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Jacksonville City Councilman floats downtown skateboard ban and local skate community flips out

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On June 1, the International Olympic Committee’s executive board voted unanimously to add skateboarding to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Though the committee still has to approve the proposal, the fact that skateboarding has been accepted by the IOC has rendered the phrase “Skateboarding is not a Crime” – once ubiquitous in urban centers as a sticker, T-shirt, and graffiti tag – superfluous. 

But just because skateboarding has been embraced by the IOC doesn’t necessarily mean the city of Jacksonville’s legislative body is ready to do the same. Just two days before the IOC’s unanimous vote, on May 30, News4Jax reported that Councilman Bill Gulliford (R-District 13) was proposing legislation to ban skateboarding in the city’s urban core. Citing a number of times he’s been approached by “people who feel at risk by some skateboarders downtown,” Gulliford told News4Jax he supported a fine because “maybe that would make people think before doing stupid things.” 

It’s safe to assume that, apart from saying he prefers Ryan Sheckler to Tony Alva, Gulliford could not have chosen a better way to get under the skin of the local skate community.

For decades, skateboarders have been coming to Jacksonville’s urban core, which is full of the kinds of concrete structures that provide the obstacles and transitions that skaters love to ride. In recent years the area in and around the core has played host to two relatively large-scale events on National Go Skate Day each June. The Go Skate Day events – one of which in recent years took place in Hemming Plaza, the other under the Fuller Warren Bridge, where it was held again this year – bring hundreds of skateboarders downtown. 

Thanks to the X-Games, Tony Hawk, and a multi million-dollar apparel industry, skateboarding is much more mainstream than it once was. Locally, several publicly funded skateboard parks have popped up in the last decade, virtually all of which are occupied on any given evening by generations of skateboarders – fathers, mothers, children and even grandchildren. And soon there will be two skateparks in Gulliford’s own district, which made the councilman’s floating such a proposal seem even more out of touch. 

Growing up in Jacksonville, local pro skater Mike Peterson remembers catching the bus from Regency Square Mall to spend a few hours skating Downtown’s urban terrain. “That was thirty years ago,” he says. “There have been skaters down there for as long as I can remember.” 

Peterson, who now co-owns The Block Skate Supply, a skateboard equipment
and apparel shop located in Riverside, says he thinks Gulliford’s proposal likely came from an antiquated view of skateboarding and skateboarders.

“I think he was just going off of the old thing about skateboarders being a public nuisance.”

Peterson says that forward thinking politicians across the country have recognized the benefits skateboarders bring. He points to the impact public skateparks have had on blighted areas in cities like Portland, San Diego, and New York.

“The research shows that cities that invest in public places for people to skate reap rewards,” Peterson says. “The crime rates go down, the revenue for local business go up around the parks.”

Peterson’s business partner, James Smith, argues that a ban would put the city at odds with movements nationwide aimed at making cities more pedestrian friendly.

“There are just so many people in Councilman Gulliford’s camp who don’t understand how healthy and how good skating is for a city and how innovative and creative skaters are.” 

Peterson and Smith said they intend to reach out to Gulliford about his proposal. 

Meanwhile, after the News4Jax article, the councilman’s proposal was blasted on social media and Gulliford endured a few personal attacks.

By June 6 the Councilman had pulled his support for an outright ban and asked for the legislation to be rewritten, telling Folio Weekly Magazine, “I understand that you can’t ban skateboards from the entire downtown area.”  

Gulliford says the proposed ban was intended to “start a conversation” about ways to prevent damage to public property, specifically the currently-under-renovation Jacksonville City Hall.

Though he says he has not personally seen damage to public property reportedly caused by skateboarders, Gulliford told FWM that he had been told by “members of the administration” that such damage exists.

“We are spending thousands of dollars to upgrade the entryway [to the City Hall] and it just doesn’t make any sense not to try and protect it,” Gulliford says.

The councilman says he was surprised by the blowback he received after floating the ban. 

“A lot of people don’t understand the process,” Gulliford says. “We [the city council] put things out there to try and start a community discussion. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where you’re going to end up.”

Gulliford says the conversation surrounding skateboarding downtown has begun moving in a more positive direction.

“Some of the more reasonable skateboarders have pointed out that there really isn’t any place for them to skateboard in the downtown area,” the councilman says. Gulliford said he’s been sent pictures of public skateparks built in the urban areas of other cities. “I’m certainly amenable to investigating how our city could invest in something like that,” Gulliford says. “People have to have someplace to go.” 

Asked if there was money in Jacksonville’s cash-strapped budget for a public skate park, Gulliford is optimistic.

“There is something like $75,000 of parks and recreation money given to each councilperson’s district. And we could at least put [a skatepark] on the list for capital improvements,” he says.

For now, the bill that would (maybe) ban skateboarding downtown has been deferred until it can be amended and rewritten, Gulliford says. What that bill will look like, however, is still unclear.

“I want to end up with something that will protect public property, but also allow skateboarders to have all the latitude they possibly can,” Gulliford says. “And maybe, after all this, we get a recreational place for skateboarders in the downtown.”

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