jnc_ballard.jpgI remember the first time I met John Carr like it was the day after yesterday. It was at a meeting of the Project Advisory Team (PAT) at the Nordic Heritage Museum (WTF). We had been hammering away on the effort to save the original Ballard bowl for about 6 months, and this meeting was #2 of 3 sessions that ended up being highly ceremonial and a colossal waste of everyone’s time. However, as usual there was a public comment period.

By that point in the process, the rhetoric from the usual pro-skatepark advocate players was starting to sound tired: “Save the bowl…obesity epidemic…evil developers…displacing users…Seattle hates kids…” Wash, rinse, demolish skatepark, repeat.

But on July 20th 2004, there was a radical shift in the way that skaters in Seattle would represent themselves to their city’s government, the press, and their community. That change came in the semi-human form of one John Newman Carr (I only say semi-human because the guy does not seem to be affected by fatigue and often will not stop talking unless you short circuit him with water). Toward the end of the comment period, this dude in a sweater vest that no one had ever seen before, got up in front of the room and presented a case for saving the bowl that sounded like a murder trial jury defense. It was as if the murderous people from the Ballard Chamber of Commerce and Seattle Parks were going to slit the throat of an entire community…of skateboarding kittens…with angel wings…by demolishing the Ballard Bowl.

The remarkable thing about that night was that for the first time, someone spoke about the need for a skatepark in Ballard, but framed it in a completely different light than anyone had previously. John put the conundrum into socioeconomic terms. The Ballard Bowl served a community that wasn’t being represented or considered by the entities who sought to omit it from the landscape, simply because they did not fit into a demographic that had any political or financial power. Which begged the question: “What’s worse? The fact that the skateboarders will have nowhere to go, or that the Seattle Parks Department and Ballard Chamber of Commerce is completely ignoring the needs of a user group that it they are mandated/purporting to serve?”

In a single 3 minute speech, John Carr reset the bar for pro-skatepark rhetoric in Seattle, a benchmark that he would continue to raise for the remainder of his tenure as chairperson of the SPAC and a die-hard Seattle skatepark advocate many years to come. He consistently acted as a conduit between skaters, public officials, and the press. John’s articulate voice of reason made it possible for skaters to enter into dialogue at the highest levels of city government, which made possible huge wins like the Citywide Skatepark Plan, approval from SDOT for the DIY skatepark at Marginal Way, and the prime Seattle Center location for SeaSk8. All the while, he was working on his PHD dissertation, which centers on Seattle’s skatepark turmoil, and the intersections between public space and broader political, social, legal and economic dynamics. It’s a critical review full of conclusions that have only just begun to be digested by skatepark advocates and Parks Dept. officials in Seattle and elsewhere.

John successfully defended his dissertation in the Fall of 2007, and is now a Doctor of Skate…or something… I recently interviewed John from his new/old home in New Mexico, where he is now a resident professor. Tomorrow we’ll begin an exclusive three-part interview series with John in which he talks about the things he observed during his studies, and reflects back on his experiences as a leader in skatepark advocacy in Seattle.

Screw the writer’s strike. This is episodic content that matters!

Move on to Part 1

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