Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Editorial Series – Part the Second: Skate Punk’d

Sometimes the tenor of a debate is more frustrating than the debate itself, and that’s been happening a lot lately. Not being able to agree is one thing (ask Canada Post), but when the demand for a thing is dismissed outright because one segment of the population views its expense as a luxury and unnecessary, well that’s not democracy, that’s just being a jerk. Or an old fogy, to coin a phrase. That’s the way it seems to anyone following the debate about a new skateboard park, particularly on the message boards of the Guelph Mercury’s 59 Carden Street blog.

Now belligerence is nothing new to the debate process (or the 59 Carden Street blog for that matter), but there was a certain dismissive tone to some of the posts that really got to me.

Example #1: “This is just plain stupid. Why do we need a skatepark? Just because someone says they want one? Because someone over there has one and we don't? Because [sic] the little skulls full of mush will have a place to ply? If these brats need a special park, perhaps they or their parents [sic] should start digging for the cash to buy the land and build one.”

Example #2: “Speaking of downtown, if they give these drunks washrooms after the bars close...I want all the left wing, tree hugging, NDP'S, like Farbridge, Piper, Burcher and Laidlaw to have a shift cleaning these would be hilarious...see how soon these " hopefully on their last term pubic employees" vote to keep these washrooms open for these drunken pigs.”

That second one didn’t have anything to do with a skate park, but little things like topic relevance haven’t stopped people from anonymously sounding off about the politicians they hate in the past. A discussion about washrooms downtown is one best left for another time (or another column), but this is the spirit in which an issue of concern by some of our younger citizens, and their parents, is being discussed.

The history of the issue goes like this: in 2009 there was a skate park in the Deerpath Drive Park, where local skater boys and girls could practice their boarding in a safe, clean and free environment. The project was a pilot with the intention of perhaps opening other skateboard facilities across the city. Unfortunately, the typical hooliganism came to settle in the park, parents rallied, the city responded and long story short, despite promises to the contrary, there’s still no where for youth to skate, discounting the privately-owned (and pay-per-use) Ward Skatepark at Victoria and York.

The wheels of political action do move slowly, and at this rate the kids that used to enjoy the Deerpath Skate Park will be in grad school by the time they get another city-run facility going. I’m just kidding, of course. There are plenty of grad students who still enjoy their skateboards. But the typical issues with any city-run initiative – funding, location, cost, construction – are playing second to the typical misconceptions and stereotyping about skateboarding. And if people aren’t lamenting the few that brought drugs, foul language and noise to ruin the Deerpath Park, they paint those that legitimately want somewhere to skate as “stupid, spoiled and disrespectful.”

Some of that may be true, but here’s what else is true: kids just want somewhere to skate, and maybe can’t afford to do it at a privately-owned and operated facility. There’s the classic argument that a skate park is a kind of extravagance, an elite service that only a few will use, so why should taxpayers pick up the cheque? I don’t know. Do you use every library branch? Get your share of emergency rides in the ambulance? Play in every ball diamond? Swim in all the pools? Obviously not. In the park near my house there’s a public tennis court, and for the life of me I can’t see there being a greater number of tennis players in the city as compared to skateboarders.

But I find these arguments tiresome, not to mention useless without the hard numbers to prove, well, anything. I will say this though, the town I used to live in, Georgetown, has a skate park. If a municipality as bass-ackwards as Georgetown, whose stewards allowed their town to slowly become little more than a bed and breakfast for people from Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville, Brampton and the rest of the GTA – in other words a town without a culture or economic signature of its own distinct individuality – then why can’t a progressive community like Guelph move forward on this issue?

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