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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The Bloomingdale Trail is attracting new investment along its length, including the construction of new multi-family and single-family housing. The blocks bracketing the multi-use path and adjacent parks (collectively known as the 606) saw less construction than their wider neighborhoods during the 2008-2009 recession — but now construction is picking up. Investors and developers are confidently […]