Monday, July 26, 2010

WHY WE MADE THE DECISION TO PUT A “NO SKATEBOARDING” SIGN ON VETERANS PLAZA



Skateboarding on Veterans Plaza has become the subject of much heated debate. The skateboarding community has embraced the Plaza as a place to skateboard. This has created tension in our community among many of our community members. There is no easy or perfect solution to this situation. Different groups in our community have very different opinions of “what is the right thing to do”. We have listened to many voices. We have had countless conversations and sought input from all segments of the community.

Our decision may not be the perfect decision; but, hopefully, it is a decision that most community members can live with. We commit to continue dialoging with all community members wanting to do so. Some issues remain unresolved – and we want to continue working on those issues.

We want to make sure that Veterans Plaza is a place welcoming of all community members. The Plaza is a place for all to come to, to gather, to enjoy. It is our public square. All community members should feel equally comfortable and equally welcomed in this shared space.

We all agree that skateboarding is a good, healthy activity. Our skateboarding community includes some of our finest youth, adults, and children of all ages. We want our skateboarding community to embrace Veterans Plaza. However, the activity of skateboarding itself is simply not an acceptable activity on the Plaza. The same could be said for many other perfectly good, healthy activities that other community members may engage in elsewhere. The activities themselves are ok - but not on the Plaza… Again, all community members are welcome on the Plaza. However, the activities that community members engage in on the Plaza must be regulated.

The activities that community members sharing the space engage in on the Plaza should be activities that are embracing of other community members. Of course, criminal activity – or activity that is intentionally disruptive and/or destructive - has no place on our Plaza and will be dealt with expediently. (Let’s be clear: Skateboarding is neither a criminal activity nor intentionally disruptive or destructive.)

Activities that are unintentionally disruptive or destructive are more difficult to deal with, and pose a different challenge. Beyond that, even activities that claim a particular part of the Plaza for exclusive daily use by a segment of the community can create unwarranted tension among community groups with different interests.

In the short time since the Plaza opened, skateboarding on the Plaza has been viewed by some as a harmless, welcomed ‘free entertainment’. This has been evidenced by the crowds of ‘spectators’ seating around the steps of the ice-rink enjoying the skateboarders doing their thing. Others have seen it as a hindrance to their enjoyment of the Plaza because of the constant loud pounding noise of skateboards on the cement and the use of the brick and pavers areas as a runway to jump onto the ice-rink area, impeding pedestrian flow. Many skateboarders have respected this and have limited their skateboarding to the ice-rink area. However, not all skateboarders have embraced this limitation.

An unfortunate unintentional consequence of skateboarding on the Plaza is the physical damage being caused to the facility. Skateboarding on the Plaza has –unintentionally - caused damage to the handrails; has already begun to wear down the wooden benches; and have chipped away some of the concrete steps. We are sure that it is not the intent of the skateboarders to cause this damage. Yet, allowing the activity of skateboarding everywhere on the Plaza inevitably leads to damage of certain parts of the facility. Most skateboarders have respected staying away from the rails and benches. However, it is simply impossible to monitor or regulate this on an on-going basis, or get this message to all new skateboarders consistently in time to avoid this unintended damage.

The safety of the skateboarders is another issue. The Plaza was simply not designed as a skate park. Therefore, skateboarders have ingeniously found ‘challenges’ that may put them at risk of serious injury. Some have tried to ‘jump’ from the wall above the ‘skatehouse’, which is at least 10 feet tall. This is simply a very dangerous thing. Again, consistently and successfully regulating this activity goes well beyond the scope of what the operation of this Plaza was ever intended to be.

Fortunately, as of Friday, July 30th , a new skate spot opens in Woodside Park, less than ½ mile from Veterans Plaza (a comfortable 5 minute ‘skateboard’-walk away.) This new skate spot is adjacent to other athletic opportunities, including basketball, handball, and tennis – as well as areas in which to simply sit and enjoy the ambiance. Additionally, there is a skate park being planned in Takoma Park, about a mile south of Veterans Plaza.

We understand that some may view the Woodside Park new skate spot as an incomplete solution. If you feel this way, we want to continue working with you on a broader, more comprehensive solution to the issue of skateboarding in Silver Spring. If you have questions, concerns, or suggestions, (or want to get together as a group) please contact me anytime. To start, I invite you to come by the Civic Building this Wednesday, July 28th at 6:30 p.m. to discuss ‘where we go from here’.

Reemberto Rodriguez, Director
Silver Spring Regional Center
240-777-3507
e-mail: SilverSpringRegionalCenter@gmail.com

11 comments:

Sk8ter Mom said...

Reemberto,

While Park & Planning never could answer our question as to how many skaters can use the skate spot at Woodside at one time, it has now been skated and we have our answer. That answer is 7 -- 7 kids can safely skate that spot. Woodside is very likely the smallest skate spot in the entire DC, MD, and VA areas.

Park & Planning TOLD US, at the first public meeting, that they asked a skatepark company how small they could go, and that they sought to build the smallest skate spot possible. Park & Planning has not been able to provide any data on the number of skaters this spot is supposed to serve, but Dan Reed at Just Up The Pike crunched the numbers and discovered that we likely have 900 daily skaters in Silver Spring.

Woodside is fine...for the few who will get to skate it. But it leaves the vast majority of Silver Spring skaters in the same pickle we've been in since Ellsworth was taken away from us -- with no legal place to skate in all of Silver Spring.

I think you know that I'm in contact with most Silver Spring skaters, and from the day Veterans Plaza opened, had anyone communicated the rules to me, I could have quickly communicated them to most area skaters. I would have asked them to tell their friends, and so on. Silver Spring skaters are like a family, and most of us know each other.

But no one told me a thing, and we were all told different rules by different people, at different times.

At first skaters were told it was fine to skate on the pavers, as long as no one skated the benches. Virtually all skaters respected that, but since no effort was made to get the rules out to all skaters, it didn't get out to everyone. So what that meant, is that each time a new skater would show up, they didn't know the rules. And those rules kept changing -- we heard several variations on the rules from several different people.

And what we were also hearing, from the beginning, was that no matter what we did, 'no skateboarding' signs would be going up in a couple of weeks. Turns out those folks were right.

You cannot make the claim that skaters didn't follow the rules, when rules were changing daily, and no rules were clearly communicated or widely disseminated. You know how to do that, but you chose not to put anything on the web...even though putting it on the web, is exactly what was needed, to give skaters a fair chance at having a place to skate.

I have begged and pleaded for a skate spot since we lost Ellsworth Drive last year. Woodside is a start, but it's simply not fair to expect over a hundred skaters (those who regularly skate downtown Silver Spring) to try to skate a facility that can only support 7.

MoCo Mum said...

As Sk8tr Mom indicates, we adult, parent skaters and our kids have begged and pleaded for rules to be posted to allow some activity somewhere. The Woodside spot is clearly designed for fewer than 10. Your list of faults above indicate that it is impossible to "get this message to all new skateboarders" - did you try a sign? Is there a super secret website we've not been able to locate? We have active, tech savvy kids, who just want a place to skate. Because the average kid who does is just that, a kid, an adult culture of disrespect has developed towards our skaters. Your disrespect of their rights, safety, and reality is not acceptable. Please designate a regular time for skaters at Veterans Plaza with appropriate and realistic rules PUBLISHED for all to see. The great people who skate and enjoy their activity will follow the rules.

Emily Sudbrink said...

This is a difficult issue and I am sure Reemberto and the Silver Spring Regional Center had a very difficult time making this decision. But it is also common sense that if you use an area, you should be aware of the impact you may be making to that area. If you find that the activity you are doing is resulting in damage to a brand new area, then you probably shouldn't be doing whatever it is that you are doing...personally, I would think this would include skateboarding on any handrails or wooden benches...or putting the Silver Spring Regional Center at risk for a lawsuit by doing jumps that could result in bodily injury, and not wearing the appropriate protective gear while skateboarding (a helmet at the bare minimum, and I've seen kids skateboarding in the plaza without a helmet)...in my mind, these are common sense, common courtesy "rules"...you try to leave a place as nice or nicer than when you arrived, and usually you try not to risk others in what you are doing...these are general, good citizen kind of "rules" that really we shouldn't need a sign to tell us to do. We do need better facilities for our skateboarders (really for all youth in general) and we need better adult supervision (perhaps more parents?) of our youth in downtown Silver Spring to help guide them in these basic good citizen "rules." There has been talk of converting the old Silver Spring Library into a youth center - there is probably space in the surrounding grounds (Ellsworth Park) to create another small (unfortunately) skate park and still have some playground space. This would be a great and much needed addition to this space for our youth. I would recommend that folks attend the meeting that Reemberto has arranged for Wednesday evening and perhaps advocate for this...

Susan Katz Miller said...

I don't skateboard, my teenage kids don't happen to skateboard. Yet as a taxpayer, I was completely delighted to see a diverse group of skateboarders in the rink a week ago: they provided a focal point, some free entertainment, and drew people to sit at the tables. I felt a flicker of the sense of multigenerational community that had been lost since we lost the astroturf. Then, yesterday, on a gorgeous day, the rink was empty, and so were most of the tables. Skating was banned, and the plaza seemed lifeless.

Emily's rules make sense. Skaters need to stay in the rink, with helmets, and probably have established hours. Rules need to be both posted and communicated through the internet. Woodside sounds nice, but apparently it's small. Doesn't it make sense to also provide this opportunity for teens to excercise and be creative in the midst of the community, in the public eye, where we can appreciate their skills, and they can feel proud, rather than feeling like a problem? We complain that we want our youth to stay engaged with the community. Now, with an opportunity to make that happen, we are trying to shunt them off to the side?

Sk8ter Mom said...

I'm reposting a comment that I wrote on another blog, which I should have posted here:

Regarding Woodside Skate Spot, I just want to make clear that there's a very real concern about overburdening this park, because that could cause us to lose it.

There was and continues to be a lot of resistance to Woodside Skate Spot among Woodside neighbors. There are some who support it and many who don't.

The community has asked the county to review Woodside Skate Spot 1 year after it opens, and every year after that. If the community isn't happy at any of those reviews, they'll be able to ask for the park to be closed.

My fear is that if we try to cram every local skater into this tiny skate spot, there could be a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood and it could cause us to lost the park.

Anonymous said...

Sk8ter Mom: Don't you think that any skateboard use in an area not designed for skateboarding (like the new Veterans Plaza) constitutes an "overburden"? Walking, sitting, and ice skating all appear to have been worked into the Plaza's design. I don't recall seeing skateboarding as planned activity or use incorporated into the design. I can understand where you are coming from as an advocate for the skateboarders but some of your arguments for allowing skateboarding in the new plaza defy logic.

Reemberto Rodriguez, Sr. said...

Thanks to all that came to the meeting last night (Wednesday, July 28th)!

Sk8ter Mom said...

Anonymous, the premise of your argument is entirely bogus. Skateboarding on the concrete surface of the ice rink area isn't going to hurt a thing, and in fact, it's been proven to bring life and activity to an otherwise lifeless area.

Anonymous said...

What about the Takoma Park skateboard park set to open this Fall just a mile away from downtown SS on Piney Branch near the middle school? How come no on ever mentions that anymore? Is it still on schedule?

Anonymous said...

The plaza isn't for skateboarding, it's for hanging out. I completely support the decision to keep skateboarding out, mostly because little kids ought to feel free and welcome to stroll about. When I was a skateboarder, I didn't expect people's tax dollars to fund my particular hobbie, especially since I could do it on any open parking lot available. BTW, the plaza is full of life with out skaters. Had they been respectful, maybe they wouldn't have been banned.

Reemberto Rodriguez, Sr. said...

Some of the participants at the meeting held a couple of week ago have prepared a video response. Please view it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozi8dgOw-TM

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