FDR Skatepark. Photo: K. Scott Kreider
There has been a shift in recent years in the way cities look at redeveloping the urban environment. Rather than bulldozing neighborhoods to a new future--one usually consisting of parking garages or elevated ramps--cities are now repurposing existing, unused areas. The most famous example of this is the High Line in Manhattan, the unthinkable success story that has spawned numerous schemes all around the world and back again (see New York's "LowLine"). In Philadelphia, similar efforts are being made at rehabilitating the frontage on the Delaware River, like Race Street Pier, as parks for pedestrian use. But while this repurposing tendency hasn't always been a hallmark of city planners, it has been, and still is, a defining characteristic of skateboarders.
Photo: Ryan Gee, via "FDR Skatepark: A Visual History"
All of the city's infrastructure, from the banal (a set of stairs, a painted curb) to the dangerous (elevated ledges, gaps between buildings), is of use to skaters. In early '90s Philadelphia, skaters would gather around around City Hall and across the street at LOVE Park, which holds a special place in skateboarding lore akin to Brooklyn Banks in New York or Embarcadero in San Francisco. In 1996, the City of Philadelphia moved to clean up downtown, passing a series of measures to "cleanse" LOVE Park of vagrants and skaters alike. In return, the city built a skatepark five miles south in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park underneath the Interstate 95 overpass.
Photo: Phil Jackson, via "FDR Skatepark: A Visual History"
It seems the intent of the park was to keep skateboarders as far away from the city center as possible. The new park was a joke and virtually unskateable; however, the skateboarders would gradually rectify the situation by modifying the space themselves. For the last fifteen years, they've turned FDR skatepark into a perpetual construction site. A recent book released this summer, FDR Skatepark: A Visual History, documents the history and ever-evolving life of the park.
Photo: K. Scott Kreider
As Phil Jackson, the photo editor of the book, explains, "The Park is in a constant state of repair, redesign, and expansion. Walls get torn down or added onto; cracks from regular use, weather, or vandalism are patched; coping is re-set or replaced." The building and continued development of the park is not funded by the city at all, but is completely grassroots. According to Jackson, "The construction and maintenance are done by local skaters, and are paid for by them and others through fundraising parties, T-shirt and board sales, cash donations, etc." Incidentally all proceeds of the sale of FDR Skatepark: A Visual History go toward building and repairing the park. As of now the City of Philadelphia is not stopping any further expansion or use of the park, allowing the skateboarders to continue creating a public park for themselves in an unused and overlooked area, much like many other cities are attempting to do at this moment.
Photo: Jon Mehring, via "FDR Skatepark: A Visual History"