Last month Philadelphia and the skater community completed a 10 yr effort to do something amazing. Something that works. Something that made me think "wow, how does this happen?". An awesome new skatepark... one like you've never seen before... opened in the city in a location that is as perfect as the park design itself.
And its completely free.
Ask anyone where the best skateboard locations were to be found, and most would probably say California. But if you had to pick an East Coast King, there is no doubt it is Philadelphia. Two locations became world famous decades ago, Love park and its at times taken over by skaters concrete walls, and FDR Park... the skater built, city seems to look the other way, organically grown park that really is one of a kind. So famous are these two gems, that the best selling Tony Hawk video games have put playable versions into the game series.
But its not always love between the city and the skaters. Love Park and the City Hall grounds have been a key battle ground, and back in 2003 Mayor Street offered up a piece of real estate to the skater community if they could come up with the funding to build it. And while up close it may not have been much to look at, it really is a prime location... not tucked away under a bridge or along some endless path. The land is located almost in the shadow of the Philadelphia's most famous Art venue, the Philadelphia Art Museum. And in the 10 years since that offer was made, the Schuylkill Banks trail which passes along side it, has turned into an amazing place to visit on its own (more on that in another post).
So now 10 years later it has happened. The park is open. Who knows if back in 2003 Mayor Street was privately laughing when he made the offer "How are a bunch of skaters going to raise the money for this?"
But raise money they did.
$4.5 Million worth.
(Read on for more, and pictures)
They even hired fancy architects, Anthony Bracali of Friday Architects/Planners, to design a truly one of a kind experience.
The park looks more like...well a city park. With the skaters still licking the wounds of the Love park saga, the plan was to make a venue that looked like a city park, that functioned like a city park... but unlike the countless other city parks around the world, this is for the skaters first.
But what does that mean? Well on my two recent visits it seemed to mean that everyone harmoniously enjoyed the park. Now granted, its not like someone is going to set up a picnic in the middle of the concrete... but there is definitely an air of gentlemen-liness, of kind-ship... of Brotherly Love. People were relaxing on the perimeter benches, finding spots inside the skate area to watch the action but not be in the way.
The location to me is truly one of the most surprising things. "You mean I can stand here and look at the Art Museum, turn 45 degrees left and see the Schulkyll River and the Banks trail, turn another 45 degrees and see the top of the Center City buildings over the trees? And they built a skate park here?"
But the design does the location good. Very good. And the designers were smart enough to make it look like a city park, but added the skater desired touches to make it both functional and long lasting... the edges are lined with metal, but it definately is molded into the landscape to make it "fit".
On the side closest to the Art Museum I noticed an amphitheater area cut into the small hillside which bends around a skating feature that just so happens to look like it could double for a stage. It's design is very reminiscent of the circular steps surrounding the Love Park fountain. FDR Skate park has somewhat regular band jams... could this be the plan at Franklin's Paine? But it all looks like it wasn't planned, so that some imaginative youth would come up with the idea "Let's put a band in here".
The park is new, and incredibly functional, but also slightly apocolyptic... Almost as if the skaters have take over something that really shouldn't be theirs... that the world has moved on and left it for them. But it is theirs. It most definitely is.
The skaters are almost exclusively male, but they vary significantly. In fact, its tough to say skaters because I saw BMX bike riders, and scooters. But skateboards are king.
And many nationality and ages are represented.
Little Warren from Center City was already riding his board like pro, despite his parents proudly saying "It's only his second day! He's skied before, but he's just watching all the older kids and picking it up."
One other thing that I noticed, is apparently unlike smaller communities that have put in skate parks, Philadelphia must have the insurance and budget to offer a freer atmosphere.
There are no fences. I saw no signs about the park closing, and not sure how they could. We stopped in at 10pm and there was a very active and safe group there.
There are no fees. No one telling you you're time is up. No waiting for the next session.
And parents be warned, there is also no one telling your kids to put on their helmets.
As I said... its as if the skaters took over something that wasn't meant to be theirs. And that's ok, because on my two visits this past weekend it worked amazingly well.
And while I had a skateboard in the car, these two trips were scouting missions. But next week... watch out!
In closing, my trip from New Jersey cost $5 to cross the bridge, and $4 to park on the outer parkway street meter.