Thursday, December 3, 2009

Skateboarding Timeline: How Silver Spring's Kids Were Let Down [UPDATED]

(Update appears at the end of this post — the last 2 items in the timeline.)

Teens have been speaking up very clearly, and for a very long time, about what they want and need. And yet, all they've gotten so far is broken promises.

In 2005 the county parks department had plans to build a 14,000 square foot skatepark in Fenton Gateway Park. While the 2000 Sector Plan for the Central Business District calls for downtown to have a skatepark, it seems the real impetus for this project came from Lisa Jaeggi and her now-famous No No Skateboarding, the short film shot by her father, Richard Jaeggi, protesting the prohibition of skateboarding by a private company (DTSS), on a public street (Ellsworth Drive.)

But there was no support for the skatepark in Fenton Gateway Park by the surrounding community, and plans were allowed to "quietly die." After that, the county did address the lack of a legal place to skateboard by giving skaters lower Ellsworth, blocking traffic and allowing skateboarding there on weekends.

One day in January 2009, skateboarders showed up at their beloved skate spot on Ellsworth, to find that it no longer existed. Without a word of warning to skaters, the one place in all of downtown where skaters could skate and not get kicked out, was suddenly gone. From then until now skaters in and around the the Central Business District, which is supposed to have a skatepark, have gotten nothing but promises for a new spot (all broken), and harassment from DTSS and various other security guards in the area.

In the 2000 Sector Plan for the CBD, the call for a skatepark acknowledged the popularity of East of Maui, the "interim" skatepark that was once downtown, and also addressed the importance of providing a legitimate skating facility in order to protect the redevelopment areas from being damaged by skaters.

Since 2000, the entire country has seen an explosion of growth in extreme sports, most of all skateboarding, while the numbers for all team sports are down. Skaters for Public Skateparks says the national average of youth that skate is 16%, and of those, 33% are daily skaters. In a ten year study the National Association of Sporting Goods Manufacturers said that among sports that grew by at least 15%, skateboarding beat them all — growing more than 74%.

Today, skateboarding is a multi-billion dollar industry.

If we were to reprise Lisa Jaeggi's film today, it would look quite a bit different from No No Skateboarding — the skaters in her video appear to be almost all white, while the vast majority of Silver Spring skaters today are minorities — many of them with limited options for recreation.

Here's a quick timeline of skateboarding-related events in Silver Spring.

  • East of Maui closed — The East of Maui Skatepark closed to make way for the downtown redevelopment. It's owner Dave Loop told me it was always meant to be "interim" but that he was able to keep it open longer than expected. (Sadly, all of the ramps and equipment were destroyed when the skatepark closed.)
  • March 2005 Youth not discussed — In a Citizens Advisory Board meeting, Impact Silver Spring's leader Frankie Blackburn said "I was on the Redevelopment Committee and we never once discussed incorporating youth in downtown."
  • 2006 Silver Spring skateboarder killed — 44 year old Bob Wooldrige was hit by a car and killed while skateboarding on a Silver Spring neighborhood street.
  • 2006 Lower Ellsworth opens to skaters — The county started blocking traffic for skateboarders on the lower portion of Ellsworth Drive on weekends — apparently to give skaters something after plans for the skatepark in Fenton Gateway Park died.
  • January 2009 Lower Ellsworth closed to skaters — The management of DTSS and the Silver Spring Regional Office stopped blocking traffic for skaters, closing lower Ellsworth as a skating spot — the only legal skateboarding spot in downtown Silver Spring. Gary Stith told me the reason for ending skateboarding on Ellsworth was because "businesses complained."
  • January 2009 Promise of a new skate spot — Shortly after Ellsworth was closed to skateboarders — I was told by Gary Stith that he was trying to get us a new skate spot in an area behind Whole Foods, and that we were likely to have that within a couple of weeks. Never happened.
  • January 2009 Seeking support from Richard Jaeggi — I called Richard Jaeggi asking for help to get skating back on Ellsworth, or an alternative location. Richard told me he was too busy planning the March 7th Mixed Unity concert, and that was all he could focus on. (He told me he had tried to bring skaters into Mixed Unity but failed, and asked me to bring them in. But I attended a few meetings and after the first, I told him I didn't think they'd be interested since all I saw was concert planning. The skaters just wanted a place to skate.)
  • February 2009 DTSS gives us, then takes back skate spot — I was told by Lillian Buie, DTSS Guest Relations Director, that we could have the alley beside the DTSS security office. She took me to the alley to show me the area. We WERE allowed to skate there...for all of two weeks, before it was taken away and they started kicking us out.
  • May 2009 Another supposed skate spot — We were told by Jennifer Nettles, Property Manager of DTSS, that she was working on getting us the pavement between Whole Foods and Hollywood Video. Never happened.
  • May 2009 Skateboarding event that never happened — 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.)
  • July 2009 A supposed skatepark on library property — 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.
  • July 2009 No response from Citizens Advisory Committee — Following DTSS Property Manager's request, Lillian Buie made an email introduction with me and a Citizens Advisory Board member, identifying me as someone who was very involved with local skaters and who knows a lot about their needs. I sent 3 long emails to that Advisory Board member — not one of them got a response.
  • October 2009 Skaters find out about Woodside plans — Former Silver Spring skater Mike Fitzgerald, who came with me to the first meeting with DTSS on the planned skateboarding event, (and who now lives in West Virginia), informed me of the planned skate spot for Woodside Urban Park. I immediately set up a Facebook Group and started organizing skaters to support it.
  • November 4th, 2009 Woodside Skate Spot meeting — We were supposedly going to have a tiny "skate spot" (3,000 square feet) 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.
  • November 25, 2009 SPS weighs in — In a comment posted to Dan's blog, Skaters for Public Skateparks Publishing Director Peter Whitley, thanks Dan for using the SPS data exactly as it was meant to be used, and points out that while "budget-minded bureaucrats" may see skate spots as "miniature skateparks", they are not, and are only meant to augment community skateparks and not to replace them.

1 comment:

  1. Directly from the Planning Board's meeting archives:

    FENTON STREET URBAN PARK: Proposed Skateboard Facility
    (Community-Based Planning, April 2005)

    The Community-Based Planning Division recommends that the existing 0.286 acre Fenton Street Urban Park be expanded to 1.3 acres in order to achieve the recommendations in the February 2000 Silver Spring Central Business District (CBD) Sector Plan, including the recommendation that a site be identified within the CBD for a replacement skateboard park.

    1. Address the demand for a skateboard facility in Silver Spring as demonstrated by the popularity of the interim facility.

    2. Provide recreational opportunities for people in different age groups with varying interests (i.e., augment the facilities at Jesup Blair Park and the planned ice rink at Veterans Plaza).

    3. Provide an appropriate site for skateboarding in the downtown to discourage skateboarders from damaging public spaces in the new revitalization projects.

    4. Create a facility that will be an asset to the CBD and draw people to the downtown.
    5. Create an attractive gateway to the Silver Spring CBD.

    Under 'Sector Plan Guidance'


    With regard to a skateboard facility, the Sector Plan describes the growing demand for such a facility at length on pages 129-30 and recommends that a site be found for a facility to replace the temporary skate park that was located in the Core; this recommendation is repeated on pages 134 and 148. The Sector Plan recommends "considering sites throughout the CBD for the relocated park, including under-used parking garages, the Ripley District, and South Silver Spring." (p. 129)

    The Sector Plan also provides guidance with regard to Fenton Gateway Park. The Plan notes that the existing 0.2 acre park "is an under-used park with the potential to become an anchor and gateway that improves the overall image of the community." (p.129) The Sector Plan recommends that the park be expanded through the acquisition of private property--a process which began in 2002--and notes that the Fenton Street/Philadelphia Avenue intersection may need to be redesigned as part of the gateway park.


    Size Criteria
    Size: Staff searched for sites that were between one and 1.5 acres in size, or capable of expansion to that size. This is big enough to accommodate a 14,000 s.f. skateboard facility, a limited amount of parking and sufficient landscaping to make the facility attractive and provide a buffer if necessary.


    Also see document titled Addendum to the

    April 2008 Master Plan Status Report

    Vision Division April 2009

    This document lists the status of various projects in the Master Plan, including "Replace Interim Skateboard Facility" (under Parks and Recreation.) The status: "No progress to date."

    A screenshot of this document is available here, the actual document is available here.