A Place of Their Own

Paine’s Park a welcome reprieve for skateboarders

Since Paine’s skatepark opened in May, 18-year-old Arthur Rackley has been here nearly every day, pushing his skateboard and his body into complicated tricks and landings.

He arrives as early as 9:30 a.m. from his Fairmount neighborhood home and sometimes stays as late as three in the afternoon.

“I love everything about it,” Rackley says of the park, before admitting a slight annoyance with a few bricks in certain places.

But here, he is no longer a renegade figure in Philadelphia. He is not chased by the police and pursued like a criminal for the scuffs and nicks his sport leaves on such public places as Love Park and the ribbon of City Hall.

Legendary urban planner Edmund Bacon, who conceived Love Park in 1932, once proclaimed:

“I am deeply disturbed by the hypocrisy of City Council. After decrying the drugs and crime of our young people, it then adopted legislation forbidding the one harmless thing that young people had developed strictly on their own, the wonderful national network of skateboarding focusing  on Love Park.”

Rackley admits that at age 13, in his early years of skating, being chased by authority figures was part of the thrill of skateboarding. But it wore off.  “Now,” he says, “I just want to skate.”

I myself am surprised by my immediate affinity for Paine’s Park. I’d read about Mayor John Street’s 2002 promise to dedicate the land buffering the Art Museum and Schuylkill River to skateboarding. I’d read about the 10-year, $4.5 million fundraising effort. And I’d read about the hiring of respected designer Anthony Bracali of Friday Architects/Planners to design its amphitheater-like setting, with wonderful city views, perfectly placed benches and lovely shade trees.

But the park’s real attraction is the display of talent and passion by determined youngsters—performing ollies, nollies, kick flips and power slides.

Daniel Niedziocha, who is skating early on Sunday morning with his wife and 3-year-old daughter in tow, muses on elderly spectators.

“They sit for hours,” he says. “I think it’s the youth they’re attracted to. It’s ironic, because generally seniors don’t like to mix with youth.”

But the renegade years are behind such skaters as Tyler Kline, 39, who moved to East Falls after living in Atlanta. He is now a husband, father, homeowner and active member of the community who supported fund-
raisers to build the park. “I’m so happy about this,” he says.

But don’t expect the park to do away with the renegade skater completely. Rackley admits he still “street skates” in such locations as Love Park for the challenge of its obstacles and barriers.

“This is a park,” he says of his beloved Paine. “You come here to practice for the streets.”