It’s mere coincidence that the small window of time when Mayor Jim Kenney lifted the longtime ban on skating in Philadelphia’s LOVE Park — in anticipation of the park’s demolition next week as part of a planned renovation — is also the coldest weekend of the winter.
With wind chill, temperatures are expected to stay in the single digits. Nevertheless, longtime skaters are not missing the opportunity.
“This is where I started. A monumental place for my childhood. I was here every single day,” said a skater named Jared dressed in two jackets and a knit cap. “Everybody has a story, and this was a crucial place in my story.”
Jared didn’t want his last name used because he’s not a kid anymore. He’s 38, with a job and a baby daughter. His quasi-legal hobby could jeopardize that. It has been illegal to skate LOVE Park for 15 years, and that still carries a sting.
“Yeah. It was very difficult,” said Tony Montgomery, a 20-year skating veteran of LOVE Park. “Cops always harass you just for doing what you love to do. It’s kind of bittersweet right now. This place isn’t going to be around.”
Despite the risks, LOVE Park has been a legendary skateboarding spot for decades due to its unique arrangement of concrete steps, granite ledges, and the thrill of the raw urban environment. It has been featuring in countless magazines, skateboarding videos, and the Tony Hawk video game.
“It’s something we see in skate videos, and skate videos are a big deal to us,” said Aaron Grisham, 20, who drove six hours from Suffolk, Virginia, with his friends so they could experience LOVE before it disappears forever.
The park is open for one last hurrah due to the efforts of Jesse Rendell, the son of former mayor Ed Rendell and the board president of the Franklin’s Paine Skate Park Fund, a nonprofit that develops skate parks throughout the city.
He lobbied Kenney to throw a bone to skaters.
“We knew that they were going to close it, and I thought, ‘Look, if they are going to close this thing down and literally rip it out, what’s the harm in letting people skate it for a couple days?'” said Rendell.
Skaters are coming from around the world this weekend, some by the invitation of Nike, the athletic apparel company, and others lured by a $5,000 prize for the best trick caught on video, offered by The Berrics, a skateboarding website.
Relaxing a ban for five days may seem like a small gesture from City Hall, but to Josh Nims, the founder of Franklin’s Paine Skate Park Fund, it’s actually a big deal.
“It’s not about LOVE being open for a few days. It’s about this new administration embracing new thinking about civic planning, and place-making for young people,” said Nims. “It’s feels like there’s an administration that will take it to the next level.”
Nims hopes this gesture will pave the way toward more opportunities to develop youth recreational facilities and programs.