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How to Fight for a Skatepark|
Originally appeared in Razorcake #41.
Tuesday, October 09 2012
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The Politics of Concrete
I’ve never enjoyed anxious crowds, getting hit with flying objects, or cops, so going to large political protests has never been high on my priorities. Yet, I consider myself politically active and informed.
Years back, Sean Carswell and I interviewed the historian Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States. Zinn reaffirmed what I’d been thinking for a long time: political resistance can be personal journey and it can take many forms. It’s not only the cocked arm ready to throw a Molotov through a window. It can equally be a writer, collecting the stories of the disenfranchised and threading them together into a varied banner of dissent.
It’s been said that citizens can flex most of their political muscle locally. I have a lot of pride for where I live, Highland Park, Northeast Los Angeles. It’s like a small town surrounded by a big city. I don’t want to “improve” it, in the gentrificational, douchebaggish, SUV, guzzle-a-latte, hundred dollar shoe boutique, beers-over-five-dollars-in-a-bar sense. I wanted to attempt to improve it in a civic way.
There’s a kid downstairs. He’s a bit of a butt-munch and he’s spent many a three-hour session of bouncing a rubber ball against the other side of the wall where I work. He’s a pretty typical kid for the area: shiftless, cranky, bored, and raised on TV. Although he annoys me, he’s emblematic of the reason I wanted to help get a quality skatepark made in my neighborhood.
I’d be a liar if I said that I only fought for a skatepark here on lofty principle. I wanted something I’d have fun skating, something to invite my friends to, something challenging. I wanted to fight for something that would improve, if even by a small degree, the quality of life for the folks who live around me. It was a fight for something as real as concrete.
Los Angeles is like the fall of Rome, but instead of lead pipes, it’s bureaucracy. Three and a half years ago, I caught wind that there was a skatepark proposed two blocks away from my apartment. Immediately, visions of Dreamland and Grindline—two of the most highly regarded skatepark builders in the U.S.—danced in my head like dual concrete snake runs.
Los AngelesCounty is not Washington, Oregon, or Idaho; it isn’t even like the rest of California. It believes it’s its own country. It’s the most populous county in the United States—over ten million documented folks—yet it can’t compete with cities that border it in terms of skateparks. In February of 2004, it had one marginal concrete skatepark, Pedlow. What was working beyond city lines didn’t matter. To the bureaucrats, anywhere else might as well be Mars or Tijuana.
My friend—The Ambassador—and I walked over to our first meeting in the local middle school classrooms across the street. The event was called Skate Summit and the question proposed was: “Does Highland Park want a skatepark?” It seemed like a rhetorical enough question. In the ten block radius of the school, I’d estimate that there are over one hundred skaters, most of whom have never skated anywhere except the street: in traffic, in parking lots, in front of houses and stores. The kids at the meeting ranged from wary to mildly hostile throughout the morning. When something was said they agreed to, they wagged their decks over their heads. Otherwise, they largely acted disinterested, like they’d seen this song and dance before. Basically, they acted how kids usually behave when they find themselves in school on a Saturday.
Lull Them Asleep
City Technique #1
I should note that when I mention “The City,” it’s a collection of all The City of Los Angeles branches: Recreation and Parks, Department of Engineering, Council District 14, Office of the Mayor, the list goes on. They can move in a herd or in small groups, but very rarely alone.
The Summit was a meeting open to the entire community. Whoever says that skating’s no longer considered dangerous should spend a morning with ordinary “concerned citizens” during the skatepark proposal process because, deep in their hearts when it may hit close to their property values, skateboarding equates with drug-using, satan-worshiping, graffiti-happy gang bangers. (Drug use was repeatedly cited as the reason why there could never be a bowl at the skatepark. Way too easy to rip some bingers down there, out of sight from the cops.)
The Summit continued with a slide show by a veteran graffiti artist. Although the dude’s skulls were cool and his stuff was well received, I didn’t quite grasp what he had to do with skating. In the meetings to come, there were often weird curveballs in an attempt to bro down with the kids.
Near the end, there was a question-and-answer session. A well-meaning lady suggested art projects at the skatepark: “A place for kids to take apart their boards and paint their decks!”
There was polite applause from the adults and snickering from anyone who skated.
I signed up to be on the “community design committee” list that was passed around. The City would never use that list.
We were about to find out that The City already had their plan. The meeting was mostly playacting, a tick in a column on a spreadsheet: “Community wants skatepark!”
It ended with a homeless guy yelling about wanting restrooms in the park. The dude had a point. If you don’t play in a Little League, who controls access to the john, there’s no polite way to huck a whiz in the area.
If You Think Someone Has No Pull, Treat Them as You Would the Mildly Retarded, Then Blank Face
City Techniques #2 and #3
At the second community meeting, my hopes were still up. I’ve never lived within a skatable distance to a concrete park. I was ready to fight… in a polite, calm manner. I put on my collared shirt and brushed my teeth. I felt all kung-fu’y.
I’m pretty used to being treated like a moron. The City obliged in the following fashion: when community members are hypnotized by your spinning wheels of protocol, reveal your plan—that’s really a statement—in the form of a question. Then include many “options” (for that feel-good glow of “community empowerment”). If constituents disagree with you, talk to them like they’re deaf, slow, and speaking another language.
I was horrified that their “options for design” were little more than different reconfigurations of the same modular park. The drill is to lay down a slab of concrete (picture a parking lot), plop metal and wood structures on top. Voilá. Very expensive suckage that’s noisy and breaks.
The Ambassador and I were indignant. We came to discuss a skatepark, not a playground. This injustice wouldn’t stand. We were then exposed to…
“Moving Forward” Means Ignoring the Question
City Technique #4
I raised my hand. “What about a purely concrete park with transition and bowls? I think…”
I was stopped cold by a lady who reminded me of a mean-ass, robotic Margaret Cho. She was backed up by a lady whose talent was public relations-style Teflon whose catch phrase was saying, “I know exactly what you mean,” but obviously not listening to anything that countered The City’s plan.
“We’ve already discussed the design aspects of the park,” Cho-bot said. “This is not the meeting for that. We must move forward.”
Community members stink eyed the Ambassador and me. They revealed to me later that they were thinking two things when we first crossed paths: “Who are these jokers and why do they want to steal the park away from the kids?” It had taken two years of fighting for the community members to get to this stage in the negations and some clowns weren’t going to waltz right in and yoink it away from them. Fair enough.
The City bureaucrats sensed this discontent and immediately tried to turn the community against the Ambassador and me, insinuating that we were pros, had a vested interest, and worked for a competing skatepark company. (None of which are remotely true. “Ma’am,” I said, “I’m not being coy with you. I can barely grind.”) Apparently, Cho-bot had a hard time conceiving that people could be interested in a project who couldn’t make money directly off of it, nor want to reap any “community” points.
The City acted like something being revealed officially to the community for the first time had already been discussed at length, that it was a foregone conclusion, and that I was wasting their time.
“Ladies, I just wanna skate a park without having to drive to it. In thirty-five years, that’s never happened. The Ambassador and I are the only two community members in this room who’ll actually be skating this thing.”
Community member Rick Alaniz stood up, frustrated with Teflon, directed his aggravation at her. “We’ve been waiting seven months with unanswered questions.”
Many community members in attendance were obviously distraught. Up until the Skate Summit, the City had openly resisted the idea of a skatepark at every juncture.
“There are people in the community who are opposed to the park. We have to take them in consideration, too,” said Cho-bot out of seemingly nowhere.
“Who?” Rick asked, neck tightening.
“It doesn’t matter who they are, Rick. People in the community,” replied Cho-bot.
Rosa Rivas, another community member in attendance, had collected the signatures of each and every home and business owner with a sightline to the park. Before signing, she took them through what the skatepark would mean for the community as a whole and what to expect of the new visitors to their neighborhood. Each and every home and business owner signed the petition. The City had a copy of that list on their clipboard.
“People, Rick. Other people,” Cho-bot repeated. “You’re not the only ones….”
Cho-bot and Teflon’s vagueness was maddening. Many community members were visibly sputtering. How could people who didn’t show up to a meeting, didn’t have to speak publicly, didn’t even have to be named or answer direct questions, have as much weight in the balance for the skatepark as those who’d fought so hard just for the idea of it?
The meeting ended abruptly in the middle of a heated discussion. The room was scheduled for another group who brought juice boxes and a man was busy writing something about anger management on the dry erase board. It was agreed that The City would contact the makers of the modular skateparks to see if they were willing to meet directly with the community in a week or two.
Over the next several months, we would painfully find out that there were going to be no direct answers to any of our questions.
Dude, Don’t Be an Asshole
The First Smart Thing for a Skater to Do
Good folks can often be frightened by things they don’t understand. Don’t just give ‘em the finger, complain, “If I have to explain, you’ll never understand!” then cry along to a Smiths record. Take your time—without swearing—to explain what the fuck you’re talking about. I loaded up my information ammo belt. I researched and brushed up on the difference between concrete vs. modular skateparks in reputable, skate-neutral magazines, took pictures and made diagrams that explained what I was talking about, and made a thick, informative packet with stuff like, “In the United States today, there are a million more skateboarders than baseball players.”
I also went on the attack against the proposed skatepark builder. I’ve watched Animal House enough times to understand that the best way to get anything stupid, inspired, and against-all-odds done is to have allies. Just as Bluto couldn’t have sabotaged the parade all by himself; he needed 10,000 marbles. The Ambassador and I needed to show that we weren’t two independent jackasses, but part of Team Highland Park.
There’s this thing called the interweb. It’s full of info on how to rip off Coke machines or make every traffic light you approach turn green (i-hacked.com), but there are also government and corporate documents there. And, as it turned out, Spohn Ranch was its own best enemy. It boasted way too much. The Ambassador and I went to their locally placed skateparks. We took pictures of their indefinitely-closed-for-repairs-after-two-years, looks-like-a-prison-yard in LincolnHeights four miles away. We winced at the parking lot of jank in Sunland with wood extensions nailed on. We photographed all the splits, breaks, blisters, and holes in their material, Skatelite, which claimed to “withstand the constant punishment inflicted by determined riders.” Not just complainers, we photographed concrete parks nearby (but not technically in Los Angeles)—Glendale and Duarte—and explained why and how they worked. In the packet, we pressed that a skatepark respected by skaters and the community could be made with the money available.
Know the Difference between Dickery and Bravery
The Second Smart Thing for a Skater to Do
Know the difference between just being a dick and being brave. Save up your jackassery because The City bureaucrats seem to instinctively know how to push skaters’ buttons. When The Ambassador and I walked into the second “design” meeting, I didn’t ask if I could hand out packets, I just did. I had to calculate my impact. Cho-bot and Teflon looked like I was handing them used diapers.
I let the modular playground equipment representatives of Spohn Ranch put their proposal on the table. It was what we’d predicted: a fancy brochure about how modularity provides skaters with an “endless variety” of skatepark configurations: “Get bored? Move it around!” (A good response to this is always, “How about one good design at the beginning?”) They bragged that their parks were scaled-down versions of the X Games, and those are big with the kids and on TV, right? “That’s what the pros use! It’s the best!” “When The Gap wanted to tap the action sports market, they came to us.” We let it slide that it makes no sense for a traveling circus of skaters to have fresh concrete poured at every stop on their circuit, since most of those things are in stadiums and parking lots.
Shaking my DIY packet and not waiting to be called on after Spohn’s presentation, I stood up. “All I’m asking for is that the community should have real input into the design process.”
“We’re not shutting anybody out,” Cho-bot responded as she simultaneously gave me the “talk to the hand” gesture while tucking the packet into the bottom of her stack of papers. What she didn’t say was that The City had already picked its designer without consulting the community.
Luckily, The Ambassador and I were able stick enough of a splinter of doubt into the community members’ minds to spur a City-hosted field trip to some nearby concrete parks. We were hoping to make that splinter a wedge.
Vaguely Answer Specific Questions
City Technique #5
It was there, visiting nearby concrete parks, when these pearls dropped from the Spohn Ranch reps’ lips. We would come to nickname him Soft Wood.
“A half a bowl of Skatelite is ‘almost’ like a full bowl.”
“Falling on Skatelite is ‘softer’ than concrete.”
“See. Concrete has cracks, too!”
City officials totally skewed their questions to kids. Highland Park has very little “naturally” occurring transition. (Transition is a skateable arc that goes from horizontal to vertical.) If all you know is curbs, sidewalks, and a rail dragged out into the middle of the street, the answer to: “How do you like transition compared to a stair set?” has already been answered by the question.
It was obvious that The City was listening to us with ears wide shut. You could say they took pride in having their heads up their asses, but I’m trying to be nice here.
No-Bid Contracts and Monopolies Are Dangerous
It’s a Problem in Government, Both Local and Federal
It slowly dawned on us that Spohn Ranch, although they had not “officially” been signed on as the manufacturer of the skatepark, were the only skatepark manufacturing representatives at both the design meetings and the short tour of two concrete skateparks. Digging deeper, we also found out that Spohn Ranch was not only a division of a playground manufacturer, Gametime, it had a virtual skatepark monopoly in The City, had donated monies to the mayor’s campaign, and had made over a handful of holding pens cleverly marketed as skateparks in the area. They planned to roll right though East L.A. and crap out the prefab parks in their wake in the name of “building communities.” Spohn Ranch thought they had it all sewn up.
Befriend Senior Citizens
The Third Smart Thing for a Skater to Do
It’s ironic: I made friends with a lot of people who, if they tried to skate, would shatter a hip. They were all older members of the community, many church-goers, professors, and local business people genuinely interested that the kids get a quality place for recreation, feeling like they were living in the neglected shadow of communities like Santa Monica and Glendale. Many of them were retired. All of them were absolutely supportive of the Ambassador and me after we educated them about concrete skateparks. The Highland Park Skate Park Coalition was formed.
Months later, after adept wrangling by our new-found friends in the community, another design meeting was called by The City. “Wood or Concrete?” was the question. The tide had turned. When the votes were tallied, we spanked wood good. Something like forty-eight to one. I won’t lie, there was some amount of satisfaction when Aaron Spohn, the owner of Spohn Ranch, offered to give us his home address so we could drive over there and punch him in the face.
But, knowing that The City can screw up skateparks at any point in the long process—from the type of park to make, to designing the park, to actually building it correctly—it felt like we’d merely cleared the first hurdle. We hadn’t finished the race. Although it was a step in the right direction, it’d be foolhardy to claim outright victory this early on.
The concrete version of Spohn Ranch in this area is Purkiss-Rose. Here’s how L.A. sucks something special. They claim, “Any California Licensed General Contractor can bid on public bids.” But the fine print is that they only select “one of the firms that they already have a multi-year contract with.” Also, skateparks aren’t considered “specialized projects”—like golf courses are—so it’s really difficult for an out-of-town company to get a bid. Basically, it’s The City’s nice rhetorical trick of never completely showing their hand, while claiming complete transparency. Solely to place a bid with The City, there’s a befuddling amount of politics, thinly veiled cronyism, and ignorance to deal with. With one tenth of the effort and headache, respected companies like Grindline and Dreamland can make parks in other states. Hell, the government agencies in Idaho all but rolled out the red carpet for ‘em, while L.A. seems to want to make skateparks completely out of red tape. It boiled down to this: even though Grindline stated that if we could get a design/build contract going, they would design the park for free and build it for that price. The City flatly rejected their offer. Goodbye Grindline dreams. Purkiss-Rose—widely known in skating circles as Darth Vader of skatepark designers—was to design the park… and the landscaping... and the kiddie area.
“See?” they implied, “A skatepark’s nothing specialized. We’re trained professionals. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Months lapsed. The City then announced the first community concrete skatepark design meeting. Kids: Bless, ‘em, and I can’t blame them; they’d been lied to most of their lives by The City about this skatepark again and again. They were fed up and started slithering out as soon as the meeting began. Hell, if I was in their shoes and had their talent, I’d be skating the stair sets in front of the school instead of sitting though the noise, drainage, and environmental impact studies that started off the meeting.
On paper, it sounds great: have the kids design their own park.
Purkiss-Rose design guy: “Use this sheet of paper. Draw anything you’d like.”
Fifty kids drew out their skate visions on the butcher paper provided. Some ideas were solid, but the impact of video games became apparent.
Purkiss-Rose design guy: “What’s that?”
Kid: “A car… on fire.”
Purkiss-Rose design guy: “Great. Draw it in. There are no bad ideas.”
Awesome. Not possible—but awesome.
Yet, when “car on fire” is given equal time consideration in skatepark design with diagrams and ideas shot back and forth between me and Thrasher’s finest, it’s more than a little disconcerting. El Beardo—one of the lead brains behind San Pedro’s Channel St. Project who I’d been filling in on all of the advancements—attended the meeting and felt like he’d come in too late in the process to change much. To him, it felt like minds had been made up, that we could fight for little design tweaks, but not how the skatepark would flow as a whole.
It’s funny. I felt the same, like all of the large decisions at every stage of the skatepark were done without—or even in direct defiance of—community members’ input. And I’d come in at the beginning of the design process. The City had an amazing talent of holding up a sign that, on one side, said, “Tell us your ideas! You’re important,” but on the back of the sign was scrawled “Take what we give you! It’s better than nothing.” And their sign was becoming more and more transparent.
Ask Professionals “You Get Paid for That?”
The Second Community Concrete Design Meeting
Let me point out here that everyone on The Highland Park Skate Park Coalition was a volunteer and spent over several hundred hours apiece staying on top of the situation throughout this entire process. (This included approximately twenty meetings on how to deal with The City.)
On the other side, Purkiss-Rose, a “design” company was paid tens of thousands of dollars to come up with a mostly baffling what-have-you.
Kudos for including a kidney bowl (think of a skatable pool without water: very fun). But they put a fence around it. Inside of a park that had a fence around it. Such a horrible idea. One, great, it feels more like a prison. Two, an interior fence in a skatepark effectively cuts off the “flow” from one area to another, making the park “feel” much smaller than its square footage. Weirdly, the selling point for the bowl by pro skater and Purkiss-Rose crony Frank Hirata was that it had a nautical theme. “You know, like the beach. That’s a lifesaver.” Jesus, dude, I thought. Where are your priorities?
Purkiss-Rose also introduced an “innovation” to what’s known as a skate pavilion. Instead of the traditional stepped tiers, they inverted the design, resulting in something that looked quite like a shallow toilet bowl. It was obvious to me that this feature would serve little more than a crash-up derby/kid-maimer since skaters coming from opposite directions—and not aware of one another—could end up in the center at the same time. No bueno.
Oh, I objected… how in the samhill was that even skatable, not to mention any good?
Perfect the Quiet Art of Tapping Out
The Fourth Smart Thing for a Skater to Do
When you get really fucking pissed at these meetings in public, use the buddy system. (This only works if you’re not both worked up at the same time.) The Ambassador and I had a simple system. If one of us was getting a little red, stammering, or on the verge of losing our shit, all we needed was a tap on the shoulder. We’d finish our sentence, stop, and collect ourselves.
But, The City was a little of ahead of us. It learned from its mistakes by making sure that, in subsequent community meetings, the only way a member of the general public could become a “speaker” at the meeting was to fill out a card prior to the meeting and then be restricted to two minutes.
Understand the Following Diagram: This Is My Thumb. This Is My Colleague's Ass.
City Technique #6
I went to too many meetings. I went to meetings about meetings. It was during this grey time where more things broke loose, bit by painful bit.
Costs to make anything in L.A. are impenetrably high. The main culprit blamed was China. It seems that America’s on the losing end of that brilliant trade agreement, and every time The City showed us a blueprint, the cost of concrete and rebar kept shooting up. Los Angeles is a great place to live if you never have to pee or shit. Current price for a public bathroom in Los Angeles—nothing fancy, mind you—is $300,000. It’s $23,000 for security lights. $2,000 for a plaque (and the plaque holder) so you’ll never forget who held the purse strings, $110,000 for the guard shack, and the list goes on.
Members of the skatepark coalition attended an “emergency” mid-afternoon design meeting downtown—by The City’s request and on their schedule—only to find that the engineer who initiated the meeting wasn’t actually going to show up. When he was called by his staff and put on speaker phone, we discovered that he was in traffic, and apparently not headed toward the meeting. Graciously, he offered to “pull over and look at the plans.” My taxes pay that dude.
Tony Hawk pulled through for us. Here’s the Birdman’s haiku about the skatepark design at that moment (which still featured the toilet bowl): “This looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Bad design.” His foundation donated $1,000 to the skatepark.
We showed The City the fax. The design was fundamentally changed shortly after. Our councilman announced that an additional $500,000 had been allocated to the Garvanza Skatepark Project, stating that it was the direct result of the advocating of the skate park coalition and its supporters. He gave us a pat on the back.
More months passed. A mysterious “funding gap” opened up and prevented the park from being built.
And then… nothing.
Tumbling tumbleweeds. During this time, The City—an endless collection of departments and divisions—was in upheaval. Our councilman, Antonio Villaraigosa (who, in our direct dealings with the skatepark, is anything but the “democratic Latino superstar” he’s touted to be) became mayor. The bureaucratic deck was again shuffled.
Placing Boulders in the Field of Dreams
When Landscaping Whispers “Fuck You”
It had been a dirt field for over two decades. Little bit of a slope. Before any attention was lent to it, almost every weekend, there’d be an elaborate handball game being played with ten middle-aged men on each side. I couldn’t ever figure out the rules of the game, but completely understood that The City didn’t want them pissing in the bushes that lined one side of the park. So, in an open field, one day, the city plopped a bunch of boulders in such a manner that a nice, wide field was totally unusable for any team sport. The boulders are hard to mow around and get tagged all the time.
In one of the corners of the field was the proposed site of the skatepark.
It was during this darkening time where, I said, many times, “Fuck it. I give up. I can drive fifteen minutes to another park.” I just didn’t feel like tilting any more windmills in the name of community service.
The dirt of the proposed skatepark remained untouched.
Eight months later, I got a call from one of the community members. The park was back up on the radar. The main change in plan was that the project was shifted into the Department of Engineering in an effort to save on costs. Not necessarily good news. The City had made one park previously, the only concrete skatepark in L.A. I’d already “had words” with dude in charge of its construction.
Me: “Robert, every time it rains, Pedlow park floods. Why aren’t there drains in it?”
Robert: “Drains are in that park.”
Me: “Okay, technically, but they aren’t hooked up to pipes.”
Robert: No answer.
Robert has since landed a promotion and advanced to another City job. Bravo.
The City had agreed that they would build the last agreed-upon skatepark plan. No one could disclose what the final compromise had been; it’d been sliced, diced, reconfigured, expanded, and contracted so many times that they could have built it any one of ten ways, depending on the date of the blueprints they were holding. No design was on display the day of the ground breaking ceremony.
What I do know is that $1.4 million doesn’t buy as much as you think it would in L.A. California Skateparks started construction, and after concrete had been poured, we were invited to have a look-see. The finalized plan was a compromise. At one time, the park was to be built in two phases. The end result is a little weird because it’s literally cut down to as big as the funds on hand. But, they made the bowl to spec. Peeling back the burlap over the curing concrete revealed a nice amoeba-shaped bowl—one of El Beardo’s recommendations that was an improvement on the kidney shape—six feet deep in the shallow and nine feet in the deep, terra cotta tile, with six inches of vert and Federal pool coping all around. Real close to what we’d asked for.
After the concrete cured, it was instantly getting carved.
I kept on visiting the park, walking around it, thinking of what it looked like in my mind versus what I was seeing, still expecting it to disappear like a dream.
When I was up the street, getting beer and soymilk, the checkout woman, who knows I skate asked, “Did you hear what happened to the park yesterday?”
“It’s finished,” I said. “It’s going to open soon.”
“No, not that. Two kids hotwired the Bobcats that the construction crews left overnight and were arrested by the cops while jousting them in the field next to the park.”
We both laughed. It’s par for the course in Highland Park. Kids are bored. As I walked back home, I stopped by the park, just to look at it. Someone had taken a paint roller and tagged the entire length of it. The front gate was spread aside like a curtain. Apparently, the six padlocks The City had placed on the chain link entrance weren’t enough to stop people from skating.
The natives were getting restless.
Days later, The City wised up and filled the park with sand, which thrilled the BMXers in the area.
Weeks passed and everything in a twenty-yard radius of the park got mercilessly tagged.
Look Like You Know What You’re Doing
A Good Life Lesson
I’m a lurker. I’ve gotten it from my Dad.
Passing by the unopened skatepark, I struck up a conversation with a guy who asked me not to walk over the landscaping.
“When is it scheduled to open?” I asked, remarking on the pressure-washed concrete and aggressive graffiti removal that gave the concrete a nice sheen.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Concerned citizen. I’d like to skate it.”
“Come back in an hour. Grand opening won’t be for another week or so.”
An hour later, I walked right in to the middle of a group of obvious bureaucrats (they were admiring the new plaque; probably looking for their names) and asked, “Still on? Can we skate it?”
In that millisecond it takes to gain speed, to the first little hush of wheels clicking over tile, the bureaucratic rodeo became a distant memory. It’s amazing how cleansing just shutting up and skating can be.
Hats off to California Skateparks’ concrete-pouring abilities. The bowl’s a rocket: deep, fast, big, smooth.
“How’s it ride?” the builder asked.
“Better than I can skate it.”
It’s not perfect, but in a part of the world where it’s surprising if The City can dig a hole in the ground for under $5,000, I would have taken a lot worse.
A week later was the grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony. The park was packed. Speeches were made. Kids were bored of the speeches, snickered at Dr. Dick Dyke’s name, and became visually anxious for a chance to skate.
It was nice that the Highland Park Skatepark Coalition got its due during the speeches, yet it’s always a little odd when the banners of community involvement are raised so high and wagged so vigorously by the same bureaucrats who consistently insulted and ignored the coalition, only to grudgingly accept—through constant badgering and being scrutinized in their practices—that a well-built skatepark would help the entire community of Highland Park.
A stampede of kids tore up the landscaping between the time the ribbon was cut and an attempt was made to enforce the mandatory helmet rule. Every inch of the park got christened by urethane wheels, baptized by barking trucks, and polished by the sweat of fallen skaters.
Finally, the second largest city in America, Los Angeles, got its third cement skatepark. (Another one, Belvedere, opened in East L.A. before the Garvanza park). There were many times when I truthfully didn’t think we’d get this one, and I have to go walk over there to stare at it sometimes to make sure that it’s really built, that it all wasn’t just some long dream.
I don’t have any expansive statements to finish this off with. I don’t feel like hugging everyone involved, but I feel good that I was part of a group that prevented skaters from getting the bare minimum. I feel good that, in some small, but real, way that I had some say in the concrete that got poured in my neighborhood and it wasn’t for a new mega condo or in the name of gentrification. Hopefully, some kids—who’ve never kick turned on transition before—will begin ruling the bowl. Some kid will start skating tomorrow and never stop.
Mostly, it’s nice to see that ordinary citizens, when tenacious enough, can positively change the environments in which they live; can stick their heads into the toothy political maw of one of the most frustrating bureaucracies ever created, and achieve a modest, but very real goal.
Hats off to The Highland Park Skatepark Coalition and community members, Heinrich Keifer, Nancy Wyatt, Rosa Rivas, Rick and Irene Alaniz, Dr. Stan Moore, Michele Harnsberger, Dr. Dick Dyke; and skaters Andy Harris, Lance Mountain, and Ben Schroeder (even though I’ve never met the guy, I understand he yelled at the construction workers).
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