Waterloo bans skateboarders

I don’t care for skateboarding; rolling around on a wooden board, attempting to defy gravity with tricks, has never appealed to me.

Neither does the “Bell for Kepler” sculpture located in the new Uptown Waterloo Public Square. The difference between the “marinated” corten steel and rust on a car door is beyond my understanding of art.

I do acknowledge, however, that both skateboards and art unite people with a common interest and provide them with a mode of self-expression which are fundamental elements to the culture of people in this city.

Yet, with a 5-3 vote, city councillors have passed a motion to ban skateboarders from the recently opened public square.

The ban, with the exception of a mere 10 hours per week where city staff will monitor their activity, has made it clear that the city will not tolerate youth culture.

The budget for a new extreme sports park was passed alongside the ban; however, it will not be open until 2010, leaving skateboarders without a venue for the duration of the summer.

Though summer is only so long, and once school begins, especially once the weather cools down, skateboarders will have to give up their hobby until next year. Is it really unreasonable to accommodate them for another two to three months?

The city’s “living room,” as Councillor Diane Freeman described the public square, is not a sporting facility.
Nevertheless, it is still a forum that should allow members of the community to express themselves openly.

For the skateboarding community, that freedom of expression has been revoked.

In creating a law against that form of expression, the city has criminalized a crucial part of youth culture.

At a time when there is growing concern for the high-risk behaviour that much of today’s youth is engaging in, including drug abuse and gang violence, the city is blessed with groups of young people who only desire space outdoors where they can communicate with their peers and partake in physical activity.

And just before the ban was created, skateboarders were doing just that.

I watched a group of around 20 teenagers sit along the steps to enjoy the sunny summer day, while three others skateboarded across the middle of the square.

Around the square people of all ages sat and watched the skateboarders jump the small ramp they had brought along with them.

I was left feeling rather envious that I didn’t have a central gathering place, such as this, in the community I grew up in.

But this is a new phenomenon for Waterloo. Until now, Uptown Waterloo has had very little to offer young people.

High-end stores and opera or jazz concerts aren’t particularly youth-friendly functions.

The city itself falls short in providing young people with adequate recreation space.

The number of outdoor activities at public venues available without spending money is incredibly limited in this city; even accessing outdoor pools comes with a fee.

Providing a few hours to skateboarders in the public square is not a solution to any of the city’s problems.

Rather than paying police officers to sit in their cruisers monitoring the area, tax dollars would be better spent developing programs that engage young people and makes them feel like part of the community.

In banning skateboarders from the public square, the city is failing their youth and bringing to light the larger issue – the lack of inclusion of young people in the community.

Public Square fun facts
Cost: $2.6 million
Opened: May 30, 2009
Location: In front of The Shops on King St.
Aspirations: Skating rink, water feature
Sad truths: Bell for Kepler, artistic piece by Royden Rabinowitch, completed August 2008, made of corten steel

Ongoing events
Thursday Nights Uptown
July 2- Sept. 2, 2009 starting at 5:00 p.m.
BYO Guitar Class
July 2- Sept. 3, 2009 starting at 12:00 p.m.
Eclectic Tuesday Concert Series
July 7- Sept. 1, 2009 starting at 12:00 p.m.

Skateboarding hours
Tuesday: 7:00- 10:00 p.m.
Friday: 1:00- 4:00 p.m.
Sunday: 1:00- 2:00 p.m. For beginners
2:00- 5:00 p.m. Open to all