in most any other sport, our skateboarders' names are never mentioned in the press, they don't get the opportunity to shine at awards ceremonies, and beyond the community of skaters and their friends, no one knows how much they've accomplished or how hard they've worked to achieve their goals.

Christian Villatoro17 year old Blake senior Christian Villatoro is one of the most dedicated and fearless athletes Silver Spring has ever produced. He has a super-human level of determination, and does not understand the concept of giving up. He inspires younger skaters to achieve skills that may otherwise seem impossible, were he not here to prove what is possible.

Look for our upcoming interview with Christian, on the impact skating has had on his life, where his determination comes from, and his frustrations with not having a legal place to skate in Silver Spring.

Backside Flip at Courthouse 4

Jumping 8 Stairs at Courthouse

Tre Flip Big 4

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Why Silver Spring Skaters Are So Frustrated

Here's a list of some of the things we've been told over the past year (since we lost lower Ellsworth Drive for skating):
  • We were supposed to get an area behind whole Foods, and that was supposed to happen in early '09, weeks after we lost Ellsworth. Never happened.

  • In February '09, we were told we could have the alley beside the DTSS security office. That DID happen...for all of two weeks, before it was taken away and they started kicking us out.

  • We were told DTSS was working on getting us the pavement between Whole Foods and Hollywood Video. Never happened.

  • In May AFI asked DTSS to host a skateboarding event, to promote a skateboarding movie AFI planned to screen. Never happened. (After a 3-month fiasco of trying to help DTSS plan this thing, with the date being changed from June 21st, to July 21st, to August 21st, we were finally offered such a low-budget tired-sounding event that no one would have bothered to come.)

  • We were supposedly on track to get a skatepark in the space the library currently sits on, once that's torn down. Not gonna happen.

  • We were supposedly going to have a tiny "skate spot" in Woodside Park this January. We were asked to support it. We did support it, asking skaters to send supportive emails, and asking skaters to attend the meeting (30 did), and I even attended a 'pre-meeting' that I initiated on November 4th, the day of the community meeting. Construction on that skate spot has now been delayed, and I'm not convinced it's actually going to be built.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Skaters for Public Skateparks: Response to Just Up The Pike

In response to Dan Reed's phenomenal post the case for a downtown skatepark (this time, with numbers), Publishing Director of Skaters for Public Skateparks Peter Whitley, commented on that blog post, making the point that "skate spots" are not meant to replace skateparks, but to augment them:
I was thrilled to see Skaters for Public Skateparks' material used so effectively. As the co-author, along with Kent Dahlgren and Miki Vuckovich (both of whom are with Tony Hawk Foundation, though Kent was SPS' founding Director) we couldn't be more delighted to see this information being used exactly how we intended.

When we began talking to communities about "skate spots" a few years ago we were concerned that some would see them as the "perfect solution" to their skatepark needs. While the idea of augmenting the neighborhood skateparks with satellite facilities is fundamentally sound, many budget-minded bureaucrats see the skate spot as a "miniature skatepark." They're not. They are meant to extend a skatepark's level of service into isolated or underserved pockets...NOT as a bedrock facility for a whole community.

What may happen is that the skate spot fails due to over-use; a victim of its own success. In their enthusiasm to use the spot, the skaters may spill out to the nearby parking lots or simply move back to those inappropriate spots that are popular now.

That can lead to two public reactions:

1. "Look at all those skaters trashing up the place. They don't deserve a better skatepark."

2. "The skaters are STILL skating on my ledges! That new skatepark apparently doesn't help at all!"

The losers here are the very people the skate spot was meant to benefit. The solution is for the local advocates to continue to push for a long-term plan that acknowledges the community need and sets into motion plans for meeting it. Thankfully you guys have some AWESOME advocates on that task.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Best Blog Post Ever

In an age of rampant obesity among teens, inactivity, too much time spent in front of TV and computer screens, rising teen depression, along with the lure of drugs and gangs, and the many other reasons why communities should actually be promoting skateboarding and encouraging kids to skate, rather than aggressively prohibiting the sport and marginalizing the kids who pursue it, it's just awesome to see someone who has a voice in this community speaking up for so many kids who do not:
"Give these kids a prominent place in the community and they'll show it respect. Push them aside and they'll act out..."
Dan Reed of Just Up The Pike offers one of the most powerful and compelling arguments ever written in support of skateboarders. Tony Hawk would love this.

» the case for a downtown skatepark (this time, with numbers)

Woodside Skate Spot Project Delayed

Yesterday I got confirmation from Park & Planning that construction on the Woodside Skate Spot project has been delayed. In a November 9th letter to Parks, sent as a follow-up after the meeting on November 4th, the Woodside Civic Association asked for the delay. I asked how long it's been delayed, but did not get a response.

In the email response to my question about the status of the skate spot, I also got this question and comment:
"Did you write the postings from a skateboard Mom? I don’t believe they are helping support a skatespot."
I replied saying that if any information on this blog is factually incorrect, to please let me know and I'll be happy to correct it.

But let's not change the subject here — I along with the rest of the Silver Spring skateboarding community were in no way involved with planning or designing this project. We found out about it completely by accident, when a former Silver Spring skater who now lives in West Virginia sent us a link to Park & Planning's web site. At that point I and several other skaters contacted Park & Planning, and I was asked to help to drum up support for the skate spot. But we had zero input on any decisions that were made.

I've been advocating for Silver Spring skaters for a year now, telling anyone who would listen that these kids need a legal place to skate. I contacted many people and organizations, telling them about how important skating is to these kids — how passionate they are about it, and about how strongly many of them feel about the positive impact its had on their lives. And I've also been talking about how unsafe it is for skaters to not have a legal and safe place to skate.

After all of these efforts, I was very surprised to find out that an actual skate spot was being planned in Woodside Park. And I was more than happy to do everything I could to support it.

I want so much for Silver Spring's skaters to have a legitimate skating facility. But the more I looked at the details, the more I questioned whether this particular project could resolve many of our issues — the idea of intentionally building the smallest skate spot possible in a skating community as huge as Silver Spring's, is in itself problematic.

And what I won't do, is stop posting facts and data that are completely relevant to this project, in order to further a scenario that could result in the following:
  • We get a skate spot that that allows very few skaters to skate, and then face even more aggressive enforcement of skating prohibitions elsewhere in downtown
  • We get a skate spot so tiny, and supporting so few of our skaters, that it results in intense competition over who's going to get to skate there, potentially causing fights and division in what is now a very peaceful, cohesive community
  • We get an "interim" skating facility (as Woodside Skate Spot is intended to be) only to have it snatched back from the kids if things don't work out perfectly
  • We get a skate spot with very little chance of succeeding because of issues like lack of a porta-potty (skaters tend to skate for hours and drink lots of liquids — where would they relieve themselves?)
  • We get a skate spot that becomes way to crowded to be safe, particularly for younger skaters
When someone forwarded me the letter that Woodside Civic Association sent to Parks, my initial reaction was pretty bad. My feeling was that Park & Planning couldn't possibly provide the level of details they were asking for — such as any kind of accurate projection of potential users.

But after doing some research I discovered that a number of WCA's questions actually could be answered. For instance, the question they asked about how many skaters would be able to use this skate spot — Skaters for Public Skateparks uses a very logical formula for determining how much space a single skater needs to do a number of tricks (1,500 square feet), and then they look at how many skaters can use that same space concurrently (10 skaters).

Based on that SPS formula, the 3,000 square foot Woodside Skate Spot would only support 20 skaters. And the Silver Spring skateboarding community is huge.

There are critical issues to look at when considering the amount of space required to build a successful skatepark. Many tricks that skaters do require a lot of run-up space — and many other tricks require a lot of landing space. When jumping stairs, for instance, a skater is propelled forward with so much force that it's pretty much impossible to just stop cold when landing. You need space to ride after landing. There's one skatepark that has a trash can very close to the bottom of a set of stairs, and skaters have to be very careful to not crash into that. Things like that can cause serious safety issues.

It's because of issues like these that SPS highly recommends that skaters themselves be involved with the process of planning and designing skateparks. Park & Planning is responsible for facilities for many different sports, and they can't be expected to be experts on all of them. And skateboarding is fairly new and has undergone drastic changes in the past 5 years or so. Not many people outside of skateboarding are aware of those changes, or how they've impacted skaters and skatepark design. The simple answer is to just talk to skaters.

The overarching issue here is that we need to begin to engage young people in the process of community building. It's through engagement that we can begin to find out what they really need, rather than making assumptions about what we think they need. And it's through engagement alone that we can have a positive influence, and that they begin to feel like valued members of our community.

For a very long time now, skateboarders in Silver Spring have felt marginalized, which creates alienation — and nothing good ever comes from that.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Huge Thank You to Dan Reed at Just Up The Pike

After a year of desperately trying (and mostly failing) to get community leaders to pay attention to the issues our skateboarding youth face in Silver Spring, I am deeply and profoundly grateful and thankful for the following 'tweets' posted by Dan Reed of Just Up The Pike on his Twitter account:
"if you haven't followed @ssskaters or skateboard mom's blog, you should #dtss #silverspring"
and this:
"after seeing this I'm convinced #dtss & #silverspring could use a full-on skatepark, not just a skate spot: @ssskaters"
Just Up The Pike is the most popular blog that covers Silver Spring (its focus is on East County), and while I've had trouble getting many current leaders to pay attention to these issues, Dan Reed is one of our future leaders, and he is paying attention.

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Dozens" of Skaters To Be Cleared From Downtown Streets?

Photo by Jose Reyes
From the Gazette (bolding emphasis is mine):
The county parks department plans to build a skate spot in the downtown Silver Spring neighborhood of Woodside Urban Park in a move that could take dozens of young skateboarders off the busy streets of downtown Silver Spring and put them in the neighboring park instead.
How's that supposed to happen with a 3,000 square foot skate spot that can only support 20 skaters?

And where will all the rest of Silver Spring's skaters go? If past is prologue, they're going to continue skating the same spots they've been skating for years, and not much will change. What is likely to change, however, is that the number of kids who skateboard in Silver Spring, which has risen dramatically over the past few years, is going to continue to rise — at least according to the National Sporting Goods Association (pdf):
Skateboarding 10-Year Winner in U.S. Sports Participation Growth

2008 - MOUNT PROSPECT, IL – Among sports and recreation activities that grew more than 15% the past 10 years, skateboarding led the way with a 74.1% growth, according to the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA). Data contained in NSGA's annual "Sports Participation – Series I and II" reports, which are now available, shows skateboarding grew from 5.8 million to 10.1 million participants between 1998 and 2007. Target shooting had the second highest 10-year growth, 63.3% to 20.9 million participants.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Explosion of Extreme Sport"

From the book Social Issues in Sport (Ronald B. Woods, 2007):
Explosion of Extreme Sport

Recent studies by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) and the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) show a dramatic shift in participation among teens and preteens from mainstream sports such as basketball and football to extreme or action sports. Since 1990, participation in football, baseball, and basketball among 6- to 17-year-olds is down more than 30%, while participation in action sports like snowboarding, skateboarding, and in-line skating is up in excess of 600% (SGMA 2005a).

Woodside Skate Spot Will Support 20 Skaters

Skaters for Public Skateparks says that 1,500 square feet of space can support 10 skaters, and the Department of Parks is planning for a 3,000 square foot park in Woodside.

If part of the intention in building the Woodside Skate Spot is to "clear downtown Silver Spring streets" as a recent Gazette article suggests — that's unlikely to happen with a skate spot that can only support 20 skaters, in a community that has about 100 avid skateboarders.

From the SPS presentation, 10 Things That Make a Skatepark Great, here's the right way to plan the size of a skatepark:


Wednesday, November 18, 2009


It was foolishness, even when viewed from a purely business perspective, to kick skateboarders out of lower Ellsworth Drive. And I wonder what that decision has cost this area, purely in terms of dollars and cents.

The Discovery ledge, built with handmade Jerusalem marble, in perfect condition before skaters were kicked off of Ellsworth, was trashed. How much did it cost to rebuild that? It now has big, ugly bumps on it — anti-skating devices, I'm sure. And how much other property was trashed after we lost Ellsworth?

In Baltimore, skaters walked around the city taking pictures of all of the skateboard-related damage, which city leaders later estimated to have cost about $1 million. That convinced the city the most cost-effective thing to do would be to just go ahead and build a real skate park.

One week after Ellsworth was shut down, I spoke with Gary Stith who was then head of the Silver Spring Regional Office. He told me he was trying to identify a new location for skaters, and that within two weeks from that point we were likely to have a new spot. It's almost a year later. No new spot.

And it's 5 years later than the day Silver Spring skater Lisa Jaeggi organized a skate-protest, encouraging skaters to take back Ellsworth, since it is, after all, public space.

While the cost of skateboard-related property damage is likely very high, the real cost to this town has nothing to do with money, and it has everything to do with losing the trust of so many kids in this community, and them losing the feeling of being a part of this community, when something so incredibly important to them was taken away without a second thought.

We are now told we'll be getting a "skate spot" in Woodside Park. But the Woodside Civic Association isn't happy with the information they've been given and they're asking for construction to be delayed until the Spring of 2010. That means if we do get it, we'll have yet another summer with no legal place to skate. And if it is built, it will only be a 3,000 square foot park.

At the meeting on November 4th a rep from the Parks Department told us their intention was to design the smallest park possible, in order to minimize the impact on the community. They said that they asked a skatepark company how small they could go, and still have a viable park.

So we're looking at the possibility of getting a tiny "skate spot" (not an actual skatepark), when there are approximately 100 skateboarders who skate in Silver Spring. And since skateboarding is the fastest growing sport in America, as teens are trending away from team sports and towards action sports, that number is likely to grow significantly.

According to Skaters for Public Skateparks, the organization for skatepark-related data, 1,500 square feet of skatepark space can support 10 skaters. That means the planned Woodside Skate Spot can be expected to support no more than 20 skaters. And I can tell you from lots of experience skating a 6,500 square foot park, that 20 skaters in a 3,000 square foot park will be seriously pushing it.

So if the intention is to give even half of the local skaters a place to skate — the Woodside Skate Spot isn't going to do that.

And each day that we continue this game of cat and mouse, of 'chase the skaters' from one illegal spot to the next, it costs this town more — more money because of property damage, and in more kids in our community feeling alienated and marginalized, and feeling like the adults in this community do not care about their needs.

Was the decision to shut down Ellsworth really worth all that?

Skateboarding in Congress AND the White House

So...Tony Hawk can skateboard in the White House, and they're skating in the halls of Congress...but we can't skateboard in Silver Spring? (Skating starts at 5:20 in the video.)

The Colbert Report
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Something Fishy Going On...

Why is it that people I don't even like or talk to, are suddenly trying to "help" and "encourage" me to push for the Woodside Skate Spot? Sending me secretive spy messages with information from the Woodside listserve, and making sure I know about various meetings, and sharing strategy tips, when these very same people won't personally speak up for skaters themselves?

To you listserve-Mata Haris — I don't trust you. Since you claim to care about these kids...then man up, or woman up, and SPEAK up. And quit the skullduggery, because right now you're not helping anyone.

Let the Skateboarders Skate

On Friday evening I sent an email to Jennifer Nettles, Property Manager of DTSS, and Mike Petty, Head of Security, asking what legal basis they're using for kicking out skateboarders on Ellsworth Drive. We previously blogged about the Gazette quoting Nettles saying that Ellsworth Drive is public space, with Paul Liquorie of MCPD confirming that. And since it is public space, DTSS Security needs a legal basis for telling people they can't skateboard on that street.

While the main part of Ellsworth Drive is far from an ideal place to skate, and while we know that DTSS management doesn't want skating going on there, those facts don't provide justification for kicking skaters out, and for telling anyone they can't skate there.

I have often attempted to argue this point with DTSS Security Guards, who always resorted to telling me "we have a no-skateboarding sign!" But that's incredibly weak. Anyone can post a no-skateboarding sign...on private property. But we're talking about PUBLIC property here. Property owned and governed by Montgomery County, and subject to Montgomery County and Maryland laws.

What laws are you using to tell me and other skaters that we can't skate there? I think that's a very reasonable question. I'm still waiting for an answer.

And that no-skateboarding sign? It's gone. So if DTSS Security can longer point to a sign as justification for kicking skaters out, what justification are they going to use now?

Back in 2005 Gandhi Brigade leader Richard Jaeggi wrote about DTSS' rigorous enforcement of the skateboarding prohibition, and his daughter Lisa Jaeggi, a skateboarder herself, made a short film of a skate-protest to encourage skaters to stand up for their rights" and skate on Ellsworth.

Here's what Richard said in the Takoma Voice:
Nowhere in Silver Spring is the prohibition of skateboards more rigorously enforced than in the heart of Silver Sprung on Ellsworth Drive. White shirt security guards, red shirt Urban Crewmembers, and brown shirt Montgomery County officers are vigilant in their goal of making the town safe from skateboarding teens.
While Lisa Jaeggi's skate-protest may have lessened the heat momentarily, I have personally been harassed and kicked out of Ellsworth many times over the course of the past year. Same street, same rigorous enforcement of the same suspect policy.

I can't make anyone answer an email, and they can ignore my question if they want to. But they can't ignore this issue. And without a legal basis for prohibiting skateboarding, DTSS Security is going to have to cut the crap, and let the skateboarders skate.

Monday, November 16, 2009

From 2005 to 2009: Same As It Ever Was

Ineteresting. Richard Jaeggi is the first community leader I approached back in early 2008 when the Downtown Silver Spring Shopping District along with the Silver Spring Regional Office, stopped allowing skateboarding on lower Ellsworth Drive. I didn't get a lot of support, other than him strongly encouraging me to get skaters involved with Mixed Unity.

After attending my first Mixed Unity meeting, I told Richard I didn't believe I'd be able to interest skaters in those meetings. Our needs were more immediate — we had just lost the one legal place for skateboarders to skate in all of downtown Silver Spring.

I knew that skaters, almost all teens and many of them very young, would be roaming the streets of downtown in search of places to skate. I did not believe then nor do I believe now, that it's safe for them to do that. And I didn't believe they should have to attend meetings or be involved with planning a concert in order to get help and support in addressing such a pressing, immediate need.

The one thing — the only thing I was looking for then, was for someone in this community with a voice to have our backs and help us get skating back on Ellsworth Drive. Or at the very least, to help us to get an alternative location, particularly so that skaters wouldn't have to spend the entire summer without a legal place to skate.

Since that time, many of our skaters have reported being harassed and even physically attacked by security guards, and they've run into all kinds of safety issues, like when a skater was recently body-slammed to the ground near the Metro Station by a man carrying a fake badge and pretending to be a cop.

What I had no clue about when I went to Richard about skating on Ellsworth Drive, was just how much work he and his kids had done to speak up for skaters' rights in downtown. They did great work back then — amazing work. And just like his kids and other skaters in Silver Spring needed his support back then, they continue to need it today — not just for a tiny skate spot in Woodside Park, where the 100 or so Silver Spring skaters can't possibly all skate (and which the Woodside Civic Association has asked to have delayed) — but for the same thing he and Lisa fought for back in 2005, the right to skate on Ellsworth Drive, and any other public space in Silver Spring.

I just found the minutes for a Citizens Advisory Board meeting from April 2005, in which Richard Jaeggi spoke passionately about the need for skaters to have a skating facility in Silver Spring. He and his daughter Lisa did a video presentation of a skate-protest they staged in DTSS. The skate-protest set out to take back Ellsworth Drive, a public street, from a private company which had been denying kids the right to skateboard there.

Following are some of Richard's comments in support of skateboarding in Silver Spring.
Skateboard Park Video Presentation

Richard Jaeggi presented a video of his daughter's promotional piece focusing on the need for a Skateboard Park in downtown Silver Spring as follows:
  • Mr. Jaeggi stated that the presentation was not taking any positions on the location but the need for a Skateboard Park.
  • His daughter had interviewed skaters, security guards, businesses, Glenn Kreger at Park and Planning, and Gary Stith, Director of the Silver Spring Regional Center, to compile the presentation you are about to see.
    Skateboarders in the video said:
  • Skateboarders are always being kicked out of places they skate. They look at skating as part of their life, not just a fad. It’s their way of experiencing freedom. “You can do what you want, when you want and how you want while skating. It‘s better than video games. You get to be outdoors, getting fresh air and be with friends.” Most skaters skate every day if they can.
Following are some of the comments that came after that presentation.
Discussion: Richard Jaeggi concludes that: We should make a commitment; these kids spend a lot of money in the downtown. Let's not just focus on adult needs. It's a really good chance to do something for the kids. There is a lot of energy here and it's a great way for the next generation of Silver Springer's to get inoculated into the County process. There are a lot of reasons not to do certain things, but I would encourage us to find a solution and a site that's good for neighbors and for Silver Spring.
Marilyn Seitz: I don't see many things for children to do. We need a place for them to go. Back when I was a kid a lot of churches had teen nights. We had places to go and they were safe. There are not many places for them to go.
Korey Hartwich: Only commercial places like movies and of course kids don’t have that much money so they don’t get to go to the movies that often. There are really not that many places to go.

The Decisions We Make

The decisions we make have consequences, and because there are no legal places to skate in all of downtown Silver Spring, skaters are essentially criminalized for doing something completely innocent and something that keeps them active and healthy. Large numbers of teens are struggling with obesity, depression, and inactivity — 16% of American teens are obese, about 20% of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood, and 65% don't meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity. But skaters tend to pursue their sport at every opportunity, skaters are happy when they're skating, and skateboarding provides them a ready group of friends and thriving social lives.

As 14 y.o. Chris "PacMan" Santis said at a recent meeting, regarding the people he skates with — "we're family". That's how a lot of skaters feel about each other. Skateboarders exemplify so many of the traits we should be encouraging in kids. They don't care about what race other skaters are. They don't care about what their backgrounds or religions are, or what neighborhoods they come from, or whether they're underprivileged or wealthy.

While many people who don't skate seem to think of it as a very solitary activity, it's anything but that. The saddest sight for me to see is a lone skater roaming the streets in search of a group to skate with.

On my Facebook status I recently posted "skateboarding = happiness". Quite a few skaters clicked the "like" button because that's how many of them feel. Is it really that difficult to allow these kids to do something that makes them so happy? Is it really that difficult to choose to help them and not harass them?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

VIDEO: Ellsworth Drive in DTSS is Public Space

PacMan and Skateboard Mom skating on Ellsworth Drive. Will DTSS security chase us out like they usually do? Watch the video to find out. (Thanks to Tony Cao for filming.)

Who Knew? Richard Jaeggi Proved My Point In 2005

skateboarding on Ellsworth DriveIn September 2005, Richard Jaeggi who is currently leader of Gandhi Brigade and an adult supervisor of Mixed Unity, wrote an article for the Takoma Voice in his column Big Acorn...addressing exactly the same issue Silver Spring skateboarders are struggling with today.

Richard's kids all skateboard, and in this article he explains how his daughter Lisa researched the issues and found this:
"In her research my daughter discovered that the eastern portion of Ellsworth Drive, the part in front of City Place, was not covered by the lease agreement. One third of the street remained public and was presumably governed by the public laws of Montgomery County — and, it seemed, still subject to the First Amendment. Despite their policy, security guards had no jurisdiction to enforce PFA rules on a public street."
Now I don't know what the managers of DTSS have been telling their security staff because they sure seem to think they DO have the right to restrict peoples' rights on ALL of Ellsworth Drive in DTSS. Somebody needs to send them a memo because I and virtually every skater I know has been harassed and chased off of Ellsworth Drive for skating.

I've been skateboarding for a year now and the harassment started even before DTSS and the Silver Spring Regional Office stopped allowing skateboarding on the lower part of Ellsworth — where DTSS security clearly has no jurisdiction and no right to complain about anything.

But even on the main part of Ellsworth, Richard's kids, Lisa, Daniel, and Isaac, staged a skate-protest way back in 2005, and the security guards who had been aggressively chasing out skateboarders, did absolutely nothing. Why? Because they have no legal right to:
"Lisa and my sons, Daniel and Isaac, concocted a plan to test this theory. On Saturday morning skateboarders began to converge on our house. After feeding them pancakes and orange juice, Lisa gathered the motley crew of about fifteen teens in a circle on the driveway for a pep talk. She told them that this was about their right to stand up and contest something that was unfair. She made them promise to maintain discipline: to be respectful and to let her do the talking if security guards or police confronted them. In high spirits and ready for anything, they set off on their skateboards for their rendezvous with destiny uncertain how this would all play out.

I had volunteered to be their cameraman so I had an insider-outsider perspective on the day. I taped them as they crossed Fenton from the east; skateboards in hand, they were at the same time giddy, anxious, and determined. When they reached the forbidden Silver Sprung they smoothly dropped their boards on to the street and one-by-one proceeded to skate single file around the perimeter of the road-- being careful to avoid the western part of Ellsworth.

Personal experience had prepared each of them for the worst: a stern reprimand with threats of tougher consequences for future disobedience. Nothing had prepared them for what actually happened. The security guards said nothing and did nothing. Wordlessly they did the slow, determined cop-walk past the growing ranks of skateboarding teens."

The drums of Ellsworth — A protest becomes a party

Saturday, November 14, 2009

ALL Of Ellsworth Drive Is Public Space

Don't take my word for it. Jennifer Nettles, the Downtown Silver Spring Property Manager, as well as Paul Liquorie of the Montgomery County Police Third District, said so. From the Gazette (bolding emphasis is mine):
Both Nettles and Liquorie said because Ellsworth Drive has been deemed a public street – Peterson leases the property from the county – residents have all their First Amendment rights and a curfew would not be possible.
"We have to maintain First Amendment rights," Nettles said.
In other words, DTSS can't make up its own laws. They can't restrict behavior that is legal and lawful on any other county street.

Nettles' comments were made in response to community demands for a teen curfew following the melee of March 7th, 2009. In this article, Nettles and Liquorie confirmed what skaters have been saying all along — that Ellsworth Drive is not private property and as such, The Peterson Companies (owners of DTSS) cannot restrict anyone's rights.

Since Nettles is fully aware of the rights of citizens on Ellsworth Drive, why is it that for years, DTSS has essentially been creating and imposing its own laws, and restricting the rights of skaters? Montgomery County doesn't have an anti-skateboarding ordinance, and since both Nettles and Montgomery County Police confirmed that Ellsworth Drive is public property, it's clear that skaters have never been involved in unlawful activity while skateboarding there.

And yet, skaters have repeatedly been harassed and chased off of Ellsworth Drive by the DTSS "courtesy officers" who seem to think they're cops with the right to restrict completely legal and peaceful actions.

The only Maryland laws related to skateboarding have to do with young skaters wearing helmets. Oh yeah, and skaters can't attach themselves to any vehicles while riding.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Oh, and About Taking Ellsworth Away From Skaters...

How is it that a PRIVATE company, the Downtown Silver Spring Shopping District, gets to control a PUBLIC street, and tell skateboarders they can't skate there?

When skaters were allowed to skate the lower part of Ellsworth Drive (below Fenton Street), we ONLY skated in the street -- on the pavement, which is absolutely not owned by DTSS. That's Montgomery County property, and I don't understand how a for-profit company is allowed to make decisions about how it's used.

Some years ago a Silver Spring skater named Lisa Jaeggi staged a skate-protest to address just this issue. To my knowledge, no one has ever answered the questions she asked back then -- why is a private company telling members of the community what to do on public property?

All They Wanna Do Is Skate

PhotobucketWoodside says they're not against skateboarders...while looking for every possible reason to keep skaters out of Woodside Park. DTSS says they support skaters...while refusing to give even an inch to allow skateboarders to skate.

I ran into a bunch of skaters tonight, and they were SO frustrated -- getting kicked out from one spot after another. If DTSS supports skaters so much, why is it that kids can't even skate the alley shown in this photo? No one uses it on Friday nights. There are no deliveries going on.

People can say they don't hate skaters, and they can say they support skaters. But your actions speak louder. And the actions of many in this community shows that these kids, who are part of this community, and who want one simple thing -- a place to skate where they won't be kicked out, are just not important.

Say what you want -- these kids aren't buying it. They know what's up.

POWERFUL VIDEO: Skateboarding as a Positive Force

Incredible video by Nik Strong-Cvetich on skateboarding in Uganda and Nicaragua.

build. from Nik Strong-Cvetich on Vimeo.

Silver Spring Skaters Organizing

It's an amazing thing to see skateboarders in Silver Spring starting to organize and find ways to express their thoughts and their creative energy. There's so much creativity among them. Some of the kids have started their own clothing company, a couple of groups have started their own skate teams, and as I've mentioned before, 30 skaters showed up for the meeting about the Woodside Skate Spot.

These kids were so motivated to stand up for their need for a skate spot that they got to the meeting place before everyone else. They met up at Woodside Park at 5:30...even though the meeting was scheduled for 7:00. There were so many skaters there that we took up half the seats in Park & Planning's auditorium.

These kids hate to sit still. But they did that, and they were quiet and polite throughout the entire hour-and-a-half meeting. They might have reacted badly to some of the comments that were made, but that didn't happen.

For quite some time after we lost the skating spot on the lower part of Ellsworth, many of us were kind of dazed and confused, not knowing what to do or how we could communicate our needs, or who to talk to. But we've gotten past that. We're now organized, energized, and focused, and kids are standing up and speaking up for their right to skate.

We now have this blog, a Facebook Fan Page (we got 81 fans in only 3 days), a Facebook Group, a YouTube Channel, and we're also on Twitter. Not too bad for a bunch of kids and a few adults, drawn together by one thing -- our love for skateboarding.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ironies and Skateboarding

Double Trouble in Woodside
Amazing young skaters in Woodside Park
How ironic it is that we tell kids we don't want them to drink or use drugs, while making it impossible for them to do the things that keep them away from those influences.

Skateboarding keeps kids healthy, active, and engaged in the pursuit of excellence. It teaches them courage, committment, and cooperation. Why all the negativity?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Woodside Skate Spot: Is it On?

The Penguin says it's on. She says that Parks says so. But in the comments section of the blog post, Citizens Advisory Board member Casey Anderson said not so fast, and that "the parks department staff indicated that they will not move forward if the neighboring residents oppose it." She also references a letter that Woodside Civic Association sent to Parks on November 9th, "...expressing our opposition until we can get answers to our concerns about how the facility will be designed and implemented."

I've seen that letter. It's scary. It's a 5 page document with requests for a level of detail that Parks can't possibly provide. There are also incorrect assumptions as well as demands for information that WCA could easily have gotten at the November 4th meeting.

Here's one incorrect assumption, from their letter (emphasis is mine):

6. Many Woodside residents feel this proposal is an attempt to move teenagers from downtown to the neighborhood. There was an interim skating facility right on Ellsworth near City Place prior to the commencement of the 2nd phase of the Downtown Silver Spring project. Skateboarders want to be where the action is. A Parks representative incorrectly identified the Woodside Park as being located within the CBD. The Silver Spring Urban District boundary ends at Spring Street. Why is there not a focus on finding a location for this in the CBD?
Yes, skateboarders DO want to be where the action is -- skateboarding action. One of the skateparks most favored by skateboarders, is frequented by almost no one who doesn't skate. It's situated near railroad tracks, warehouses, and several homes. But there is no action going on there other than skateboarding. We love it there. We don't need any more action.

Regarding information that could easily have been obtained at the November 4th meeting (or immediately after), WCA's letter brought up the question of whether or not there would be adult supervision at the park:

Please provide information on the experience at other facilities along with any contact information you may have for people familiar with their operations or for parents of skaters or adult skaters who may be willing to monitor and supervise skating activity at the park. information for people familiar with other skating facilities and their operations. That would be me, and at least two of the other adult skaters who were present at that meeting. I would have been happy to answer any questions about that and to give my contact information to anyone who asked. No one asked.

I'm an adult skater and I've been a Silver Spring mom for 20 years. I stated clearly (at least twice), my intention to be very present at the skatepark. I even stated that I would love to be hired as a manager of the park. (And lest anyone think I'm pushing for this park so I can get a paycheck out of it), I emphasized that it doesn't matter who they hire, but that it might be a good idea for the park to have an on-site manager. With neighbors who are this fearful of having skateboarders in their community, it just seems like a logical thing to do.

Two of the other adult skaters at that meeting are extremely dedicated to skateboarding and skateboarders, and they've both been skating for many years. The three of us know virtually all of the local skaters, and as I mentioned, we all plan to spend a lot of time at that park.

Those guys have so much experience between them that there is no question about skatepark operations they can't answer. When I spoke at the meeting I pointed them out as examples of other adult skaters who would be involved with the park. One of them, Jimmy Pelletier, (who's been skating for 20 years), got up and spoke in response to comments from a Woodside resident. But other than a question about Freedom Plaza (which is not a skatepark), I'm not aware of any Woodside residents directing any questions to him, either during or after the meeting.

WCA says that Parks didn't answer many of their questions at the November 4th meeting. I'm saying many of their questions were never even asked. Had they been asked, there were people there who would have been happy to answer them.

Seriously? A Dog Park?

From the Woodside Civic Association's 11/9 letter to the Montgomery County Department of Parks:
7. Is there any documentation that the need/demand for skate parks is greater than, for example, dog parks or other uses?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Banned in Silver Spring


The fight for a legitimate skate spot in Silver Spring has been going on for years. But for an entire year now, there have been NO legal places to skate anywhere in downtown Silver Spring. Since the Silver Spring Regional Office, along with the management of the Downtown Silver Spring shopping district (DTSS) banned skateboarders from the lower part of Ellsworth drive last year, we have not had a single place to skate where we don't get kicked out by police and/or security guards.

The reason they banned us from Ellsworth? Because some of the businesses said their sales were dropping off. Uh...that tends to happen when a recession hits. So they blamed the kids who actually brought more people to that area, for the drop in sales the recession caused.

Before they suddenly stopped blocking traffic for skateboarding, neither the Regional Office or DTSS made any attempts to reach out to skaters...there were no conversations, no attempts to resolve any potential problems. And the fact is, there never were any problems. No fights. No arguments. No issues that could not have easily been resolved, particularly in light of the fact that an adult (me) was skating there every week and could have worked with the kids to correct any behavior issues if they were going on.

There are about 100 kids (and some adults) who skateboard in this area. And without a legal place to skate, kids are regularly jacked up by over-zealous security guards who break the law by attacking skaters and sometimes, attempting to 'confiscate' (read: steal) their skateboards. And skaters are much more vulnerable to injuries, as 50% of skateboarding trauma result from skating on irregular ground (read: jacked-up, broken sidewalks and stairs.)

A week after Ellsworth was closed off to skaters, I spoke with Gary Stith who was then the head of the Silver Spring Regional Office. I told him that as of that week, the Discovery property had become a skatepark because of the Regional Office and DTSS' decision to no longer allow skateboarding on Ellsworth. And not only Discovery, but many other properties around downtown Silver Spring were suddenly being skated, because skaters had nowhere else to go.

Gary told me he'd be looking into an alternative place to skate, and that an area behind Whole Foods was a possibility. I followed up repeatedly but a new spot never materialized.

During some of my many meetings and conversations with Jennifer Nettles and Lillian Buie of DTSS, I was also told they'd be trying to identify a new place to skate. In February of '09, Lillian Buie walked me to an alley beside the DTSS security office and told me skating would be allowed there. But she cautioned me about the delivery trucks that would also be regularly using that alley.

None of the skaters were interested in being hit by a truck while skateboarding, so almost none of us skated there. But I did. And yet, within two weeks of being told directly by Lillian Buie, who is the Guest Relations Director of DTSS, that we could skate that area, security guards kicked me out -- me and anyone who skated there.

Jennifer Nettles told me she was looking into the possiblity of us skating the pavement between Whole Foods and Hollywood Video. Never happened.

So for an entire year, skateboarders in Silver Spring, many of whom are as young as 12 and 13, have had no choice but to skate in unsafe and illegal spots. Well, we could give up skateboarding. But that's not happening.

On November 6th, 30 skateboarders showed up for a meeting with the Department of Parks and Woodside residents to discuss the promised Woodside Skate Spot. It's amazing that 30 skaters showed up, considering that it was a school night and not all of the kids even knew how they'd be getting home. But our frustration is just that deep -- we have been kicked out and marginalized by the powers that be for far too long.

At the Woodside skate spot meeting, Deputy Director of the Department of Parks commended the kids on their behavior -- they were quiet and polite during the entire meeting. A Park Police officer, Lauren McNeill, personally thanked one of the skaters for speaking so eloquently about how skateboarding changed his life, when he was surrounded by negative influences that were threatening to mess up his life. That kid is 14, but spoke with such insight and honesty, he seemed much, much older.

How ironic it is that our desire to engage in such a positive activity draws such disregard for us, when 16% of American adolescents are obese, and 65% of our kids aren't meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity, and when the average American kid is glued to a TV for 3 hours a night on school nights.

How ironic it is to be treated so badly for doing something so innocent, and so beneficial, and when everyone claims to care about this community's kids. No they don't. Our fight proves that.

After meeting with the Department of Parks and the Woodside neighbors about the planned skate spot, a little birdie informed me that the neighbors considered that meeting to be one of the worst attempts at outreach they had seen. I was informed that they would be presenting Parks with a bunch of questions, and asking for a delay in construction.

I just saw the Woodside Civic Association's letter to Parks, and after reading it, I have to wonder if this isn't just a request to delay the project, but an attempt to kill it. I mean, in their letter they questioned what data the Department of Parks used to determine that a skatepark would be the best use of that space, as opposed to, say, a dog park. Seriously? The needs of dogs are part of this discussion when teens are in desperate need of a safe place to skate?

The level of data they're demanding from Parks, is impossible to provide. And they won't give their support to this project without that data.

Thanks, Woodside. I can't say I'm surprised.