Skateboards – some progress

I just sent off my completed “Skate Board Plaza Site Evaluation Matrix” ranking 10 Northfield parks according to 21 criteria to Joel Walinski, City Administrator.   I guess this means we’re moving the issue along somewhat although I am cringing in advance about the next Council discussion.

But forget the Council’s next move.  Mary Rossing and Joel Walinski should get a few rounds of applause for moving quickly on the temporary skate park in Babcock Park.  See the News, Northfield Union of Youth and Locally Grown’s coverage for more news and pictures

And in national skateboard news, the Wall Street Journal had a story about Portland, OR’s skateboard “infrastructure” today – the most interesting bit is that skateboarding is maturing enough that folks who skate are now occupying positions in municipal government.  In a few years, I’d like to see Joe McGowan of the Skateboard Coalition running for office in Northfield.

And then there’s skateboard celebrity: Tony Hawk, professional skateboarder, now has his own wax counterpart at Madame Tussaud’s.

City Council stuff this week

moviesignIt’s the 4th Monday which often means the Council gets a meetingless evening.  Not this week, however. There is a special Council meeting (“special” incidentally, does not mean that there is something special or ‘specially important or ‘specially controversial on the agenda but only that the meeting is not a “regular” meeting happening on the 1st or 3rd Monday and requires public notice, etc.   Sometimes special meetings are really special, but often the business is routine but out of synch with the regular calendar).

On the agenda this week: consider approving an outdoor dining permit for the Hideaway on Division Street (we approved changes to the ordinance at our last meeting to continue to permit these uses) and consider a grant proposal put forward by the Environmental Quality Commission to fund an energy coordinator and several energy conservation initiatives.   As with the wind ordinance, this another backwards policy decision – that is, the previous Council accepted (but did not adopt) the Energy Task Force report and its recommendations are not (yet) the policy of the City.  I’m particularly dubious about funding staff on “soft money” because the sustainablility of this practice is questionable.   Opposing the manner in which decisons are made tends to make folks think I’m opposed to the subject matter, but this isn’t so –  I am in favor of moving ahead with good energy and resource management, but we’re putting the cart before the horse again.

Then we adjouorn to a worksession where we consider the skateboard park again after the Council sent the issue back to the Park Board, a proposal for allowing administrative citations which was postponed from a previous worksession, and a discussion of the NDDC‘s Community Expectations policy.

Skateboards, continued

See if you can follow the skateboard issue around town: Park Board recommends Ames Park, Council asks for consideration of safety issues, Council gets update on safety and sends issue back to Park Board, Park Board holds meeting but no decision reached, Park Board will hold special meeting Tuesday, 4/21, Village on the Cannon will hold another meeting about skateboards and Riverside Park on Wednesday, 4/22…

I’m really bothered by the process.    I am confused about what is and what is not on the agenda and, if we attempt to act somewhere between starting the whole process over and accepting the Ames Park location, I do not know how we justify our starting place in a principled way.

I went and looked at the 2008 Parks, Open Space, and Trails System Plan adopted just last year which has been cited little if at all.

Section 3 Select Special-Use Facilities and Amenities begins with the Skateboard park and a comparison of the site opportunities/Benefits and Constraints/Limitations of Memorial Park (the overwhelming preference of the Skateboard Coalition – see Appendix B), Ames Park and Babcock Park – the 3 parks considered by the Park Board before recommending Ames.   Appendix A has a park by park summary of each park, its current amenities and future plans and the skateboard park is mentioned for Memorial Park and Ames Park.

The latest development is that the Park Board unanimously recommended Ames Park at their special meeting 4/21 (I couldn’t attend, but I understand it was a long one) and the issue (and the Park Board) will be back to the Council on Monday.

I did attend (along with Mayor Mary Rossing and Councilwoman Rhonda Pownell) a meeting held by and at the Village on the Cannon last night to hear residents’ concerns about putting the skate park in Riverside Park.    Village on the Cannon is an over-55 condominium development (only Phase I has been completed, so it could be about 2/3 larger at full build-out) and its neighbor is the Millstream Commons assisted living facility.  Residents spoke about being a vulnerable community and about small-scale terrorism by skateboarders on and around the Village on the Cannon property.    Although I had other reasons I thought Riverside Park wasn’t the best location, I hadn’t thought hard about the older and more vulnerable character of the neighborhood.  Certainly this is  another factor we should be considering when planning place-appropriate parks, but it makes the planning process more difficult when the park in question –Riverside Park– is a community park (larger, more widely used) and not a neighborhood park.

Skateboarder behavior is another persistent problem, but I am not sure that city government is the right entity to address this (although clearly we have the public safety and law enforcement responsibility) at least not alone.  Parents, community leaders, youth leaders, community service organizations – we need all of them to help teach our young people good public behavior (without taking all the fun out of it).   I’d suggest that the Skateboard Coalition needs not only to raise money, but also to help do public relations and education about the sport and its participants because I fear that the perception that skateboards and their riders are just bad news – bad for business, bad for property values and bad for Northfield – is a drag on efforts to create a skate plaza.

A small comment about Money: No matter where it is located or what the design may be, funding the facility is a potential limiting factor.    The City has a very tight budget and this affects all decisions about park development and all other expenses, capital and otherwise.  Money can be used as an excuse to veto the skateboard park for other reasons, but even those of us who support the skateboard park know that money is an issue and affects how much we can do and how fast we can do it.   The flip side is that we don’t know what the capital outlay will be until we make some other choices.