There was a park. And then, today, there was rubble.
Maybe it wasn’t safe. It definitely wasn’t meant to be there. But it made some people smile.
This kid (just watch this) and others enjoyed the skate park on Sovereign Avenue in Atlantic City. It had been there for a while. It had been added to and extended a couple of times. It had a beautiful view of the sunsets over the bay. It was a place that actually belonged to the city and the people who lived in it. Some people who used the park – some of those that built it even – didn’t live there, but they came into the city because the park existed.
Read our new story on the plan for rebuilding the skate park, after we talked to Mayor Don Guardian on Thursday.
There’s a lot of research that shows that skate parks are good for communities (the Tony Hawk foundation says, “If your city doesn’t have a skatepark, it IS one.”*) The state of New Jersey has even paid for some of that research, on that topic, and in Atlantic City.
If you know Atlantic City, you won’t be surprised and you won’t be amused to know that the state, through the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), had plans to build a skate park. Expensive plans, here and here. The state’s $800,000 AC master plan in 2012 envisaged a skate park as an “opportunity to capitalize on the younger culture, extreme sports and the surfing contingency.” But while soon-to-go-bankrupt casinos got millions of dollars of their own tax money back to redo their hard-to-miss entrances featuring MTV-style displays, somehow the opportunity to capitalize on the IRL younger culture slipped to the wayside.
In real life, though, really, there were some people who just went and did it. They built the skate park:
Because even when cities don’t work, the people who live there keep right on living there. Governments may forget about them, the people, because it’s just another broken city, just another big pile of debt and probably some ugly crime statistics. They see more money going out than coming in. Governments don’t see that their employees are parents, slogging for a raise of cents on the dollar and no benefits (yes, I’m talking about you CRDA), they don’t see the kids of those parents slowly losing faith, they don’t see the grandparents losing heart, they sure as hell don’t see a city collectively just beaten to the ground, because it’s not the first time their home was messed up by outsiders and a last time doesn’t seem to be in the future.
So sometimes, when the formal ways of getting things done are blocked or exhausted, someone with some energy comes along and does something that’s not in the government rulebook. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, when there’s not been an alternative. Bigger cities than Atlantic City have been built without formal development.
But what happened? Over night on Tuesday, apparently, the park was demolished. The skaters blame the state, which took over control of Atlantic City in November. Maybe they are right: A similarly informal skate warehouse in Egg Harbor City was also demolished yesterday, according to social media reports. Even if skateboarding isn’t your jive, remember that 300-year-old house in Bellmawr that was demolished by the state, in spite of the court injunction?
So what next? The guys who built the AC skate park are already going to talk to the mayor – on Thursday, tomorrow – about rebuilding it.
And the mayor knows a thing or two about skateboarding.
*Thanks to another Tony for pointing me to the Tony Hawk line.