Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013 was the grand opening of the Franklin’s Paine Park in Philadelphia, PA. I would call it a skatepark, but it was built as a multi-purpose city park, developed on the idea that, contrary to stereotypes and previously-held beliefs, skateboarders and pedestrians really can co-exist. I find this idea somewhat ironic, since JFK Plaza, or “Love Park” as it has been known, was eventually closed to skaters in the 90’s when the City took the position that skateboarding was bad and skaters were a nuisance to others in the City, mainly the business lunch crowd and others visiting the City. This wasn’t unique to Philadelphia, though, because the same thing happened at Freedom Plaza, or “Pulaski Park” as the skaters called it in Washington, DC, right next to the White House, and at the Embarcadero, or EMB as skaters called it, in San Francisco. It seems times have changed, and Franklin’s Paine is the culmination of over 10 years of effort, mostly by skateboarders, who donated thousands of hours of their time and raised a good portion of the $4.5 million it took to make this happen. In my opinion, this park is a HUGE victory for skateboarding and for the skateboarding community of Philadelphia and its surrounding areas. It not only gives skateboarders an attractive place to skate, but I hope it will continue to help mold people’s stereotypes about what skaters are like- similar to the way the X Games and Tony Hawk franchise have.
A lot of my friends and I grew up skateboarding, and we still do it today. I’m 35 years old and have been skateboarding for over 25 years. We skated in Chester County- Coatesville, Downingtown, and West Chester, but soon branched out, taking the R5 whenever we could down to Philadelphia to skate the famous Love Park in the 90’s. When we turned 16 and started driving, we often drove there on weekends or to other cities like Wilmington, Delaware or Washington, DC to skate for the day. Skating locally was fun, but there was nothing like going into the city and skating some of the perfect spots we had seen in videos and magazines. I skated literally every day in my adolescence and teenage years, to somewhat less when I was in college in Pittsburgh, to even less since I went to grad school, got married, and started a family. However, I have loved skateboarding above all else since I started, and the fire I have to jump on a skateboard and just forget everything else for an hour or two continues to burn deep inside. I think about skateboarding a lot, if I notice what might look like a good skate spot, when I see a group of kids skating down the street, or when I check out some videos of photos that friends post online. I have 3 sons who like to skate, though they haven’t yet taken to it like I did, but we go to the skatepark together every so often. Some long-time friends and I take our kids to a local skatepark for a regular father/son skate session on the weekends. And I know a group of older guys like myself who often meet up for early morning skate sessions. I know what it means to be a skateboarder and I think that will always be part of who I am. The passion that people have for skateboarding is not unlike what most Philly natives have for the Phillies, Eagles, or Flyers. So naturally, my friends and I were more than a little bummed when the City began cracking down on skateboarders at Love Park and City Hall (another great skate spot) in the late 90’s- and even more so when they tried to make Love Park unskateable. We also saw it as a slap in the face when the mayor at the time, John Street, offered up a little spot underneath I-95 in South Philadelphia as a replacement for Love Park. I’m referring to FDR skatepark, which is within FDR park, close to the stadiums. Don’t get me wrong- FDR is fun in its own right, and skaters have put in countless hours or their own time- not to mention their own money, to make improvements over the years. FDR has undergone significant changes since it was first built in the 90’s. Skaters’ issue with FDR, though, is that it is not nearly as accessible for most as was Love Park. And if you know anything about skateboarding, comparing Love Park to FDR is like comparing a Porsche to a Jeep. Both are nice vehicles, but they don’t attract the same people. Not all skaters are alike, so some will be drawn to a skatepark like FDR, while others prefer a street plaza style park like Love Park or Franlin’s Paine.
I’m thrilled that the skateboarding community has been able to maintain the effort to get this park done and to get others in the community behind the idea. Growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s as a skater, when skateboarding was not a popular thing to do (this was pre-X games, and before anyone besides skaters knew who Tony Hawk is), I saw that skateboarding was viewed as an antisocial activity and that skaters were viewed as bad people- delinquents, lazy, disrespectful, drug users, “gay”, and so on. A friend and I actually got jumped once by a group of football players in a Wawa parking lot just for skateboarding- though they claimed that we had somehow bothered them. We were also frequently stopped by police, either for skating, or just to get asked what we were doing. You had to be really dedicated to want to continue skateboarding, with the way you would sometimes get treated. But for those of us who loved doing it, we carried on, because the fun of it always outweighed any of the negativity. But as an adult now and a professional, I can appreciate the fact that the majority opinion of skateboarding and of skaters has changed drastically. Sure, there can be some who are rude, disrespectful, and so on- but that’s really no different from any other group of teenagers that get together. That’s really more a part of that age group than the particular activity they’re engaged in. And not all skaters are “kids”. A lot of us are adults, we have families, homes, jobs- we’re professionals, and we volunteer in our communities. But we still love to skate and probably will never stop.
There are more skaters today than ever- most very dedicated, and others doing it more as an occasional activity. From personal experience I know how positive skateboarding can be and how good it is for young people to have something constructive to do. I’m thrilled to see it become more accepted, even though there still aren’t enough places for people to do it. Cheers to everyone involved with the creation of the Franklin’s Paine park- everyone at Franklin’s Paine, all of the Philadelphia area skateshops, the rest of the skateboarding community, skateboarding supporters, and everyone in the City government who has supported the project. I hope this will be the first of many parks like it nationwide. A group I belong to, the Downingtown Skatepark Organizationwww.downingtownskatepark.com, continues to work on a smaller project in our community, and seeing this happen gives us more inspiration. I hope we’ll break ground in the near future. Again, the greatest thing about this park for me is the fact that the City built it based on the idea that skaters and others can co-exist, which is a complete 180 from why they kicked skaters out of Love Park. As a long-time skater I see this as a personal victory, even though I had nothing to do with this park getting built. I hope to see it continue. I haven’t yet been down to Paine’s park, but I hope to very soon, and you’ll find me with the 7am “old guy” crowd, having a blast!
(c) Jesse D. Matthews, Psy.D. 2013