John sitting with the entire City Council, The Parks Superintendent, and The Mayor, at the opening ceremony for the Ballard Bowl #2.

MLJ: Without burning bridges or incriminating anyone, because that’s my job, who do you think is most to blame for Seattle’s clear lack of movement when it comes to skatepark development? What do they need to do to differently?

JNC: I am sure to sound like either a jackass or an apologist for saying this, but I think that the biggest problems are systematic. We did get plenty of ignorant, ill-informed, and/or knee jerk reactionary people coming out to mouth off (both for and against) each and every skatepark project – some of them associated with Seattle’s most conspicuous cultural institutions, organizations, and neighborhoods. But the job of government in a democratic system is supposed to be to solicit stakeholders’ ideas, sort out the bullshit, keep the gems, make the best possible decisions for society as a whole and move onward. It is just in Seattle, we have so much public process, so much money, and are so afraid of having our little nerd-paradise change that it is tough and slow to get anything done.
To be fair, if Seattle’s City Councilors were elected by specific neighborhoods, or if city elections were by political party, we still wouldn’t have any skateparks. Nothing would have killed this faster than Councilmember “A” shooting down Councilmember “B’s” support for skateparks because of party politics. Likewise, if skateparks had become a matter of which Councilmember’s neighborhoods “won” or “lost” the skatepark battle, we would still be in the skatepark dark ages, rolling around on clay wheels and pushing mongo.

MLJ: On the flip side, what do you think has contributed most to the progress that has been made? Are the advocates making a difference or is the city just finally coming around to something they would’ve done regardless?

JNC: Individuals’ making the effort are always the difference. The process seems stupid, distorted, and wasteful. And it is. But unless you wade into the swamp, you aren’t ever going to get anything. Cities are reactionary because voters are reactionary because we are all basically afraid of change. If it hadn’t been for all the skaters coming along at the different times that we have over the last decade, the City might have gotten around to skateparks. But if they did it would have been one crappy, pre-fabricated facility in a crappy location that was just bad enough to convince municipal government never to make that mistake again. If you want it, you gotta step up, sack up, pay the price, and make things happen. I actually believe that phrase is engraved into the corner-stone of the coliseum in Rome…in Latin of course.

MLJ: Is there one event or story from your Seattle advocacy experience that you tell when you’re sitting around the table with all those stuffy academics, smoking pipes and drinking Turkish coffee?

JNC: Mostly we just sit back and laugh at the foibles of all the little people, scurrying around like ants. Hahahahahahaha!!!!!!

Not really. There is so much that happened in Seattle, and the events are so dense and interesting that it really depends on the context. There is one story I do tend to bring up a lot though. The preliminary skatepark master-plan identified two sites that were essentially next door to each other, except that one was in a wealthy, white neighborhood and the other was in a predominantly poor, black neighborhood. Once the sites were announced, the black neighborhood really didn’t take a position one way or the other. In contrast, the white neighborhood went nuts, sending out dozens of letters and e-mails to the Parks department.

What was so interesting, is at the same time they framed their objections to all the “noise” and “crime” that skaters would bring to their neighborhood, they often compared it to all the “noise and crime” from the black neighborhood. They would then say, “well, if you have to have a skatepark, put it across the street in the black neighborhood” either because it is already such a problem area, or because there is already a huge police presence there, or because the black neighborhood isn’t a “residential” area. The problem though, is the City has statistics showing that the black neighborhood is both a residential area and has crime levels on par with the rest of the area and the rest of the city. So, by saying “we don’t want the skatepark because it will bring the kind of noise and crime that happens in the black neighborhood” these white neighbors were really saying “keep the black kids out of our neighborhood.” But because they framed their objections in terms of who skaters are, rather than who African-American kids are, they got away with it. The City left the spot in the white neighborhood off the list of identified sites, and they have begun re-developing the park without a skate facility. Without the discursive proxy of the skater to code the neighbors’ requests, they couldn’t have gotten away with that type of claim in Seattle.

Note: The neighborhood John is talking about is the one surrounding the Myrtle Reservoir in West Seattle, a project that’s fate is still undecided. There is a critical meeting coming up on Tuesday, January 22, from 7-9pm @ High Point Community Center. Please come out and support the skateboarders!

MLJ: What do plan on doing with your dissertation now that it’s done and you’re gainfully employed?

JNC: I am hoping to turn it into an academic book. I think skateparks are a really good way of getting college students into much deeper issues of politics, public space, youth culture, and how we decide who gets the benefits of such governmental services as parks. Hopefully other people will agree.

MLJ: Thanks for taking the time for this interview Doctor Carr. Is there anything you’d like to add?

JNC: Keep at it! If you have a vision for how your home can be more fair, more inclusive, or just a better place to live, make it happen. If it means promoting skateparks, great! If it is something else, great! It is a lot of effort, but I would argue that every substantive improvement in the way we live and relate to each other is a product of somebody standing up and deciding the status-quo is not acceptable. We have a long way to go in Seattle, but at the same time it is remarkable how much the skaters have achieved (and how many complete disasters have been averted) in only three years.

And so ends this series. Seattle’s skateboarders have benefited greatly from John’s work in our city, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.

Thanks John!

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