Logan Boulevard Skate Park
Principle: You can see a lot just by observing
By Brendan Crain
There are relatively few places for skaters to go in Chicago, but thanks to the observations of one Logan Square resident, the Chicago's network of skate parks got a bit more robust. Once a dreary swath of unused concrete, the Logan Boulevard Skate Park is a hive of activity today. The clatter of dozens of wheels echoes off the underpass, but is almost undetectable from a few hundred feet away, as the freeway traffic above masks the noise that can cause problems in skate parks built in more traditional neighborhood areas. This park is the city's first covered skatepark, located under the Kennedy Expressway overpass at Logan Boulevard.
“I would walk past the space all the time...I saw kids skateboarding all over the neighborhood, and realized that this desolate underpass it was never going to be used for anything,” says Heller. “But it was perfect for a skate park."
Max Monningh, http://www.flickr.com/photos/betatron/
While it took a coalition of multiple state and local authorities to get the park built, local public space advocate Mark Heller’s observations and dedication played an integral role the park’s development.
Once Heller came up with the idea for a skate park at the site back in 2002, he was able to get the ball rolling with a few calls to the Chicago Park District, Illinois Dept. of Transportation, and several other local agencies. The park was included in the Logan Square Open Space Plan, published by the city in 2004. The key players, Heller notes, were on board with the concept early on.
What followed was a nine-year-long process that involved half a dozen Chicago Park District-organized community meetings with the local skateboarding community and Logan Square residents, a battle over whether the park would be built on a base of asphalt or super-smooth concrete, and countless phone calls on Heller's part to keep things moving along. "I got involved," he states plainly, "and I made [the park] my mission."
Ask any of the skaters or BMX bikers using the park what they think about it, and you'll spark a spirited debate. Some love the park because they can skate here during rain or snow, night or day, thanks to the well-lit overpass. There is a mix of opinions about the graffiti tags that cover many of the modular obstacles.
Mariano Núñez Ortiz, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mariano312/
The obstacles themselves are a point of contention for many, as the consensus among skaters seems to be that the city should have built a permanent concrete park instead of using pre-fab elements attached to the base. The Park District has stated that concrete obstacles will be built at the site in a second phase of the skate park's development, but funding was an issue, though the park was built mostly with Open Space Impact Fees from development projects around Logan Square.
But for any flaws that it may have, the Logan Boulevard Skate Park takes an unconventional, hard-to-use space and uses it to provide an often-overlooked group with a place to call their own. Ray Mendez, a skater making videos with his friends at the park on a recent afternoon, confirms that the park provides an important sense of community: "It brings people together, and I always see lots of familiar faces,” said Mendez. “It's not about knowing everybody's name, but about seeing the same faces, and knowing that each other are there."
For Heller, this end justifies the hard work that went into getting the park built. "[Skaters] have a sense of ownership of that space," he notes. "They love it there. It's theirs."