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?

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