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.

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