The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, January 30, 2004  

Wiffle Ball on North Broad Street

I’ll bet almost every blogger has had this experience at least once. Something’s on your mind. You want to blog about it, and you want to offer readers something more than a link. You want to put in your two cents or, in the case of some bloggers, like me I suppose, your six or seven cents (and then there’s that guy in San Diego who puts his cents in using handfuls of dimes). But you’re not sure what to write. It’s gone through your head a couple of dozen times. Maybe there’s even a draft on your hard drive. Yet the moment dissipates. The link looks stale. Another time, maybe.

And then it happens. Every thoughtful blogger’s nightmare. Someone writes that very same post. And does it so well there’s just nothing to add. (Okay, maybe not a nightmare, really, but you know what I mean.)

It happened to me yesterday. Not in the blogosphere, but in Philadelphia magazine, which is kind of a shame, because it’s a great article but it’s not on line.

In “X-treme Annoyance” (Philadelphia, February 2004, pp. 42-43), Noel Weyrich says everything I was thinking -- and more -- about the inexplicable controversy surrounding skateboarding in Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Plaza, at Benjamin Franklin Parkway and 16th Street, also known as “LOVE Park” in recognition of the Robert Indiana sculpture that resides there.

You see, a few years ago skateboarders took over the park, which from what I understand and concede had fallen into rather consistent disuse, though that is irrelevant now, and trashed the place. And the neighboring sidewalks. And the public-space plazas abutting nearby office buildings. And, in the process, they managed to scare the bejeebus out of nearly anyone who dared to try to assert his or her right to engage in such outrageous behavior as, say, to walk through the park or on the neighboring sidewalks and plazas, or to sit in the park or on the few available benches on the neighboring sidewalks and plazas.

The city, finally recognizing the damage to the park and the sidewalks and the plazas, and the general deteriorating quality of life the area, finally said enough, and rightly banned skateboarding in JFK Plaza. An uproar of sorts ensued, with the local major dailies experiencing repeated attacks of righteous apoplexy and a stray politician or two, pandering for the “youth” vote, whatever that is, standing up for principle, whatever that might be.

For now, all I can offer from the Weyrich essay are a few excerpts, enough to generate some disagreeable e-mail but not so much that I invite a ruckus over copyright infringement. (Oh, and a few remarks of my own. What did you expect?) So here goes:

Skateboarding -- “street skating,” more precisely -- is a sport the way graffiti is an art. Half the thrills come from messing with something that doesn’t belong to you.

Center City building owners have fought back, blighting their plazas by bolting ugly little-L-shaped steel clips on walls and benches to deter the skaters from “grinding” (a skateboarding term) their axels along the edges. But the steel-clip defense holds other risks. In an incident that went unreported in the papers last spring, skateboarders frustrated by new clips at one office plaza pried them up and pitched them through a nearby shop window. [...]

Among recent college graduates surveyed last year by the Center City District, the top four criteria for choosing a place to live were cost, walkability, safety, and proximity to work. The thrill of vandalism didn’t come up.

Street rats

I’m with Weyrich. Shoo these obnoxious vandals, these “street rats” (his words, and mine) away once and for all. Frankly, as starved for revenue as this city is, I think we’ll manage just fine without the pittance of sales tax these detestable urchins might occasionally cough up when buying chewing tobacco and bubble gum, both of which, I might add, they also use to deface the park and the sidewalks and the plazas.

We’re supposed to share LOVE Park with these guys? The same knuckleheads who can’t share Walnut Street, or Chestnut Street, or Market Street, preferring instead to terrorize genuine shoppers on those thoroughfares, to say nothing of the tourists they send scattering on the Parkway? Build the park you say they need so badly, build it somewhere else, but let the city’s real taxpayers have JFK Plaza.

(I’m willing to bet, though, that if the city builds the skateboarding park currently under discussion it will rarely, if ever, be used. Not because, as the editorialists would have you think, because JFK Plaza is in the heart of the city, but because, as Weyrich says, vandalism -- and terrorism -- is the name of the game.)

Justifiably taking to task the city’s two major dailies, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, both of which have been harping on this issue -- in enthusiastic support of the skateboarders -- with an intensity and frequency better reserved for such issues as the wage tax, corruption, development of the waterfronts, and, what else, oh, how about why the hell there are so many damn parking lots and parking garages blighting Center City, Weyrich observes:

[N]one of the people who actually use LOVE Park are clamoring for the return of the skaters. Only ivory-tower suburbanites (the majority of both editorial boards) and pandering city politicians are seriously pushing this idea. At a low point of a mayoral campaign filled with low points, Sam Katz actually mounted a skateboard at a press conference, falling on his ample ass. [Local notes: The Inquirer and the Daily News share offices in a building that is literally, one could say, an “ivory tower.” Katz, a Republican, unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Mayor John F. Street in the November mayoral election.]

Wiffle ball anyone?

Weyrich, mindful of the need for as many recreation opportunities as possible in Philadelphia, cleverly has proposed a new Wiffle ball league. The league’s proposed stomping grounds, its suggested playing field? Out front at 400 North Broad Street, the home of both the Inquirer and the Daily News.

“We’ll have a great time for about five minutes,” Weyrich writes. “But when the security guards race to shoo us away, I am fully confident that the editorial boards of both papers will rally to our defense.”

According to Weyrich, the first meeting of the North Broad Wiffle Ball League will be held on Thursday, February 5, with the first pitch tossed at noon.

Damn! Can’t make it. Jury duty calls.

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