The tennis courts in Ormond Spencer Park, near the former site of the
old Kennedy Square apartments had become a bandit skateboard park. Some
neighbors weren’t happy to see that kids from all over the county had
commandeered the tennis court.
Where some saw confrontation, Driscoll saw an opportunity for
harmony. It’s a place to play, he thought, and people can learn to play
together. “There’s a desire to coexist,” says Driscoll. “There’s no
reason why you can’t skate on one court and play tennis on the other.”
Driscoll talked to both the neighbors concerned with the park and
with the (mostly) young skateboarders, who had been setting up their
makeshift park and honing their skills. Driscoll could have read the
rule book to the skaters, told them to use only designated skating areas
in the city. He could have come in like a lawyer, sadly shaking his
head and talking about liability, the excuse that kills any number of
He could have bought into stereotypes about skaters scaring away
other parkgoers. He could have told them to wait until next year, when a
new skate park is supposed to be built in Eastwood. But as a big kid,
he knows that talking to a skater about next year is like saying never.
“Skaters have been sort of pushed out of downtown,’ says the
commissioner. “Downtown business owners get upset when they skate over
monuments or use curb cuts. There is concern that someone will get hurt.
Here we had a responsible group saying ‘we need a low-key place to hone
And—this was important to Driscoll—the park is on a bus line.
Students from Syracuse University, kids from all corners of the city and
even outlying towns were coming to skate at the park. They were
creating their own community space.
Driscoll, who stays in shape but is not himself a skater, admired the
dedication of the skateboarders and their seeming ability to defy
gravity. “I’m intrigued by how they do this stuff.” He set out to devise
a way for it to work.
He also understood the history of Ormond Spencer Park, which grew up
with the Kennedy Square Apartments on the east edge of downtown in the
1970s. “Ormond Spencer was a standout athlete at St. Lucy’s Academy. He
later went on to be a member of the Syracuse Police Department, and he
died an early death. A lot of good people in that neighborhood have
worked hard to keep his memory alive.”
Now there’s a court set aside for skaters, and one for tennis
players. “The skateboarders are providing the ramps and the jumps,”
Driscoll explains. “They got very creative with some simple materials.”
The city will provide a trash can and the skaters will agree to make
sure the trash is picked up. Driscoll found that many of the skaters
were environmentally conscious, so he is prepared to get them a
recycling container as well. Skaters will ply their craft at their own
risk, the city will assume no liability, and the skaters won’t intrude
on the tennis court still being used for tennis.
“They’re trying to do something positive in our parks, and it’s nice
to see that activity,” says Driscoll. People find it easy to pick on
government bureaucrats. Lucky for us there is a guy in charge of our
playgrounds who likes to play.