Ramped Up

Ramped Up

“The whole place has just kind of come alive,” skateboarder Noé Jimenez says. It’s about an hour before sunset, and skaters are weaving through Edgewood Skate Park, riding the ramps to set up for tricks, grinding on the edges of obstacles or simply cruising back and forth, their wheels crunching on asphalt and humming along the park’s smooth new concrete surface.

Located on the site of an old outdoor ice rink since 2000, Edgewood Skate Park has experienced a renaissance in the past year, thanks in great part to the tenacity of local skaters who spent years pushing for improvements and funding improvised elements out-of-pocket while they bided their time. Today, an eight-foot chain link fence around the space is gone. The concrete addition with several new quarter pipes, ramps and ledges dips down on the far side of an old asphalt expanse that includes weird elements like a cast-off highway median. Local artists and skaters have lent color and personality to the scene with their street art. “David Moser Is Here” reads one wall, a tribute to the city landscape architect who worked with skaters to design the park’s extension and who died on the same day the renovated park was formally unveiled last September.

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Other upgrades to the park include a drinking fountain for skaters donated by the Regional Water Authority, with a dog fountain below it to serve passersby on their way to the nearby dog park; new trees and plantings from the Urban Resources Initiative; a skate and bike repair station given by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees; and a shade tent from the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance (WVRA), which also donated lots of paint.

The skate park hasn’t always been well cared for, or even safe. “In the late ’80s, early ’90s, we did not go in Edgewood Park,” says skater Ben Berkowitz, who grew up in Westville. “That was totally off-limits.” The same was true of the skate park in its early days, when Jimenez says gang members often passed through and he witnessed at least one scary fight. But the bigger the skating community has grown—Jimenez uses the word “family”—the safer the park has become.

Berkowitz, co-founder and CEO of SeeClickFix, who served with Jimenez on the committee that planned the upgrades, is 40 and part of an older generation of skateboarders at the park. A few are in their 50s, and several parents come to skate with their kids. The youngest on the evening of our conversation is maybe 10, but the age range dips even lower. A four-year-old girl has impressed both Berkowitz and Jimenez with her skateboarding skills. “There’s a lot of younger people that are here because of the improvements and because the love the park has gotten,” Jimenez says. “It’s become a home for people.” That love spills over into the rest of the park, Berkowitz adds, pointing out people walking their dogs or biking alone past the skate park—a change from years past.

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The park is surprisingly quiet for the number of skaters on this summer evening, almost all of them men and boys. A few are wearing ear buds, but most seem sunk in their own thoughts. “Determination” is the word skater Jonathan Neris uses to describe it. Once in a while, someone attempts a trick that gets a shout-out or a laugh or a teasing cry of “you stole my trick!” But everyone I talk to describes the skaters here as a community. “I don’t think you’ll ever find a mean person,” Neris says.

“The only competitive thing that happens here on a daily basis is the game of SKATE,” Berkowitz says. Much like HORSE in basketball, SKATE requires players to follow and land one another’s tricks or earn a letter for missing them. It starts with a round of Rock Paper Scissors to determine who goes first—the inspiration for the art Berkowitz and Jimenez have painted on one of the park’s older ramps.

In his professional life, Jimenez serves as communications and arts coordinator at the WVRA, which spearheaded local fundraising for the skate park and organized community support from skaters and non-skaters alike. In addition to providing the shade tent and paint, the group also built a funbox, which Jimenez says helped show the city how a little upgrade could go a long way. The parks department eventually led the planning and construction process and came up with $140,000 in city funds to pay for it.

The fact that the city responded to what the skaters wanted, Berkowitz says, created an important sense of ownership. It also raised the park’s profile, drawing skateboarders from beyond the city and even outside Connecticut on the weekends. Before, Jimenez says, the park’s backwards appeal was in its grit. “The charm was this was like the worst park in the world,” he says. “When this park got love it was like … all right, we’ve loved it through hard times, we’re gonna love it more .”

“It’s kind of a special thing,” Berkowitz agrees—“an art/skate park in the middle of the woods in the city, a cool city.” He’d like to see New Haven think of the skate park now in bigger terms—not just a small part of Edgewood Park, but a destination in its own right.

Meanwhile, Scantlebury Park has just been approved for a new skate park, with plans to build in spring of 2020 based on community input, according to Rebecca Bombero, director of the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees. And skateboarding will make its debut at the Olympics next summer in Tokyo, including Connecticut skateboarder Alexis Sablone, a member of the U.S. Olympic team, who sometimes skated at Edgewood, Berkowitz and Jimenez say. There’s no telling what other talent may be out there on the pavement.

Edgewood Skate Park
Driveway at Fitch St and Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
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Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1, 3 and 4 photographed by Brian Bystrek as the main renovations were being finished in August 2018. Image 2, taken mid-renovation in June 2018, photographed by Noé Jimenez. Images 5, 6 and 7 photographed in August 2019 by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 6 features Ben Berkowitz and Noé Jimenez.

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