Skateboard Activists at LOVE Park

June 22, 2005

I was a teenage skateboarder. My period of skateboarding was the early to mid 1990s. At that time, LOVE Park (JFK Plaza) in Philadelphia was a major skateboarding site and appeared frequently in the best skate videos and magazines. I never had the opportunity to skate there (although I have skated Embarcadero, or the Justin Herman Plaza, in San Francisco). LOVE park derives its name from the Robert Indiana public art LOVE sculpture that stands in the middle of a shady plaza paved with smooth concrete tiles and possessed of numerous concrete ledges, curbs, stairs and other attractions irrestible to skateboarders. Although skateboarders have always had to avoid security guards and police when skating downtown, including on public property and at parks, it looks like LOVE park was officially made illegal for skateboarders in 2002. (Business and city workers/officials always shoo skateboarders away for liability issues–as a teenage skateboarder I and all the skateboarders I knew would scoff at the idea that we would actually sue a business for getting a skateboarding injury on the premises, but now that I am a grumpy lawyer, I am not so confident of the magnanimity of skateboarding kids, or rather of their parents who are probably looking for the perfect lawsuit to get rich.)

Yesterday, the skateboarders protested en masse. The picture above and this picture are from the protest. A collection of photos from yesterday’s protest, including these two photos, can be seen at this website devoted to reversing the anti-skateboarding policy. According to this morning edition story on NPR today, “hundreds” of skateboarders converged on LOVE park yesterday in a protest aimed at removing restrictions on skateboarding on the JFK plaza. I find it amazing that the skateboarders organized themselves for such an event, but really it was just a day out skateboarding at one of the most famous illegal skate spots in the country. What local skateboarder is going to miss out on that? But I also feel for these skateboarders because of how the thing turned out.

It was just their luck (believe me skateboarders always seem to have rotten luck) that the day of their protest also happened to be the day of a massive anti-biotech protest organized by environmental and animal rights activists. Thus, as the skateboarders showed up at LOVE park as the anti-biotech march passed by there, causing a lot of confusion among the skateboarders and, I would imagine, generally drowning out any protest value the skateboarders’ “takeover” of LOVE park might have had. Then it got even worse. Police scuffled a little with the anti-biotech protesters while residents scolded the skateboarders. Then a police officer died of a heart attack! According to the NPR report, the skateboarder protest pretty much fizzled out after that and the anti-biotech protest even lost a lot of its momentum. Well, here’s hoping that the skateboarders get LOVE park back.

On a side note, although I have never skateboarded at LOVE park, I have been a regular at other similar sites in various cities. The most high profile skate spot that I have skated was at Embarcadero in San Francisco (more than a decade ago–skateboarding has been nearly impossible at Embarcadero since about 1996, I believe). I also liked Liberty Park in downtown SLC and numerous spots around downtown Dallas. In fact, I broke my arm in 1994 trying to nosegrind a bench we had set down a run of four steps near the San Jacinto building in downtown Dallas. Of course, I still remember dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sweet spots for skateboarding all over Dallas, Houston, SLC, the Bay Area, and even Provo. Those were definitely fun days.