Would you want your kids playing, or would you yourself want to play, here?

Would you want your kids playing, or would you yourself want to play, here?

Brattleboro has a choice: it can site its skatepark near other healthy recreational activities, or it can tuck it away in a dangerous and unsuitable site whose only advantage is it's away from everything and everybody

BRATTLEBORO — It's seeming that the Elm Street parking lot is quickly becoming the favorite choice for the location of the Brattleboro skatepark. It's an odd turn of events, considering this location is not supported by BASIC - the committee that has been working on this issue for years - or the larger skateboarding community.

It's a little bit confusing because when the new Selectboard pulled the $50,000 designer rug out from under BASIC and roped everyone back to the starting line, it was to “ensure due public process and identify the most ideal location for a skatepark.”

Is the Elm Street Lot the best location for a skatepark?

I'm going to take a pretty big leap here. Let's assume that the Selectboard and the oppositional neighbors from Crowell Lot and Living Memorial Park sites have minimal to no experience with building, using, or living near a skatepark.

If any part of that assumption is true, then in order for an ideal location to be chosen, the experts, the experienced, and the clientele should have an equal or greater say in what constitutes an ideal location.

The Reformer stated the skateboard community did not support this location because it was “too urban.” The Reformer's support for BASIC and the (supposedly) legally binding votes by previous Selectboards is undeniable, but the discontent over this location is much more specific and numerous than a vague and meaningless phrase such as “too urban.”

I'd like to explain some very specific reasons why we reject the Elm Street Lot as a viable location for a skatepark. Prop up your feet and pop open a spritzer, make yourself at home!

* * *

The obvious arguments against the Elm Street lot are safety concerns. Considering its role as a playground used by children, the skatepark and surrounding areas need to be as safe as possible.

The largest safety concerns are traffic concerns, drug and alcohol use, and abandoned toxic buildings.

The neighbors at the Crowell Lot had a great deal to say about the surrounding traffic. The lot, with all its hedge buffers and cliff/embankment buffers, sits near an apocalyptic intersection straight out of a Mad Max movie.

Although the children who already use the park are completely immune to this disaster, the neighbors claimed that skateboarders, with their inherent absence of common sense, would forget every bit of traffic safety and would throw themselves into the chaos and down that completely unskateable hill by the thousands in such a way that would make lemmings seem like noobs.

So what is it about the traffic situation surrounding the Elm Street Lot that makes it a more ideal location?

It's not because it is at the bottom of an actual skateable hill. It's not because across the location is an equally terrifying intersection. And it's not because the skatepark would literally be directly touching the street.

It's because - well, actually, I don't know why.

There are no natural barriers, and the area lends itself to more realistic foot/skateboard traffic on an already taxed area of town.

The only plan in place is to construct a giant chain link fence around the entirety of the skatepark. Aesthetically, it should do wonders for the area.

* * *

Let's head to the real party: drugs and alcohol!

Adults can have a great time with both, so why wouldn't we want to put something like a skatepark in one of the largest drug-and-alcohol-dealing and -using areas in town?

If you don't know what I'm talking about here, let's just say that if you really want to find a used “insulin” needle, visit a super-drunk homeless camp, or possibly get mugged at dusk, then look no further than underneath the Elm Hill Bridge or behind the abandoned, poison-filled buildings near the proposed site.

Seriously, go look around. Wear shoes and watch out for glass. Maybe bring a baseball bat.

While you're looking around, remember that people are seriously considering putting in a park right next door.

Luckily, the traffic situation in the area is so poor that the whole skatepark will be fenced in, thus protecting the users from the surrounding lifestyles.

Lastly, what is going on with those giant buildings? They are so contaminated with lead and petro-based chemicals that not only can they not be used for anything but also the owners and the town have no plan or idea on how to safely demolish them.

Would you want your kids playing, or would you yourself want to play, next door to this location?

* * *

Some people in town have some really amazing plans for this area, and they have been vocal about their support for a skatepark at this location because they feel it can be a catalyst for these ambitious plans.

Let me lay this out as simply as I can.

The skatepark is not Habitat for Humanity, or a youth mentoring center. It's not a magical revenue-generating facility that will spur development or clean up a troubled neighborhood. It's a concrete playground, plain and simple.

It's appalling that so much time, effort, and broken promises can be rewarded with the burden and responsibility of carrying such an ambitious project. This is especially insulting considering there are no immediate plans or funds ready for this kind of urban renewal.

The idea being proposed is a “build it and they will come” mindset. Putting a skatepark in this area will not lead to new development, it will simply lead to a skatepark being set up to fail. If the park is built and the same problems continue to plague this area of town, the skatepark will surely shoulder the blame.

* * *

So let's say you're someone with some power with this issue. Let's say you're Selectboard Chair David Gartenstein at a recent skatepark site visit and you hear all of these very negative arguments against a playground being located at this Elm Street Lot.

You might ask yourself and the group (as he really did, in real life), “Are there any good reasons for having a skatepark here?”

Can anyone guess what the applause-winning answer was?

“It's not near any people!”

“Oh, I guess that's a pretty big positive, huh?”

That's the big kicker. It's not that the opposing neighbors are against a skatepark, they are against a skatepark located near them. This sentiment was heard loud and clear when Les Montgomery and other members of the Save Our Playground Coalition argued for the skatepark to be located at Living Memorial Park or the much smaller Elliot Street Park, despite neighbors at both locations living in the same environments and harboring the same unfounded fears of living near a skatepark.

Considering both sides can yell equally loud, the only solution seems to be to place the skatepark at the Elm Street Lot, away from neighbors and recreational parks and playgrounds.

* * *

If you have been following this debate, you might have noticed that BASIC released a sound study confirming that a concrete skatepark is no louder than any other thing you would find at a recreational park, including basketball courts, traffic, children playing, and babies crying. This study replicated the findings of dozens of other similar sound studies.

You might have also noticed a study on injuries suffered during sports which concluded that skateboarding is as safe as other accepted recreational activities.

You might also fondly look back on the time when BASIC disproved the oppositional neighbors' claims that there would be a massive die-off of trees in the Crowell Lot.

David Gartenstein recently stated that there needs to be a reassessment of potential skatepark locations that focuses on the neighbors' perception of what a skatepark means for their neighborhood.

I completely reject this idea in favor of factual evidence over speculation. Brattleboro isn't trying anything new; most of the 4,000 skateparks in the country are in areas like the Crowell Lot or Memorial Park. Noise complaints are rare, trees stay intact, and property values do not decline.

I understand that with their lack of experience, members of the Selectboard are scared that the oppositional neighbors' fears may come to fruition. However, if they review the factual evidence that BASIC has provided them, they will see that these arguments are baseless and founded on an irrational fear of the unknown.

Ultimately, the Selectboard will put the skatepark where it feels it belongs. That location will either be alongside other healthy recreational activities in an open and accessible location, or it will be tucked away, alone, in a dusty corner of town, caged in and left to fend for itself.

It might seem like a hard decision, but let me give you some advice: only one of these locations will produce a negative outcome after the project is completed.

To the neighbors of Crowell Lot and Living Memorial Park: Next time you see a kid skateboarding, make sure to let them know how much you support a skatepark in Brattleboro.

I'm sure they'd really appreciate all the work you've done.

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