In Defense of the Delafield Skatepark
Recently, a small Wisconsin town called Delafield (just outside of Milwaukee), announced it is considering demolishing its public skatepark. The Town Board of Delafield allowed residents to voice their support of the skatepark at a public meeting last night. I wrote up a statement highlighting the extraordinary value the skatepark provides for youth in the community. However, as I live in a town that borders Delafield, and not in the town itself, I was prohibited from speaking. Here is what I was going to say:
Members of the Delafield Town Board, first of all, thank you for being here with us this evening, and thank you for having made a commitment to engaging as leaders working on behalf of the people of Delafield. Your service to the community is recognized and appreciated.
Please understand that the skateboarders of our area do appreciate that the decision before you is not an easy one. Anyone in a position of community leadership such as yourselves regularly finds themselves in the difficult position of having to balance multiple, and sometimes competing public priorities.
With that in mind, please allow me to explain why continuing to invest in the skatepark of Delafield is a holistically worthwhile commitment. Both for the people of Delafield itself, as well as for the surrounding area.
Any human community obviously has to invest in the things that its members need to live. We need housing, we need health care, we need food and clean water. However, in addition to things we need to live, human communities also need things to live for. Throughout history, this is why successful and memorable societies invested in various forms of the arts. We generally think of the arts in a limited way, as painting, music or theater. But in the modern American era, a fundamentally and uniquely American art form that has captured the imagination of an ever growing segment of our youth, is skateboarding.
Although it requires athleticism, skateboarding is not a sport. It is better than a sport. It is simply a means of creative physical expression, closer in spirit to dancing than to football. And while we are on the topic of sports, please notice that it does not seem that Delafield is proposing the shuttering of its public tennis courts, basketball courts, or soccer fields. All of these also require public financial investment, and at the end of the day, all of these facilities are technically unnecessary. But none of us want to live in a community that fails to invest in the things that truly make life worth living, even if in a literal sense, we of course don’t need them to survive.
Now let me shift to three specific reasons why having a public skatepark is a major asset to the people of Delafield.
First, the act of skateboarding is extremely healthy. Right now, 14% of children between the ages of 10-17 in Wisconsin are obese.(1) Skateboarding puts you in a state of constant physical motion. You use a massive array of muscles to push, balance and jump. It is a true aerobic workout every time, just what the body needs to regulate physical health.
Regarding mental health, an extremely disturbing trend is that the suicide rate in Wisconsin has steadily risen in the past few years. Shockingly, for Wisconsin youth ages 15-34, suicide is the second leading cause of death.(2) Skateboarding is not just physical, it’s a profoundly positive mental workout as well. This is because skateboarding requires an enormous degree of focus. Every time a skater tries a trick, they have to ensure that both their body and mind are in complete harmony. You literally cannot successfully land a trick if you are distracted, thinking about something else. And another way of saying focus, of course, is mindfulness, which is recognized by professional therapists and psychiatrists to be among the most powerful tools for regulating one’s mental health.
Second, speaking as a former pubic school teacher, I can personally attest to the fact that the act of learning to become a skateboarder is one of the best frameworks for building positive skill sets in youth that I have ever encountered. Allow me to focus on just three examples of what skateboarding builds in those who commit to it: creativity, persistence, and confidence. Sports teach you to repeat the same act over and over. In basketball, the goal is to get the ball in the hoop, then get the ball in the hoop, then get the ball in the hoop. Skateboarding is much more sophisticated than that. In fact, in skateboard culture, there is a complete taboo on repeating something that has already been done. If your friend did a kickflip down a five stair, redoing that same trick on that same spot is actually considered disrespectful. This cultural dynamic engenders constant innovation. For instead of repeating what has already been done, skateboarding challenges you to find a new approach. To do a different trick at that five stair, or to take that same trick to a bigger, more challenging spot. If we want to equip our youth with the mindsets and habits they will need to have a chance at succeeding in the 21st century economy, we need to find as many ways as possible to encourage creativity over rote repetition.
In real life, even the most successful people fail many times on their journey to the top. Virtually no one, in no professional path, succeeds every time and with every step. The skill of persistence is crucial to long term success in any goal. And persistence is absolutely embedded into the process of learning how to skateboard. Learning how to do skateboard tricks is hard. The first time most people even try to stand on a skateboard without moving, they fall on their butts just trying to maintain the necessary balance. But a skater learns to move past the pain and try again, and again, and again. You learn that although you will fall, and although it will hurt, that this is simply part of the process on the pathway to improvement. Even professional skateboarders, the most talented in the world, fall all of the time. Achieving a skateboard trick is nearly always a long process of trying and falling, trying and falling, trying and falling, until you finally make it. Skaters learn to fall, and they learn to get back up, shake it off, and try again.
In any worthwhile endeavor, as an adult or a kid, one must have an accurate understanding of one’s abilities, and be able to approach new and intimidating challenges with confidence. Learning to skateboard builds confidence in anyone who takes it on. At the beginning of the learning process, it is common to feel apprehensive or timid. But once you build a habit of moving through and beyond the fear and beyond the temporary physical pain, a world of possibility awaits on the other end. Our youth need confidence to steer clear of the choices that may derail them from success, and they need confidence to approach their future goals with measure and decisiveness.
Finally, we speak here this evening at a time of tremendous upheaval in our country. The police have continued to kill unarmed people of color with little to no accountability, and the deep, unheard, historical anger this reality has created has inspired an international movement unprecedented in modern history. There is no simple, no single answer with respect to how to move forward. But one thing that remains abundantly clear, for our purposes here tonight, is that much of our communal misunderstandings with respect to race, stem from the fact that our nation, and our greater Milwaukee area, continue to be profoundly racially segregated. Delafield is 95% White, 2% Latino, 1% Asian, and 1% Black. Put bluntly, if your White children grow up statistically ensured to have nearly only White friends, how much better equipped do you expect them to be in navigating these issues when it’s their turn to lead?
Nationwide, the skateboard community is in fact very racially diverse. Imperfect as it may be, skateboard culture has a strong dynamic of acceptance and of instant friendship. Any skatepark, even in Delafield, does serve as a public space in which youth from every and all backgrounds can come to build their skill, and also build lasting relationships, often with diverse groups of people they very well may never have had the chance to interact with otherwise.
Members of the Delafield Town Board, thank you for your attention, and please allow yourselves the time to holistically consider the extraordinary value that the Delafield skatepark represents. Not just for the town’s immediate residents, but for youth in need of the service it provides for the entire Milwaukee area.
1. Child Obesity in Wisconsin
2. Suicide in Wisconsin
3. Delafield Demographics