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Community Soapbox: Skate Park Closure

West 49 Lyon Skate Park, Polson Park, Kingston, OntarioThe City of Kingston is planning on removing vital and much used skate board equipment from the West 49 Lyon Skate Park in Polson Park in an effort to reduce usage of the skate park by teenagers. The skate park was developed through an initiative by members of the Polson Park Free Methodist Church. Initial funding for the skate park came from the estate of Herb and Helen Lyon, West 49, the Cataraqui Rotary Club, members of the Polson Park community and the City of Kingston.

I became aware of the city’s desire to remove the larger skate board ramps to a location in Grenadier Village when a neighbour informed me of a notice she received in August 2010. Since then, I have been investigating the city’s decision in an attempt to find an equitable solution which satisfies both the skate boarders’ needs and neighbours’ concerns. We have had a meeting with Lanie Hurdle, Director of Parks and Recreation, and Mark Gerretsen, Councillor for Portsmouth District. During the meeting, I learned that there have been a number of issues with vandalism and partying after dark which the city has tried to address. I have asked for specific statistics regarding these concerns but have yet to receive this information. It was also indicated that the day time users of the West 49 Lyon Skate Park were not a concern. During the meeting, I asked the city not move the equipment until the spring, in order to give our group time to identify specific concerns and develop sustainable solutions. Initial indication was that we would be given this time.  The next day I received an Email that indicated that the City would be going ahead and putting the equipment into storage. The cost of moving this equipment is over $50,000, which is more than was initially paid for the equipment. We are quite aware that should the equipment be removed from the West 49 Lyon Skate Park, we are unlikely to get the equipment back regardless of whether it goes to Grenadier Village or storage.

In the last week, I have met with neighbours from around Polson Park. Many have indicated to me that they don’t have a concern with the skate park, but two neighbours indicated that they were being pressured by another neighbour and they were tired of having to listen to her. I spoke with a neighbour who identified herself as the ‘primary complainer’, while she indicated that she had no concerns with the day time users of the skate park. She was however upset that the City of Kingston only gave her two days notice when the park was first installed. She was also concerned with night time activities in Polson Park, and that the skate park took up space that was previously used for recreational ice skating. This neighbour also indicated that she took her grandchildren to use the skate park on a regular basis which is why she was okay with young children using it.  She just didn’t want teenagers to be allowed to use the skate park. We have offered to work with this neighbour and do our best to alleviate her concerns.

Most importantly, the users of the West 49 Lyon Skate Park are confused about the impending removal of equipment. The skate park is used all day every day, with the heaviest usage between 6 and 8pm. These youths consist of many St Lawrence, Queen’s, LCVI and Polson Park students, I have yet to meet a user of the park who is not also a full time student. The atmosphere at the skate park is very positive, the cement pad is very clean, and graffiti is minimal and non offensive. Not one of the skate boarders I have met thus far understood that they had a voice to protest this decision. Indications from city staff are that the skate boarding community was not consulted before this decision was made. Many of the skate boarders have indicated to me that they would like to be part of a positive, sustainable solution.

We will be petitioning Council to reverse this decision at their meeting on October 5th. The city’s plan is to remove the equipment after Thanksgiving, once their own skate boarding programs at the skate park have ended.
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Submitted to Kingstonist’s Community Soapbox by: Chrystal Wilson.

Thanks to FabianReichert Media for today’s photo.

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17 thoughts on “Community Soapbox: Skate Park Closure

  • October 5, 2010 at 2:40 pm
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    This is unfortunate however the skate park was embarassing. I can't believe Picton and Bancroft have far better skateboard facilities than kingston. Hopefully local skaters can use this as an oppotunity to get the city to invest in a few descent skate parks. The city likely needs three, one in the west, one in the east and one central to the downtown either in City Park of at the Memorial Centre. If skateparks are located properly (ie. in full view of parks and streets) the problems are often eliminated. Skate parks are a great place for youth recreation and are entertaining for spectators. One suggestion i would provide is the local skaters get together and meet with city parks and rec staff early and often to ensure what is planned is actually a quality skate park. It would not hurt to get a councillor onside as well. When pouring concrete you only get one shot at it so it is important to get it right, there are companies out there that specialize in this too. Skateparks are pretty impressive these days, much better than the plywood we scavanged back in the day.

  • October 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm
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    This decision is a real shame, especially when it sounds like – and this isn't news to me – that the number of complaints about the park are very, very few as a percentage of those who are neighbours and who use those who benefit from the park. It is a shame that the city staff and the local councillor won't stand behind the city's younger residents and work to solve the problem, but would rather just put the equipment in storage and leave these young people to do… what exactly? Go indoors and play video games? Wander the streets?

    These sorts of parks and other recreation areas that draw young people are what we need more and more of in the city. This is a terribly short-sighted decision and I hope that city sees the mistake it would be making by removing the skate park and eliminating this excellent facility.

  • October 5, 2010 at 10:08 pm
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    Isn't it ironic that in the same issue of the Whig we have stories about closing a skate park and spending millions to refurbish soccer fields. We seem to select certain activities to support and neglect all others. The result is that already marginalized youth are shuffled further to the side. I am not saying that we don't need better soccer facilities, we do, but unless kids play a specific sport (ie. hockey, soccer, baseball), they can forget about support from their community. Now we have a knee-jerk reaction by council to close this park because one neighbour complained. And this person only complained about late night trouble makers, not the park itself. Do we even know that the people causing problems there are skaters? If we move all of the equipment, will they be in the park partying anyway? I really hope that the city gives this issue some serious thought and not impulsively remove the only positive activity many of these kids have.

    • October 6, 2010 at 2:54 pm
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      The other thing is that the primary complainant also is only worried about the teenagers. She doesn't want *all* the equipment to be removed – she has grandchildren who use the park and use the equipment intended for younger kids… she would like that to remain.

  • October 6, 2010 at 1:13 am
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    Thanks for your comments. In a unanimous vote tonight, Council agreed to hold a public meeting to discuss the future of the West 49 Lyon Skate Park! We're happy, but this is just the beginning of our battle for youths in this city. We would like to hear ideas from everyone on how to get better acceptance of community skate parks, on design, supervision, funding, etc. Please contact me if you would like to be part of the solution. kayakchk at gmail.com

  • October 6, 2010 at 6:05 am
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    That's so sad! I was registering my son at Polson Park this summer – we just moved into their catchment – and one of the things I loved was the skate park. While our kids don't skateboard, it made me feel like somehow this neighbourhood was dynamic, and aware of their youth. D'oh. Wish I'd known about this sooner.

  • October 6, 2010 at 8:05 am
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    The complaints come from one bitter old lady and her husband. Not only do they continuously complain about the skate park, but they also complain about the weekly road hockey that happens on the tennis courts. This old lady says that she works with youth, but was overheard at City Hall last night swearing at a young speaker. Thankfully, the community has come together and a public meeting will be held on the issue.

  • October 6, 2010 at 9:13 am
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    Interestingly enough, the "primary complainer" did not step up last night at the City Council meeting and face the youth that she is complaining about. I do believe she put that off onto a man that I'm assuming is her husband. This woman claims to work with youth, and if this is true, it is quite concerning. After delivering her delegation address to City Council last night, this woman confronted, my daughter, 13 year old Mary-Lynn Neil in the hallway of City Hall. She was very unpleasant to Mary-Lynn.

    In response to a suggestion by Councilwoman Vickie Smolka, we have set up a Facebook Group for the users and other parties interested in keeping up with the skatepark. It can be found at:
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=16559745345

    • October 6, 2010 at 2:56 pm
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      Mary-Lynn did an excellent job last night! She spoke wonderfully and made excellent points in favour of the skate park! All the young people who benefit from that park now and who will benefit from it in the future will have her to thank for the community that they can enjoy.

  • October 6, 2010 at 3:00 pm
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    The complainant probably has a legitimate concern, so step up late night police patrols, and the problem will most likely melt away. But banning teenagers is not the answer. They have to play somewhere, just like the rest of us.

  • October 6, 2010 at 3:33 pm
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    That Guy, you're right, and we've been working to understand those concerns, unfortunately co-operation from those concerned hasn't been great. We would like to work with all interested parties, even those concerned about the park to ensure it's a great place for everyone to enjoy. We're looking at a number of different solutions including changing lighting to make it harder to hide in Polson Park (not just the skate park), we'd also like to plant gardens closer to the edge of the park to prevent vehicles from driving into the park. The Polson Park Free Methodist Church has offered to pay for a CPTED audit http://www.cptedontario.ca/ to give us a better idea of what things we should be looking at.

  • October 7, 2010 at 7:51 pm
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    I grew up a skateboarder and will support a park, existing or new, 100%. Another poster said it. While skate culture was previously associated with 'punk music culture', I think this is no longer the case – in general, I bet they are mostly all great kids (there are always the odd bad apple). For the most part, when I was a teenager, the only reason I got into trouble was because I would skate places where it was not allowed and get into confrontations with shop owner. Aside from that, I was a pretty decent kid.

    My hometown had no skatepark – they were pretty uncommon then (late 80's). Skateboarders need a safe place to vent their energy, and a good skatepark would be a great addition to this town. Take a look a Picton – they just built something great! Skateboarding in a park environment fosters quality exercise, sportsmanship, working towards goals and good natured fun.

    I don't know much about the park at Polson. Are the ramps metal? Those can be somewhat noisy. Even wood is probably a lot noisier than concrete. Anyway, I'll keep an eye on this thread and support that existing park, or development of a new one. Is it possible that is not quite the best spot for one? Finding a spot can't be that easy.

  • October 7, 2010 at 9:16 pm
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    Kook, it really depends on how you define a 'best spot'. The Parks and Recreation Master Plan say that sports facilities should be where the people are, in neighbourhoods. The park is well used by a range of ages, more people use this skate park than the number that come to play hockey in the winter. If the park was well away from a residential neighbourhood, how well would it be used? I have a Crime Analysis Report from the Kingston Police which shows the police calls in a 50m radius around the park are mid range compared to similar parks in Kingston. Most of the police calls are noise complaints, the same as every other park. I think the real problem is figuring out how to deal with undesirable behaviour across the district / city. Fireworks and paintball guns need better controls, that would solve lots of our district's noise complaints. Centennial School is covered in far more graffiti than the skate park, based on the same mentality, shouldn't they be taking away the school? The city needs help being more creative with their solutions, punishing a group who've been identified as 'not the problem' is not the way to go.

  • October 8, 2010 at 1:04 pm
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    I moved to Kingston from Toronto three years ago to begin a new career. Having been a skateboarder for the past 16 years one of the first places I visited upon settling in was the Polson Skate Park. Being an older skateboarder (26 years old) and part of the culture for many years I understand that the stereotypes surrounding skaters are often exaggerated but that unfortunately at most skate parks there is some element of the stereotypes (drugs, swearing, graffiti etc) that does exist. Upon arrival at Polson however, I found out quickly this was not the case. I was greeted by a number of very friendly and courteous youth. It became aware to me that this was not the typical skate scene I was once used to. The youth who skate at Polson are extremely talented and dedicated individuals who are there to perfect their craft and enjoy the company of some good friends while doing so. It also became evident to me that the older youth at the park had become positive role models (unbeknownst to them) for the younger more influential youth.
    I found it amazing to witness firsthand the creativity of the youth at the park to consistently find new and exciting ways to skate the limited number of obstacles at the park and to frequent the park daily without complaint of its small size or monotony of the set up (the majority of cities with Kingston’s population have large concrete skate parks Belleville, Brockville, Napanee to name a few). To take this park away from the youth who use it daily because of one citizen’s complaints is absurd and irrational. I have been to this skate park three to five times a week for the past three years and can say that the only trouble I have witnessed was caused not by the youth who skate at the park but by outside parties not intending to use the park for its designed purpose but solely as a place to vandalize and provoke.
    For many of the youth who use it, this park has an intrinsic value, one that trumps any complaints from upset neighbours and one that certainly commands the consultation of the youth before the park is closed. It is more than just a skate park for them; it is where they learnt how to Ollie and Kickflip, where they escape from everyday pressures and most importantly where they can be themselves. A skate park (especially one like Polson) is the ultimate display of where individuals bond over a common interest. Every youth who skates the park is unique in his or her own way but inherently connected to the other skaters through their love for skating.
    It is because of this intrinsic value that decisions like closing the skate park without discussion and a viable solution are unjust no matter what the complaints against keeping it open are. Closing of this park without a viable solution for the youth and all others who use it is not an option in my opinion. I fully support Chrystal’s movement and would like to help in any way possible. There is too much at stake here to simply stay quiet. I will be going to the park tonight and I will make sure to ask all the youth to become a part of this movement with me so that their interests are accounted for. I am saddened I couldn’t have been a part of the early meetings but I am glad that I know about this situation now and can be a part of the solution going forward.

    • October 9, 2010 at 7:49 am
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      Dean – that is a great post. There is a tendency just to be suspicious of any teenagers or older kids doing things that are regarded by some as only suitable for children. This is mostly simple ignorance, but unfortunately ignorance is the last thing people are willing to admit to.

      • October 29, 2010 at 9:53 am
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        Dean, I patrol the skate park at least three times a day, normally early morning and twice later at night. I do try to drop by in the day as well. You are right when you say that it is outside parties, that are not skaters, that are there solely to provoke and vandalize. I know who the main culprit is, and he hangs around with 3 other kids. It is not only the Skate Park that they are causing mischief at, but I have observed these kids up to no good all over the community. Won't matter if the skate park is there or not, these kids will continue to vandalize and cause trouble.

        Your post is great, and closely mirrors what my daughter has to say. Really hope you can be at the meeting on Tuesday November 2nd, 6 pm, Polson Park Free Methodist Church.

        If any of the kids you speak too do want to become more involved, do not hesitate to direct them to Chrystal, Pastor Rick, or myself. Their input is what is going to save the skate park. We are working hard, as adults, but ultimately, it is going to come down to the kids.

        Thank you for such a wonderful reply…hope to hear something similar read by you at the Public Meeting.

        Donna Neil

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