Monday, September 28, 2009

Skating Toward A Better Future





With the Mud Island Land Use Study - Phase Three Public Meetings wrapping up this week, there may be questions about the final recommendations, but there can be no questions any longer about the potential of a skate park on the Mississippi River isthmus.

There have been a lot of suggested activities for Mud Island, but it’s hard to gaze over at the generally staid river park and not imagine the beehive of activity that would be produced by a first-class skate park that is the largest in the U.S. Best of all, it would dynamite national public perceptions of a slow-moving riverfront, shaped more often by photos of riverboats and times gone by than by active, young families that speak to our future, enlivening an area desperately in need of animation and activity.

We commend the Division of Park Services for finally trying to close the skate park gap that exists between our city and its peers. According to the Trust for Public Land, the top 10 cities for skate parks have from 1 to 1.8 skate parks per 100,000 people. In other words, for Memphis to get in the top 10, we need to open up minimum of 6 skate parks and more likely 10.

That’s why plans to build a skate park in the Glenview neighborhood and as part of the proposed plans for the Fairgrounds are welcome announcements, but they do nothing to mitigate the importance of a signature venue as a downtown welcome mat for Memphis. (Your last chances to weigh in on the plan for Mud Island are Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. at Memphis Botanic Garden and Thursday at 5:45 p.m. at Harbor Landing on Mud Island.)

Getting Ahead Of The Game

Eight years ago, we were in Louisville and the mayor there wanted to show off the things that showed how serious his city was about its future. He took us to two places that he considered proof positive – the new, improved riverfront and the new skate park within a stone’s throw of the riverfront.

It was middle of a weekday and the place was alive with activity. The mayor said that it was open around the clock, and it was never empty. Most of all, it sent the message, he said, that Louisville was serious about attracting young talented workers and in creating a new, more progressive brand for itself (shortly thereafter, his fellow citizens approved the first large city-county consolidation in 40 years to punctuate his point).

The skate park had just served as the site for a nationally televised X-games competition, and the mayor was still basking in the glow of this validation of his leadership to get the facility built.

A friend of ours says that Memphis is always on the cutting edge. Unfortunately, it’s the one 20 years ago.

A Marker For Talent

In this case, we have a chance to get it right a lot earlier if we can come to grips with the wisdom of the proposed skate park on Mud Island. Clearly, in the public process run by the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), no group has been more passionate or armed with more facts about the impact of its project.

From where we sit, the business community ought to be leading the fight for the skate park – and the vision of the tip of Mud Island teeming with the kind of activity that we saw in Louisville. In the great scheme of things, we suggest that the presence of the skate park could pay bigger dividends than all of the big projects that we pursue in the name of “talent attraction.”

These days, any Chamber that isn’t anchoring its work in the creation, attraction and retention of talent isn’t really working on economic development. That’s why we’ve seen so many cities invest in skate parks as a convincing way to send new messages to today’s highly coveted 25-34 year-olds.

Hopefully, we won’t do what we often have done – add it after everyone else has one. It would be the outdoor recreation version of Hard Rock Café. By the time one located here, it seemed that everyone had one, but still, we acted like we had just landed an NFL team. We did, however, get an NBA team, but, come to think of it, it was after there were about three dozen of them.

Not Either-Or


At any rate, the skate park is a relatively low-cost way to do something before it’s old hat. But we need to do it now, and we need to do it in a high-profile place like Mud Island, where it sends an unequivocable message about our city, where it animates a downtown that critically needs it and where it becomes a hub of vibrancy 24/7.

In addition, we believe the Memphis Division of Park Services understands that this is not a question of either a large-scale, prominent skate park downtown or a number of smaller skate parks throughout the city. Actually, we need to be doing both. And soon.

We confidently predict that there are more skaters than golfers and tennis players, and city government provides courses and courts.

Here, we often seem so obsessed with studying and planning and less committed to implementing and executing. And an idea like the skate park on the south tip of Mud Island – a source of animation, a magnet for families, a repositioning of the park as a vibrant, dynamic hub of activity and a use that can bring all sides of the controversy over the future of our riverfront together – just seems too good to pass up.

Just Do It

If other cities can do it, we just don’t know why we can’t. In many other cities, there’s just a stronger predilection for action. They are simply hard-wired to take action and to do something.

In today’s highly competitive global economy and with our dire economic indicators, time is the only thing we don’t have enough of. Let’s decide on three things we need to do to compete and go do them. When we’re done, let’s pick three more and work on them. We put the Mud Island Skate Park on our first list.

Skateboarding is among the top four outdoor activities of Americans with 64 outings per participant, according to information gathered by Skatelife Memphis. Meanwhile, skaters are willing to travel 10 or more hours to their favorite skate parks, and it’s hard to imagine one destined to be more special than one located on the banks of America’s greatest river.

In number of participants, skateboarding has now passed baseball, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers, and Sports Illustrated has called it “the great influence on American youth culture in the 20th century.”

An Easy Call


We’ve not met anyone in years who we admire than Dr. Aaron Shafer, the St. Jude Children’s Hospital researcher who has spearheaded this project from a personal dream to one now supported by a broad constituency. His work on the skate park is a reminder for Memphis as it tries to do better in attracting young professionals: sometimes, it’s not the mega-project, but the smaller projects – the ones generating activity and vibrancy – that offer the most immediate returns on investment with this coveted demographic.

Dr. Shafer’s diagnosis is that the skate park would go a long way to keeping people like him in Memphis, and that’s as powerful a reason for building it as we can think of. To his credit, however, Dr. Shafer’s ultimate motivation is at-risk children and his dream is for a wholesome environment where they can exercise and where a $3 million skate park can bring them into contact with role models and mentors.
In a city where consensus is about as scarce as Grizzlies’ victories, the plan for a skate park on Mud Island is about as close as it gets.

All in all, the notion of building the skate park at the southern tip of Mud Island – the geographic equivalent of the city’s toe in the water – would be a dependable source of vibrancy and a magnet for skating families. It’s as close to a no brainer as any project we’ve seen for downtown Memphis.

18 comments:

Harvey said...

Amen

elaine said...

Thank you for the great article.

During the initial Mud Island project discussions,the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, in a move frankly showing just how out of touch they are, rejected the idea of a skate park and suggested instead more restaurants and shops to attract young professionals. My family has a large ramp in our yard, and the frequent skate nights are attended by a wide range of folks, may of whom are young professionals and their families.

The big problem with Mud Island is location. If I want to go to a playground, I'll go to Peabody Park. If I want to see beautiful plantlife, I'll go to Botanic Gardens. Restaurants and shops? There are plenty of great ones much closer to home. In the current economy, many of them are suffering if not closing down. Mud Island needs something unique that will make it worth the trip. I firmly believe that a world class skate park is just the thing that will draw people to Mud Island.

sherman said...

Agreed with elaine! Would like to add that in addition to the Chamber's unwarranted/unbelievable negativity towards a first class family friendly skatepark, RDC seems to be fighting what the PEOPLE of this city want tooth & nail. Their report from the first round of meetings gave short-shrift to the overwhelming support a skate park on Mud Island has and the amount of people & energy showing up to these planning meetings to vote with their time and energy for a skate park.

Why go through with these planning meetings if you are going to ignore the will of the majority of participants? I'm hoping that RDC has finally gotten the message, but their report gives me pause that they are taking these planning meetings and the idea of a world-class skatepark seriously. It seems as if they would like something, anything but a skate park there despite what thousands of Memphis citizens & even more visitors want.

If the RDC does not deliver a world-class skate park on Mud Island after all of this public support, the fix is in and this whole process will have been a joke.

Anonymous said...

how 'bout slacker skateboarders showing proof of employment before being allowed to break their little arms on the half pipe?

packrat said...

how 'bout our chamber of commerce show proof that chasing $10 an hour "distribution" jobs for real estate development brokers disguised as economic development strategy has actually improved the standard of living in this city? What a bunch of backward goofballs....they still think "America's Distribution Center" has any relevance whatsoever as a recruitment strategy...

b said...

it would be huge... and with a city that has as many fat people as memphis does, what could be better than promoting an activity that involves increasing physical fitness? not to mention the tv potential.... instead of sat. a.m. wrestling, how about sat a.m. skate competitions?

i'm 50ish, white and i skate occasionally. on quads.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the skate park, it would be nice to have an outdoor work-out facility with stations for various activities (i.e., pull up bars, inclines to do crunches, etc). There is a great running trail at Sardis Lake that I used to go to in college, and every few feet there was a workout station with a wooden sign posted with suggested exercises. It was a great way to get in cross training, and it was a really nice path for runners. In addition, when I was in China, I noticed tons of outdoor gyms that had been put in place by the government, and I always thought it was such a great idea.

Anonymous said...

But if the goal is to bring all the vibrant skating life to downtown Memphis, shouldn't that skate park BE in downtown Memphis? Around the library, or near the Forum? Squinting to make out what those people over on Mud Island are doing isn't going to do much for the vibrancy of downtown.

Mud Island park is a terrific park, by the way. If you haven't been over there in eons, or ever, it's definitely worth a lunch-time stroll over there. The best view of downtown is from Mud Island park.

Anonymous said...

Hey! I'd pay a DOLLAR to watch fat people skateboard!
When does it start?

And $10 an hour distribution jobs are considered 'high tech' for MCS 'attendees'-there aren't enough 'graduates' to frame a statistical sample.

packrat said...

well, anon 8:34, then by all means, let's just keep doing what we have always done. That seems to be working out so well for memphis, doesn't it? Don't change a thing, just make sure Boyle leases another warehouse....

Anonymous said...

preferably in the suburbs, We can use the property taxes!
Good idea! thanks!

Aaron said...

"But if the goal is to bring all the vibrant skating life to downtown Memphis, shouldn't that skate park BE in downtown Memphis? Around the library, or near the Forum? Squinting to make out what those people over on Mud Island are doing isn't going to do much for the vibrancy of downtown."

Great idea. We are all for it. Get back with us when you get the official approval for the land and we'll work with you on it.

So far it's taken 2+ years and still counting to get the approval for a skate park on Mud Island.

Anonymous said...

Not trying to be negative, but what tangible benefits has Louisville experienced that can be tied to the skate park - other than a bunch of people hanging around a skate park? Has Louisville actually attracted more 20 and 30 somethings? New business moved in as a result of this progressive action of installing a great skate park? I am not asking to be snarky. I am asking a serious question. It is great to say this park should attract more young workers. But in other places, has it?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:

That's classic Memphis thinking. So, all the other cities are out of step but Memphis. Every one else is building high profile skate parks, but we're the ones that have it right.

We're the ones bleeding talent and 25-34 year-olds and Chamber officials in Louisville say that the skatepark is the kind of thing that they show constantly as a city that "gets" it. What do we show - a riverfront as dull as dirt.

Let's get with it. Skate parks are a "marker" that talented young professionals look for when considered where to live.

TJ

Anonymous said...

40,000 sqft
Louisville- 2002 -Skate park opens as well as completion of massive redevelopment of the riverfront. In 2006 the city is ranked best city for relocating small families (primacy research). Skate park is in the downtown area near the river.

Denver: Best city in 2009- (Pew research Center) Skate park is in the Downtown, in the core of a a massive redevelopment and next to the Platte River biking and running trail. Skate park opened in 2004.

Colorado Springs: Ranked fittest city in 2008. Ranked best city in 2007 ( Money magazine) Ranked best city in 2009 by Outside magazine. Skate park located in the city park near Downtown.

60,000 sqft
San Jose: Safest city for four consecutive years. The city opened the largest skate park in the country opens in 2008.

These cities did not earn high quality of life rankings by simply building a big skate park but it's one of the key amenties that when added up with 10-20 more makes a serious impact on the quality of life and ultimately on the capacity to attract professionals coming from recreational rich areas of the country.

I would welcome a quantitive economic impact analysis on a skate park but that's a thesis for a Masters or PhD. Hopefully the numbers above allow one to connect the dots.

On the other hand, can we fairly dissect and quantify one venue when it's impact is a function of its synergy and relationship with other activities in the city? When it's impact may depend on what was built before it?

The skate park is not the magic bean for the city but it is a civic anchor point to bring energy back to the River park so that other facilties can be built or other activities/retail can sustained by that energy.

sherman said...

Not trying to be negative, but what tangible benefit has Memphis received from having an empty space for 95 years at the tip of south Mud Island? Just sayin...

Come on, Memphis! Strap on some imagination. If 500 community members show up for various inconvenient meetings all over Memphis--as they have for a year-- it is pretty obvious there is an overwhelming demand for this amenity.

It's really easy to say no to something. This seems to be the route Benny & his non-jets are taking. Mr. Lendermon gave a soul-crushing, negative "not likely to happen in the next 3 years depending on the economy" intro to the crowd this week at the Botanic Gardens. That was the intro??? Way to be a downer and to crush the hopes of the hundreds attending, RDC!

Imagine if 500 developers showed up to these dog & pony shows all over Memphis? How soon would a strip mall be built on Mud Island???

5 years of Lendermon's salary and this skatepark is paid for. How do you like them apples? There is money in this town--just enough for Lendermon's ample salary but not enough to build this skatepark. What a waste of time this process has been.

Shame on the RDC for pretending to open this process up to the public.

Michael said...

Breaking news: You won't be getting a skatepark, but maybe your children will.

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