Skaters recently gave the skatepark a new lick of paint. The skatepark is appreciated but it doesn’t provide for the full range of skating skills.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Skateboarding looks set to be trialled in the northern end of Todd Mall after the Town Council voted four to three in favour.
A motion put by Councillor Chansey Paech (below left) and seconded by Cr Jade Kudrenko was hotly debated last night, following an earlier meeting between councillors and about 20 young local skateboarders and their articulate champion and mentor, Matty Day.
The trial area for a period of three months is strictly limited to the western side of the footpath along the northern end of the Alice Plaza where skateable street furniture was installed during the recent upgrade of the mall.
Initially proposing an amendment to the by-law that bans skating in the CBD, Cr Paech readily accepted the suggestion from officers to introduce instead a moratorium on its enforcement for the trial period.
He wanted the trial to start immediately but also accepted the Mayor’s suggestion of “as soon as possible”, to allow time for the detail to be settled, such as clarification of council’s liability and insurance coverage, the final boundaries of the trial site and communication of council’s decision to the public.
Council staff will record any issues arising during the trial and report back to councillors at the first ordinary council meeting following the three month period.
Councillors firmly against the proposal were Steve Brown and Dave Douglas, with Brendan Heenan wavering in his comments but finally also voting against.
The case for was ably put by Crs Paech and Kudrenko and was supported by Mayor Damien Ryan and Deputy Mayor Liz Martin who was in the chair. Cr Eli Melky was absent due to the sudden death of his father in recent days, while the Mayor attended the meeting by phone, due to his mother-in-law having also just passed away.
Former councillor Murray Stewart had addressed the meeting during public question time, saying he felt “extremely vulnerable at the prospect of skating in the mall”. Mr Stewart is blind and asked council to take into consideration people like himself, senior citizens and other citizens with mobility disabilities.
Mary Playford, also from the floor, said she didn’t understand why there was “a need for skaters to be there”. She warned that skaters would “put shoppers off”.
Cr Paech later responded to Mr Stewart’s comments, pointing out that he was on the previous council that had signed off on the plans for the mall which included the skateable furniture. He understood, however, the “risk perception” but he felt that it could be dealt with if the proposed trial is “communicated well”.
The northern end of the mall is “big enough” for all members of the community to use it, he argued. The skateable zone will be limited and not in conflict with any entry and exit points to the Alice Plaza. He described the deputation of young skaters who had met with council as “very positive citizens” who wanted to show that they’re not “negative”, they will be “considerate” of others and stop skating if anyone “needs assistance”.
Cr Brown said the mall had been designed for the whole community, not for “a select group”. If it’s set aside for them, then it will be “a restriction” on others. He rejected that the street furniture had been designed for skating, rather it was designed “to be sat on” and sitting and skating are “mutually exclusive”.
He is not against skaters and said he’d be interested to see skateable furniture along the riverside walking and cycling path, for example. He acknowledged that there are many times when there are no people in the northern end of the mall but suggested that skating would be only further “off-putting” to people coming there.
Director of Corporate and Community Services Craig Catchlove also suggested a “compromise” – that skateable furniture be installed in Snow Kenna Park (riverside, between the Senior Citizens Centre and the Totem Theatre). This could be achieved for a “relatively cheap cost” and could serve a dual purpose in providing seating for special events that get held in the park from time to time.
Cr Kudrenko challenged the logic of Cr Brown’s point about favouring one group over another: if skaters were excluded, it would mean pedestrians being favoured, she said. She also said there would be a “safety issue” for young skaters if they were “out of sight, out of mind” at Snow Kenna Park. Their parents would be happier for them to be in a shared open public space, she said.
She argued that skaters would bring business to the area; that the trial zone was a very small area; that what was being asked for was a trial to be followed by a review; and she pointed out that the skate park does not provide facilities for all the skills that skaters want to develop.
Cr Douglas said skating should be catered for in other parts of town, not along the Plaza where council is trying to encourage shop owners to open their doors onto the street. Skating in the area would also not be conducive to al fresco cafes in the area.
Cr Paech said shop owners had been supportive (apparently referring to consultation undertaken by Matty Day). He said skaters do not want to be moved out of sight, they want to be seen, want to “break down the stigma”. He was disappointed in Cr Brown not having asked any questions of skaters during council’s meeting with them.
Cr Brown said he’d been “listening”. He likes to listen and think before he speaks and suggested Cr Paech “try it some time”. (Cr Paech later answered this barb, saying that he has indeed listened, his proposal was about “ensuring the voice of all residents be heard”).
Cr Brown said Snow Kenna Park would be an “ideal location” for skating. He said no other group asks to be able to play their sport in the mall; everyone else seems to understand that there is a “proper place” for their activity; skaters shouldn’t be “so selfish”.
Cr Heenan said skating was never mentioned during the planning for the mall redevelopment. The shared zone was designed for “people and vehicles”. He was recently in Melbourne – which welcomes skating in its CBD, with some provisos – and didn’t see it anywhere.
Seeing is believing: Melbourne not only allows skating in public places, it celebrates it! Photo supplied by Melbourne skater Alex Waldmeyer.
However, if it were to be allowed in the mall, it should only be during certain hours, after 6pm on weekdays, after 2pm on the weekends, said Cr Heenan.
Cr Kudrenko urged her fellow councillors to “move into the future” by supporting the trial which is about invigorating the town’s open spaces. Council also doesn’t need to “reinvent the wheel” on this issue as it has been done in other places, such as Melbourne.
Cr Paech similarly urged them to “give it a try”; if it doesn’t work, council can then look at creating another space for skaters.
Deputy Mayor Martin expressed her support for the move but wanted a little more study of the detail to “manage the risk”.
The debate essentially moved back and forth between young councillors Paech and Kudrenko on one side and the considerably older councillors Brown, Douglas and Heenan on the other. Importantly though, Cr Paech was able to win the support of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, also from the older age bracket. He has approached this issue steadily over weeks if not months, with research, reasoning and communication, and finally with a well-articulated reasonable proposal. He can be proud.