Skaters fight for their rights in a Philadelphia park designed by modernists.
Le Corbusier has been called many things. A visionary genius, a madman, a fool. But "the patron saint of skate boarders"? In a recent episode of Roman Mars’s 99% Invisible about the life and times of Philadelphia’s JFK Plaza (aka LOVE Park), Mars discusses how the park’s smooth paved expanses, trapezoidal shapes, and granite ledges were re-appropriated by skateboarders. These same skaters would come to declare their abiding faith in modern(ist) architecture and in its preeminent proselytizer, Le Corbusier.
This faith in modernist urban planning would inform their critique of the contemporary American city and, by extension, the neo-liberal policies that shape and govern them. The beautification of LOVE Park in the last decade—a mayoral initiative to drive the city’s undesirables out of the touristic center—brought physical impediments such as planters and metal bench-guards that voided the innate “skateability” of the heralded plaza-cum-inadvertent skatepark.
The park’s planner, architect and urban designer Edmund Bacon, was aghast at the interventions, which he considered criminal and discriminative. As the city’s former Executive Director of the City Planning Commission, Bacon helped remake downtown Philadelphia, with projects such as JFK Plaza that opened up the city center for use as public space. When LOVE Park was redesigned with the intent of privileging one portion of the city’s inhabitants (office workers, officials, tourists) over others (skaters, vagrants), Bacon took a stand and sided with the skaters. The city would not back down, but did build a compensatory skating venue five miles south of the historic center, under interestate 95, that would become FDR skatepark.
The entire drama, or much of it, is recounted in Mars’ broadcast which you can listen to below.
Top image: Melody Kramer/Flickr
This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.