Monday night, the city announced that it has a tentative plan to provide skaters with a new facility, located on what used to be tennis courts, at Eastside Park. For several years now, skaters have been at odds with downtown businesses and local law enforcement. They want to skate downtown, the business owners don’t want them there. And the law is not on the side of the skaters.
The city’s new plan is a step in the right direction but it’s going to leave both parties – the local government and the skaters – dissatisfied.
First, let’s take a look at this from the city’s standpoint. I haven’t checked this in a while but the last time I did, there was a local ordinance prohibiting skating (as well as riding bicycles) on sidewalks in the downtown business district. It was a pretty simple ordinance – no skating allowed downtown. There is, however, a fairly active skate scene in Douglas.
And the best places to skate in town are, well, in town. Skaters want to be where there are concrete, bricks, embankments, and all manner of obstacles. While we don’t have the type of architecture that lends itself to banks, transitions, and other skateable terrain, it doesn’t take a very enterprising young mind to make use of the curbs and brickwork at Ashley Place, the public parking area beside Norris Shoes, and other locales in the area. Skating damages those structures, poses a hazard to shoppers and motorists, and, quite frankly, is against the law.
Skaters have been frequenting these places more and more over the years since the city dismantled a public skating area on the old tennis courts at Davis Wade Park. The city assembled a very serviceable skatepark over there. It wasn’t big but it had enough to keep kids occupied and out of downtown. Unfortunately, a bad element at the park eventually led to its demise.
With nowhere to go, skaters went back downtown. I doubt anyone is particularly happy about this. Business owners don’t want to worry about skaters around their stores. Police don’t want to be seen as the bad guys writing tickets and clearing downtown of skaters, who otherwise aren’t breaking the law. And skaters don’t want to look over their shoulders for irate entrepreneurs or police.
The city has been exploring the idea of a skatepark of some kind for a few years. Citing the cost prohibitive nature of such a facility, it never got off the ground. At one time, citizens explored the idea of raising money privately to build a public park. I never liked that idea and I didn’t think it was fair to ask a group of kids to fund their own park. Baseball, football, and soccer players have facilities upon which they play. They never had to pay for those fields themselves. The swim team didn’t fund its own pool. Likewise, skaters shouldn’t have to fund their own park. The city, however, wasn’t listening.
Finally, however, the city commission, recreation department, and police department have listened. They are going to take those tennis courts – which have lights, have recently been resurfaced (the pavement at the Davis Wade facility was awful), and are located well away from downtown – and convert it into a skatepark of sorts. The local government will accomplish this by taking the ramps and obstacles from the Davis Wade park and placing them at Eastside Park.
This brings me to the skaters’ point of view. While the city’s gesture is one of good faith and is likely genuine, it’s not going to make the skating community very happy. I can recall a handful of ramps and other pieces of equipment that were salvageable from the old facility. The big half-pipe, which was the focal point of the Davis Wade park, is no more. Without something like it, there’s going to be a lot of empty space even on two small tennis courts. Skating encourages creativity, activity, and constant motion. There won’t be enough equipment on the tennis courts to keep the kids happy.
They will use the park at first but gradually, they’ll head back downtown. And the cycle will start all over again.
This is one of those situations where it’s almost better to go all in or not at all. The city is giving a nod to the skaters and giving them a place to go. But because they don’t understand the nature of the sport, it won’t be enough to keep the kids occupied. It’s like taking high school baseball teams and having them play on a midget league field. Sure, it would be fun to hit ball 200 or more feet out of the park for a short time but it would get old pretty quickly.
The city government and skaters need to look at this solution as a temporary one, for that is all it is. The city has acted in good faith by setting aside a place to skate. The skaters need to act in good faith by using the park and staying out of downtown.
In the meantime, our leadership needs to look into the future and see the benefits of having nice, well-equipped park that would draw people from the entire region into Douglas. The conflict between skaters and the business community won’t go away. The two groups need to come together and figure out a permanent solution. This has been done in the past but I fear there has always been a spirit of negativity surrounding the meetings. Instead of looking at all the reasons why a park would fail, I’d like to see the recreation department and City Hall consider what it would bring to the community and how it could further establish Douglas as a growing, progressive community.
Until that happens, there will be no lasting solution.
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