Friday, December 4, 2009

Long Story Short

The Montgomery County Planning Board's Sector Plan for the Silver Spring Central Business District calls for a downtown skatepark. The Sector Plan, created in 2000, acknowledges the popularity of East of Maui, a former downtown skatepark that was built in the late 1990s and that used to sit where the Silver Plaza (the fountain, etc.) is now.

The Sector Plan also acknowledges the need for a downtown skatepark in order to reduce damage to redevelopment properties from skateboarders. It's in the county's economic interest to build a skatepark. Areas that have skateparks have much less damage to surrounding properties. We've seen this dynamic here in Silver Spring — when skaters had a legal place to skate, (and not even a skatepark but a half-block's worth of flat pavement to skate), no one skated Discovery and there was no damage to Discovery Plaza, or to it's marble ledge. Both were trashed after that skate spot was taken away. This was not done out of vengeance or a desire to destroy property. It happened because skaters had no place to go.

The East of Maui skatepark was interim from its start. It was intended as a temporary amenity to give kids downtown something to do before DTSS was fully developed. The reference in the 2008 Status Report, "replace interim skateboard facility", is specifically referring to replacing East of Maui.

Park & Planning came up with plans for a "skate spot" (too small to be called a skatepark) in Woodside Urban Park. At a November community meeting they told us that they asked a skatepark company for the smallest possible park they could build. Experts in this field say a skate spot this size can only support 20 skaters. The project has been delayed because Woodside Civic Association wants a lot of questions answered before they support it, but even if it actually does get built, The Woodside Skate Spot is also intended to be interim. So, they want to replace an interim park...with an interim park?

In 2005 parks had plans for a 14,000 square foot skatepark in Fenton Gateway Park. Our need for a real skatepark is much greater today than it was in 2005. So why are we moving backwards rather than forward? Where's the commitment to these kids — to keeping them out of trouble and helping them to engage in healthy activities?

The most important reason for building a downtown skatepark? Of the 42 US skateboarding-related fatalities in 2006 (that's about 1 per week), 40 happened outside of skateparks. Skateboarding is statistically safer than playing basketball, and the vast majority of these fatalities involved motor vehicles. And sadly, one of them happened right here in Silver Spring.

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