It’s been a while since I’ve written in my blog, which for some people is probably a good thing and for others who enjoy it, not so much. With the exception of a few issues (most notably the Madison Parking Lot project which I have already written about twice) the Borough has been relatively quiet. That is until recently with the proposal for a skate park proposal for Fourth Street. (There is going to be a meeting on February 27th at 7:00 PM in Council Chambers.)
The Borough’s endeavor of building and maintaining a skate park is a tricky one and here’s my point of view why: unfortunately, there are more than a few parallels between the skate park and the failed arts center. Like the arts center, this is an idea that has come from a “top down” and not from a grass roots “bottom up” approach which as we saw from the arts center resulted in disaster. Skateboarders– like artists– are an independent bunch which doesn’t lend as well to forming associations like, say, baseball or football. Not that there’s anything wrong with being independent-minded.
And since I’ve mentioned baseball, let’s look at that for a minute. Lansdale Little League (now known as the North Penn Baseball Association) is a worthy organization that has support from hundreds of parents, ball players, sponsors and volunteers; collectively, they do everything from cut grass, pull weeds, work the concession stand, raise money and run the organization without financial support from the Borough. It is a true grass roots effort that has been successful.
Now back to the arts center. There were no significant arts organizations that drove the arts center project. There were and are plenty of artists in the area, but there was no cohesive vision for what an arts center should be. Instead, the vision was driven by the Borough Manager at the time, and the design of the building to accommodate the arts was by all measures a complete disaster (the architect had no experience in designing for the arts). The intention to create such a venue for artists was a noble one but naive and mismanaged because there was no real demand for it. If there was, it would have been created here already.
Now onto the skate park. Like the arts center, the proposed skate park has been driven by Borough officials and not necessarily the skate boarders themselves. Of course, the skateboarders want a skate park when dangled out in front of them with no skin in the game, but the reality is that there needs to be some sort of organizational and financial commitment to this project if it is going to work. Already, there has been debate as to whether scooters and BMX bikes will be allowed. Who, in fact, will this skate park serve and who is the driving force behind this project other than Parks Recreation Committee members? Where is the Borough resident or residents that will take ownership of this project?
Continuing in the vein of whom this skate park will serve: according to publicskatepark.org, 1.7% of all youth will use a skate park. They even offer two calculations to determine the number of skateboarders in your town. One takes the total number of inhabitants in town (16,487) multiplied by .043. This makes for 709 skateboarders. The other calculation takes the number of the youth population (those under 18 years old) multiplied by .086 which according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau was 3,528. This makes for 303 skateboarders. Publicskatepark.org offers additional statistics that show that 70% of skateboarders are 18 years old and under and 77.1% are male. In all fairness, those numbers are a relatively small segment of the population. I do also understand that skateboarders from other municipalities will be welcomed to the skate park, but it will be the residents of Lansdale that pay for this park.
Now on to the current controversy regarding the skate park. The debate isn’t whether there should be one or not, but rather it is the debate as to WHERE it should go. According to the Parks and Recreation Committee and the Police Department, the best place for the skate park is in the grassy field adjoining Fourth Street Pool. There’s one big problem with this: a majority of the residents in this area, the three Council members who represent this Ward and me, the mayor, all believe that the skate park should not be built here. There are other options for placement of this skate park including Ninth Street and a new one proposed option by Councilman Rich DiGregorio and Borough resident, Rita Rubins, which is the newly acquired Freight Station property. I believe this would be a perfect spot for the skate park; it’s centrally located and it’s along the Liberty Bell Trail (which if I’m not mistaken was close to where the original proposal was slated, and it’s the reason why we received the grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in the first place).
To force the skatepark into a neighborhood where the residents don’t want it is wrong, especially when other potential locations exist. Furthermore, because there has been no groundswell or history of any organized skateboarding groups, clubs or associations, it would be my recommendation to cultivate these skateboarders into a cohesive organization of parents, skateboarders and donors that will put forth blood, sweat and tears into this project. (Additionally, the question that I also ask is this: if there is such a demand for a skatepark, why aren’t there any privately operated skateparks in the community?)
Lastly, if the only commitment to this project is from the Borough itself, it’s future looks as bright as the arts center. And if completed at the Fourth Street location, it also promises to pit one group against another group which from my point of view as the mayor is not good for Lansdale.