David Morico

Crackdowns on the city’s skaters have come in waves, but Black Blocks has remained a safe haven through it all.

I moved to Atlanta in 1996, just missing the city’s skateboarding glory days. Locals told me at the time that a major crackdown on skaters had just occurred. In an attempt to avoid getting in trouble with police, my friends and I began frequenting a nearly desolate triangle of public space over a highway on the edge of downtown—a black and white checkerboard oddity mostly used by homeless people.

Local skateboarders mocked us for using such a subpar spot. They were right, but so many excellent places to skateboard had been eliminated by the city as part of its effort to “clean up” downtown before the Olympics that summer. The part of the new Folk Art Park we called Black Blocks was at least a place where we could be left in peace.

(David Morico)

We began doing what skateboarders often do—we filmed each other. Those videos, in turn, brought Black Blocks notoriety. Since then, it has become a customary locale in any skateboarding video associated with Atlanta. People travel from all over the world to film tricks there.

Since 1996, skateboarding crackdowns have come in waves through Atlanta. Ordinances have been instituted and task forces deployed. But Black Blocks has mostly remained a safe haven through it all. There was a brief period when we were issued tickets. But on my court date the judge laughed, acknowledging, it seemed, the waste of time and energy in policing something so benign.

(David Morico)

Many Atlantans retreat to the suburbs when their work day is over, returning the next morning unaware of what happens in the city between commutes. While navigating life at the margins—in spaces like Black Blocks—I began to see myself as part of a social ecology. The skaters, the homeless, the hustlers, the cops; we danced nightly in ordered patterns of social navigation.

In every successive crackdown throughout the years, skaters would always adapt. We would set up lights in remote locations throughout the region so that we could skate at night when no one else was around; we built our own spaces in abandoned lots; we carved out spaces in which we could live in an ever precarious environment.

Earlier this fall, Black Blocks was fenced off without warning. Signs stated that the park would be closed until the end of 2017 while a metal canopy on site that functions as a public-art piece undergoes restoration.

(David Morico)

Outrage and intervention from local professional skateboarders immediately followed the city’s actions. Eventually, the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs promised that while skateboarders will permanently lose access to the canopy, everything else on site will still be for use once construction wraps up.

Some might not understand why this area is so important to Atlanta’s street skateboarding community. They might argue that there are already legal, fenced in spaces around the city for us to use. But 20 years after we made Black Blocks our own, we won’t let our culture be taken away.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a Google employee on a bicycle.
    Equity

    How Far Will Google’s Billion-Dollar Bay Area Housing Plan Go?

    The single largest commitment by a private employer to address the Bay Area’s acute affordable housing crisis is unique in its focus on land redevelopment.

  2. A person tapes an eviction notice to the door of an apartment.
    Equity

    Why Landlords File for Eviction (Hint: It’s Usually Not to Evict)

    Most of the time, a new study finds, landlords file for eviction because it tilts the power dynamic in their favor—not because they want to eject their tenants.

  3. Equity

    Berlin Will Freeze Rents for Five Years

    Local lawmakers agreed to one of Europe’s most radical rental laws, but it sets the stage for a battle with Germany’s national government.

  4. Environment

    Paris Wants to Grow ‘Urban Forests’ at Famous Landmarks

    The city plans to fill some small but treasured sites with trees—a climate strategy that may also change the way Paris frames its architectural heritage.

  5. A map showing the affordability of housing in the U.S.
    Equity

    Minimum Wage Still Can’t Pay For A Two-Bedroom Apartment Anywhere

    The 30th anniversary edition of the National Low Income Housing Coalition report, “Out of Reach,” shows that housing affordability is getting worse, not better.

×