Inner West Independent

Where will the children play?

One of Skate Now's students shows off his skills in Dulwich Hill. Photo: Eric Chen

By ALLISON HORE

The plans for a skatepark at Leichhardt Park have hit another roadblock after council voted to put the park’s plans under an extra layer of scrutiny. 

The move will mean the decade-long decision making process for a new Inner West skatepark will be drawn out even longer. 

The vote follows lengthy debate as to whether the proposed skate park’s location was suitable after councillors John Stamolis, Vittoria Raciti, Rochelle Porteous and Marghanita Da Cruz tabled a motion to look for a “more suitable” location for the skate park.

Councillor Stamolis told the council in December he was not against a skate park being built in the area, but thought the chosen location by the foreshore in Leichhardt Park was unsuitable.

“Many of us are still wondering how and why this location was chosen for a skate park in the first place,” he said.  

He said in the process of selecting the location for the park there was “very little consultation” and when the plan was revealed there was “huge public opposition.” He also said the skate park would cut into what little green space there is available.

“Our green space is like gold, we have so little of it in our municipality,” Mr. Stamolis told the council.

Also referenced in the motion were concerns from La Montage, a harbourside function center. Their worries included practicalities including proximity to the function center’s kitchen and delivery areas as well as concerns about the kind of crowd the skate park would attract. 

They said security around the park would be hard to manage and worried “any problem events or behaviour will dramatically impact on the business.”

“Placing a skate park next to a function and event centre is unheard of.”  

“Not in my backyard”

But with skateboarding becoming increasingly mainstream, to the point it has even been accepted as an Olympic sport, is it valid to worry about anti-social skaters? 

Skate Now is a mobile skate school “safe and fun skateboarding lessons” for both groups and individuals of all ages. Over the past six years the school has run a large number of programs at school aftercare and vacation care centres within the Inner West local government area. 

They told the Inner West Independent the move to block the skatepark in Leichhardt was “disappointing” and said it sounds similar to the situation with a skatepark which was planned in Rushcutters Bay. 

“In both instances, I believe there’s a nimbyism at play that’s based on an outdated and inaccurate perception of who skateboarders are and what kind of culture a skateboarding facility would bring to an area,” they said.

“There is a small minority of people who still believe the 90’s era stereotypes of skateboarding and the association with things like rowdy behaviour or being a ‘slacker’.”

Skate Now says the demographics of skaters are changing, with kids learning to skate from a much younger age and skate parks now becoming a hot spot for families. 

“We are also seeing a lot of mums and dads riding with their kids, and these days there is a lot more participation in the sport by female riders of all ages,” they said.

A betrayal of children

Inner West Mayor Darcy Byne called the motion to find a new location for the skatepark a “betrayal of local children and young people.” He maintains the concerns of the business should not be put before the needs of the community. 

“We must uphold the principle that no private business has a right of veto over children’s infrastructure in public parks,” he said.

It was in 2018 when the Inner West council decided to investigate the suitability of the skate park being built in the area adjacent to Leichhardt oval on the Bay run. A unanimous vote in support of the investigation led to the creation of a new draft Leichhardt Park Plan of Management in 2018.

The council initially voted to pass the plan, but when the motion questioning the suitability of the location for the skatepark was tabled council clashed over how to proceed.

In a December 2020 meeting, the council came to a compromise by voting to rescind the passing of the Leichhardt Park Plan of Management. They also voted to reassess the plans for the skate park with the same level of scrutiny applied to a Development Application. This means before the construction can begin the plan will be subject to environmental assessment and a public consultation period.

The council, with the exception of councillors Passass and Stamolis, voted against the motion to find a new location for the skate park.

Although the skate park location has been maintained, the move to add further scrutiny into the design of the park will further delay its construction. 

Building life skills

In contrast to community concerns about the kind of crowd a skatepark can draw in and the practicality of the land use, Skate Now said a local skatepark can bring a lot of benefits to the community.

During the school holidays Skate Now ran a series of Learn to Skate programmes in conjunction with City of Sydney at the new $6 million skating facility in Sydney park which opened over Christmas.

“We spoke to many parents who were bringing their children to the park regularly throughout the holidays, and they found it was a convenient, inexpensive outing where they could relax, bring their dog and chat to other parents whilst the kids rode the skatepark,” Skate Now said.

“It really is a benefit to the whole community to have these vibrant, activated spaces that everyone can enjoy.”

Skate Now said along with the physical benefits that skateboarding can bring including increased coordination, muscle control, balance and concentration, the sport can be good for children’s mental health and builds character. 

“Skateboarding can also help kids develop socially, as it’s a great way for them to connect with other children. We often see kids of different ages, genders and backgrounds easily connect with the common interest in skateboarding,” they said.

And the research seems to agree. A 2020 study by researchers from the University of Western Australia found that prosocial behaviours, such as socialising with friends, respecting others and cooperation, were far more likely to be reported by skateboarders than anti-social behaviours. And associate professor Lisa Wood said this is more than just “social niceties”.

“Developmentally, important life skills are informally fostered when a bunch of young people learn to take turns, share a confined space, face new challenges publicly, and pick themselves (or others up) after a fall,” she wrote in an article for The Conversation.

As for a new skate park in the Inner West, the plan is back to the drawing board for another round of community consultation and environmental assessments. While an end was in sight for the decade-long dilema, it’ll now carry on for who-knows-how-many more years. 

For now the question remains; where will the children play?

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