County in Maryland Accepts Skate Park Graffiti as Urban Art

I blogged about the topic of skatepark graffiti awhile back and debated the issue of whether or not the county I live in should just accept the graffiti as art and let it be because some of it actually brings a nice visual of color to the park which is kinda grey and dreery looking as it is. Well I stumbled upon this article where this county has decided to accept the graffiti at the skatepark as urban art and part of the skate culture! How awesome is that of them?!?! I understand the residents point that the skatepark was built too close to them as kids sometimes act stupid, vandalize and yell obscenities…I wouldn’t want those idiots in my backyard either. 🙂 But Kudos for this county on accepting the graffiti as urban art and part of skate culture….you guys rock and I hope other counties can follow in your footsteps…plus it will save you some cover up paint money! I do agree that gang signs and obscenities should be covered up, because in being a father, I sure wouldn’t want my kids being exposed to that! Check out the article below…

County accepts skate park graffiti as ‘urban art’
Neighbors’ discontent over facility location, operation continues

By Jennifer Broadwater
Posted 11/19/09

(Enlarge) Gary Arthur, director of Howard County’s Recreation and Parks Department, called the graffiti that covers the new skateboard section of Centennial Park “kind of urban art.” The county will let the graffiti remain, except for any vulgarities or gang signs that might crop up, but several neighbors of the park have complained. (Staff photo by Nicole Martyn)
The graffiti that covers the county’s first skateboard park was not planned, advertised or supervised.

But it was expected and accepted — at least by the county.

About seven months after it opened, most of the 5,700-square-foot “skate spot” on the north end of Centennial Park, from the blacktop and ramps to the 14 plywood partitions hanging along the fence, has been “tagged” with graffiti.

The artwork includes depictions of Homer Simpson, a robot, a turtle and a bikini-clad she-devil, and tags including “666” and “Rasta shook Dem up!!!”

While some neighbors are unhappy with the artwork, and with the park in general, Gary Arthur, director of Howard County’s Department of Recreation and Parks, said the graffiti was anticipated and will be tolerated.

“We knew it was going to happen,” Arthur said. “Instead of constantly battling to try to keep it clean, this time we decided we would let it be if they keep it in line and as long as it’s maintained and the presentation isn’t vulgar.”

An inspection of the Ellicott City park late last week found a handful of profanity and vulgar images among the graffiti.

Arthur said park employees check the skate spot weekly and remove vulgar graffiti. Police officers also monitor the park for after-dark activity and help the parks department identify any known gang graffiti, which also is removed, Arthur said.

Arthur noted that graffiti is part of the skater culture and said the parks department is willing to offer skateboarders “freedom of expression” at the facility, which debuted in late April.

“It’s kind of urban art,” Arthur said. “OK, you can express yourself on this facility. You use this facility. It’s art that represents something for you and your friends.”

Neighbors not pleased

But some area residents are not satisfied with the park’s track record, or its urban art.

Jann Keenan, who lives near the skate spot, said her earlier misgivings about the park before it was built — lack of enforcement of safety guidelines, failure to monitor activity, and placing it too close to homes — all have come to pass in the form of vandalism and nighttime use.

Keenan, a mother of five, including a skateboarder, said she hopes the county will re-evaluate the skate spot and move it to a less secluded location.

“I firmly believe that the youth in our area absolutely need a skate park, but it shouldn’t be in anybody’s back yard,” she said, adding that she felt county officials ignored residents’ objections to the location, including more than 100 signatures.

“Would Mrs. Ulman (wife of County Executive Kenneth Ulman), would any County Council member, or any member of the Recreation and Parks Board, approve a skate park 300 feet from their home? I doubt it,” she said. “But, if so, it’s portable. It can be moved, so let’s move it there.”

Another area resident, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said graffiti is out of character for Howard County parks and tolerating it sends the wrong message to youth. The resident said noise from the park is a continual problem and would like to see better noise abatement efforts.

To address neighbors’ concerns about noise, park staff planted holly trees to grow into a natural sound barrier between houses and the park, filled ramp openings with a sound-absorbing foam material and erected plywood barriers along the fence, Arthur said. He conceded that the plywood panels have not helped reduce noise, but that his department cannot currently afford to install a more sophisticated sound wall.

He added that he hopes to enclose the skate spot with fencing when his budget allows, and believes all-around fencing would lessen neighbors’ worries about the facility being used after dark.

Parks, police field complaints

Arthur said he has received two complaints about the skate spot, including one from a resident who regularly walks the park trails and found the graffiti distasteful and another about trash.

Monitoring the graffiti at the skate spot does not pose any additional costs, Arthur said, since crews already carry graffiti remover, which is a part of regular maintenance efforts at all parks.

“Our park system suffers from graffiti all the time,” he said.

The county police department has been called to the facility three times since it opened, according to police spokeswoman Elizabeth Schroen.

The three calls occurred in June and included reports of trespassing, disorderly conduct and a noise complaint. In two cases, officers found no one at the skate spot when they arrived. In the other case, they found youths using the park after dark, called their parents and waited for them to be picked up, Schroen said.

In June, parks officials called a meeting with skateboarders and park neighbors to discuss the problem of skaters and teens using the park at night. Centennial Park closes at dusk.

“With that kind of facility and its popularity right off the bat, it was getting noisy for the neighbors,” Arthur said.

At that meeting, Arthur said, skaters were reminded of the park rules and hours, and were warned that the skate park could be taken down if it continued to be abused.

Extra park and police patrols were used over the summer, Arthur added.

Use of the skate spot has leveled off, as Arthur said he expected, dropping from 25 to 30 skaters during peak afternoon hours in May and June to five to 10 skaters during peak hours now.

Challenges and adjustments at the Centennial skate spot have not dissuaded Arthur from including the feature at other county parks when funding is available, he said. He said he considers skateboarding to be a mainstream activity that should be accommodated at public parks on par with tennis and basketball courts.

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