East Villagers Disheartened by New City Proposal for Tompkin’s Square Skate Park

BY LUCY GREIDER

The skatepark located in Tompkins Square Park’s northwest corner is a special place. While the rest of the park tends to empty out during the colder months, this square of pavement is seasonless. During the hot blaze of summer, after leaves have fallen from the elm trees and even in the winter months when sludge covers the city streets, the buzz of activity here remains constant.

PHOTO: Mel /  Instagram

PHOTO: Mel / Instagram

Jeff Glaser, a local resident in his 40s, has lived in the neighborhood for over two decades. He describes the skatepark as “arguably the most valuable… in the world” and as a vital “showcase for the most elite skaters to show up, film, [etc].”

Due to a controversial new city proposal, this valued space may soon be gone from the community forever.

This skatepark, affectionately known as “TF” or “Training Facility” isn’t a skatepark in the traditional sense. There are no ramps here; there aren’t even any stairs or railings. However despite its lack of trimmings, Tompkins’ skatepark is an area famous within New York skating culture. It is beloved not only for its status as a training ground for amateur and pro skaters alike, but even more so as a host to a vibrant community of youth who use the spot as a place to socialize, teach and hone their craft.

Collin Jasper-Rhyins, 23, has lived adjacent to the park his entire life and describes TF as being “defined by two elements: a slab of concrete, and passion.” He refers to the park as a space where people go not only to skate but to “hang out with people from [the] neighborhood, share experiences and grow as a community.”

Unfortunately for locals like Glaser and Jasper-Rhyins, the city has approved a plan to cover the existing pavement in the park with a layer of artificial turf--a material that is virtually impossible to skate on. Strange as it seems, this decision can be attributed in part to global warming.

Earlier this year, New York officials revealed the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR). In an effort to protect against potential flooding in the midst of rising sea levels, the city plans to cover the East River promenade with about ten feet of dirt, an undertaking that will cause a 2.4 mile stretch of the river to be closed for three and a half years. This proposal has been unsurprisingly controversial, and consequently the city has made efforts to appease those pushed out of the popular and much-used recreational area. One of these concessions is covering the skatepark’s asphalt with turf.

Official proposals have framed this decision as an “improvement,” with the goal being to provide more green space for local residents while the waterfront is under construction. However many who have grown up with the skatepark as an essential part of the East Village community are saddened and even outraged by the city’s decision. This sentiment is one that bridges generational divides. Andrea Montanez, a middle aged local resident who was born and raised in the community, expressed her disappointment upon hearing of the destruction of one of the “very few places left where youth can go to express themselves in a positive way.”

Some have questioned the power dynamics involved in the decision. Glaser, describes his reaction to the city’s plan as one of outrage. “Changing the physical landscape of public spaces changes the culture within that space,” he says. To him it is clear that the specific culture being overturned in this instance is no coincidence. He explains how decades ago skaters “reclaimed that little corner” from its previous use as a crack dealing spot, and how the city’s plan to replace the smooth asphalt with unskatable turf “removes active young people from the equation and replaces them with strollers and nannies who aren’t going to cause a fuss.”

Beyond the contentious cultural dynamics at play and the initial upset at losing a spot that holds huge sentimental value for many, another practical question has yet to be answered: where will the skaters go?

Syed Ishmam, 20, was born and raised in New York City. He’s concerned that the overhaul of the skatepark could actually be putting people in danger. “I find this city to be extremely against anything that isn’t on four wheels or two feet,” he says, going on to express his belief that the local government doesn’t do enough to protect the interests of those using bicycles, motorcycles, or skateboards.

“The removal of that skatepark will make skaters go places not designated for skating and possibly get hurt and nothing will be done about it.”

Ishmam remarks that similar problems have occurred with recent bicycling deaths, with fifteen cyclists having been killed in accidents in the first seven months of this year. He fears that pushing skaters out of their space could have a similarly fatal effect.

Although over thirty thousand people have signed a petition created to try and dissuade the local government from going through with the plan, it is unlikely to change the course of action. In the midst of this devastating blow to locals who have grown up with this park as a cornerstone of their experience in the community, perhaps these same people will find other ways to reclaim space and keep the city that they call home their own. As Jasper-Rhyins says, “passion and creativity...is indigenous to this neighborhood and its inhabitants.” It’s hard to believe that any one government decision would be capable of stamping that out.

Blended reached out to Councilwoman Carlina Rivera of District 2 to comment on the matter but received no response.

Lead Image Credit: Spitfire Wheels / Instagram