Neighbors’ Fears of Attracting “A Different Element” Helped Kill the 606 Skate Park

Faced with the prospect of teens skateboarding near their homes, neighbors decided that this featureless lawn is a "lovely" community asset.  Image: Google Street View
Faced with the prospect of teens skateboarding near their homes, neighbors decided that this featureless lawn is a "lovely" community asset. Image: Google Street View

It’s funny how a plain, green lawn suddenly becomes “fabulous” when the alternative is a bmx and skateboard park that would provide healthy recreation for teenagers from diverse backgrounds.

As reported in DNAinfo, some neighbors are rejoicing now that the Trust for Public Land has nixed plans for a “wheel-friendly event plaza” for biking and skating the east end of the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, in the affluent Bucktown neighborhood. The official reason for the change of plans is that nearby residents are particularly enamored of the existing featureless field, located on the north side of the elevated trail. On the other side of the path is the developed side of Walsh Park, which has a playground and dog-friendly area.

“The community has expressed great appreciation [for the undeveloped portion of] Walsh Park’s current state as an open green space. Plans for the skate park have been suspended,” said Ken Modzelewski, acting region director of the trust, which manages the development of the trail, in a statement to DNA.

DNA also reported that Vivian Garcia, from the Chicago Park District, which owns the facility, said at a recent community meeting that neighborhood feedback about the unadorned turf was “very positive,” and so it was decided the bike and skate park wouldn’t be built.

Rendering of the "wheel-friendly event plaza."
Rendering of the “wheel-friendly event plaza.”

Indeed, nearby neighbors quoted in the DNA piece described the grassy land as “fabulous” and “lovely” and argued that the circular concrete recreational facility would have been an eyesore. They also said they were concerned about large amounts of skateboard traffic on the sidewalks in front of their homes.

While the skate pate project was first announced in 2013, it was stalled in 2015 when Governor Rauner froze the funding for a number of parks initiatives, including plans to convert the former Magid glove factory at the west end of The 606 to a new park.

Another possible factor in why plans for the wheel-friendly facility were kyboshed is that there has been a recent change in leadership at the Trust for Public Land. Original Bloomingdale project manager Beth White left the organization last year for a job in Huston, and interim regional director Jamie Simone recently left to take an outreach position with the Illinois Department of Transportation.

While all of these factors help explain why the skate park isn’t getting built, another motivation for killing the project appears to be the neighbors’ perceptions of the kids who would have benefitted from the facility. The residents haven’t been completely silent on this issue. “Skateboarders bring in a different element to [The] 606 than bicyclists, walkers and joggers,” said nearby neighbor Judie Knoerle, who collected more than 200 signatures on a petition against the facility, according to DNA.

Teens hang out on the Bloomingdale Trail. Photo: John Greenfield
Teens hang out on the Bloomingdale Trail. Photo: John Greenfield

Alex Wilson, who runs the bicycle education center West Town Bikes, which is located two miles southwest of Walsh Park in the Humboldt Park neighborhood and primarily serves Latino and Black youth, was an early advocate for the bike and skate facility. “I know there have been concerns all along there about skateboarders and BMX riders [at Walsh Park],” he said. “That represents a bias against teens and, in many ways, teens of color. It goes along with the concerns that people who live along the Bloomingdale Line had in general about the trail before it was built.”

It’s worth noting that worries that neighbors previously had about the trail attracting bad actors have largely failed to materialize and nowadays (aside from concerns about gentrification and displacement) the path is almost universally seen as a positive addition to the communities it runs through. “I’m very happy that The 606 exists as a safe and welcoming place for teens to meet and recreate and do positive things,” Wilson said. “I think it’s in all of our interests to help facilitate more of these kind of spaces.”

It’s a shame that the many of the Walsh Park neighbors apparently don’t see things the same way.

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  • hopeyglass

    Please tell me someone has thought of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJJyF-up7RA

    A CERTAIN TYPE OF PERSON I DONT LIKE. Ugh, these people are the worst.

  • kastigar

    Open grass land absorbs water. Pouring concrete of the area for a skate-board park is only going to mean more water into the drain system, more water to be processed for reclamation, more sewage.

  • Erik Swedlund

    There are ways to design skateparks to mitigate that issue.
    http://inhabitat.com/skate-parks-jump-the-gap-to-green-design/

  • hopeyglass

    really?

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    I was out there a few weeks ago, and dozens of people were sprawled out enjoying the small piece of grass. I think it’s a better use than concrete for a small group of boarders. I feel much the same way about dog parks too, especially when it’s very limited space.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I guess using that logic, the concrete Bloomingdale Trail bike path shouldn’t have built in the first place. Unless there’s some eco-friendly water management system in use that I haven’t heard of, runoff from the path also goes into the sewer system. On the other hand, green stormwater management strategies could have been used for the skate park.

  • rohmen

    I appreciate skate parks. I appreciate skaters. I was a skater through high school. I still think having a green space like this at the trail head is better than locating a skate park here.

    I think framing everyone’s objections to a skate park at this location as amounting to “let’s keep the bad element out” simply isn’t fair. You’re pointing to basically one or two residents comments on this, and suggesting it’s indicative of the entire community’s reasons for objecting to locating a skate park there. Like I’ve mentioned on here before, there are likely many people who would simply appreciate this spot remaining as green space—both for aesthetics reasons, and for its use as an open lawn space. That’s a completely legitimate reason to object to the park.

  • hopeyglass

    But it’s not one or two residents:

    “They also said they were concerned about large amounts of skateboard traffic on the sidewalks in front of their homes.” All of this is codified racism and classism. They also delineate between “skateboarders” and every other user of parks. It might be a reason to object, but it’s still super crummy and very UN-neighborly.

    Also the snarktivist in me says: if you want a green lawn, move to the suburbs.

  • Russell

    Good response. I have myself laid out and had a picnic, seen a Stilt play, played fetch with the dog and enjoyed the grassy area. I would also like a Skate & BMX Park, just as Chicago is lacking in outdoor bball courts. Tough call. Just reinforces reason to advocate for more overall public space in Chicago

  • rohmen

    There are literally a hand full of residents/members of the community quoted in that article, and extrapolating their prejudicial comments to the entire community at large is a big leap.

    And as to the suburbs comment, cities much denser than us have green space like this, and value it for the idea that people can come together and chill in an open space on blankets—largely because many have no outdoor space of their own to hang out in. I mean look at SF and NY. This type of green space wouldn’t be out of place there, so why is it a “waste” here.

    The idea that literally every open space has to have some man made function placed upon it isn’t “urban,” it’s just over-engineering. People are using the space as is, it doesn’t need to be made better. Building a skate park here could even arguably lower the density of users, not increase it, which kinda says it all.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    That’s an idiotic comment, because if it was an existing structure, not something that was “built” as a park. You really went for the epic fail there, John.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Many thumbs up.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Is there any proof that most skaters are minorities? Even at the skate park on 31 street on the lakefront, it appears to be mostly white kids. Plus, skate parks are different from other park users. Skate parks are LOUD.

  • I want to set aside Walsh Park specifically for the moment and talk about a different land use issue: density, and the lack of it in some places.

    In some neighborhoods, Bucktown included, there are blocks that are becoming less dense through the tearing down of multi-unit buildings and the construction of single-unit buildings, as well as the deconversion of multi-unit buildings to fewer-unit or single-unit buildings. That leaves “towers” as a way to pick up the slack in the demand for housing supply in desirable neighborhoods like Bucktown.

    That also means less space to be able to acquire for playlots and open space, or high competition for existing space. The Chicago Park District does spend money acquiring space, and this is an extremely costly venture for them.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Please keep the conversation civil. Before the disused rail line was paved, stormwater was just absorbed by the soil in the embankment, and any flooding wasn’t really a problem because no one was supposed to be up there in the first place. Building a paved trail required setting up a drainage system, which likely empties into the sewer system.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “I think framing everyone’s objections to a skate park at this location as amounting to ‘let’s keep the bad element out’ simply isn’t fair.”

    I didn’t say that the fear of attracting “a different element” was everyone’s objective to the skate park. I said it was a factor, along with concerns about skateboards on the sidewalk, and people claiming that a blank lawn is a major community asset, that helped kill the plan.

    Not that this is necessarily reflective of the nearby neighbors but, for what it’s worth, here are a couple comments on the recent DNA piece about skateboarders. Judging from my observations of the Logan, Wilson, Grant Park, and 31st Street skate parks, a high percentage of the people who skateboard in Chicago are teens of color.

    “What’s ‘healthy’ about skateboarding?… [The Grant Park skate park] attracts gross people.”

    “You think a skate park is ‘staying out of trouble’? The trouble just moves to the skatepark.”

  • Matt F

    Fun Fact: there are more skateboarders (9.2 million in 2009) than little league baseball players (2.6 million in 2008). But look at the ratio of skateparks to baseball fields, and then look at how much space they take up. It’s completely bogus.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    If you want it kept civil, maybe check your snark? Did you know how toxic the absorbed stormwater was? That’s why the railroad gave it away for free.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Snark is fine; name-calling is not. Personally, I don’t mind being called idiotic, but it sets a bad tone for the conversation, and we try to keep things reasonably polite here.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    No one called you idiotic. It was your comment that merited that designation.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    OK, edit: “Personally, I don’t mind my comments being called idiotic, but it sets a bad tone for the conversation, and we try to keep things reasonably polite here.”

  • Frank Kotter

    Sorry, but this fight is BS. Here’s why: The trail-head park is great the way it is and offers the residents of the neighborhood a little bit of green space in an area that has otherwise none.

    AND right next to it is the I94 a few stories above street level. In most cites, skate parks are put under these concrete umbrellas and if well designed, they become excellent points for kids to hang out and skate 12 months a year. Hell, you could even build a world class pump track, a bmx track and still have a room for the park dept trucks under there (yes, this to the west of Ashland is currently used for park dept storage but is mostly empty)

    Just imagine what you could build with the embankment as a design element!!

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/739bf2c696217a200023d7b50476da75733dea2f6b832b64ee12fd679f8c7deb.gif

  • Bernard Finucane

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