Philadelphia’s Skate Plaza

I decided to do my field research at Franklin Paine’s skate park in Philadelphia on Saturday March 15th around 2 in the afternoon. It is located at the intersection of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Martin Luther King Drive on the Schuykill River, right across from the Philadelphia Art Museum. It looks like a giant square that has a kind of slope with 4 distinct regions that flow into each other. At the lowest end is a path that hugs the Schuykill River, which gets a lot of use from people exercising. It is a decent size skate park and is also a public plaza where anyone is invited to express him or herself however they please. The design of the place is a mixture of “street” type features; concrete benches taken from City Hall, and some “park” features; vertical transitions. As far as advertisements go, there really aren’t any besides stickers that people have slapped on different objects like benches, light poles, or randomly on the concrete.

The park is specifically designed for people who are into action sports, i.e. skateboarder, bikers, etc. Because of the location of the plaza, there are a lot of joggers and other pedestrians that walk along the edges of the feasible action areas. The first group of people I chose to observe were some skateboarders who looked to be about my age (20-25). In this particular group of friends or skate buddies, there were 2 black guys and 4 white guys. Most of them had tighter pants on and hoodies or long sleeve shirts. Some would roll up their sleeves and I could see multiple tattoos. Two of the white guys smoked cigarettes and all of them had cell phones, and I’m pretty sure they all had IPhones; the one guy might have had an Android. They’re interactions seemed to repeat: take a run on their skateboards around the park, each going their own way, come back to the top section of the skate park, converse with each other while in between taking turns skating the quarter pipe in front of them, and occasionally check their phones or make calls. There were much more skaters than just this group and there were many groups coming and going and growing or diminishing. The lone skaters were of different age groups ranging from 13-year-olds to what seemed to be 35-year-olds. Most of the younger kids seemed to stay in groups but the ones who didn’t looked like they weren’t as advanced in their skills and seemed to be timid of the kids who were more comfortable on their boards. Surprisingly the kids who had smart phones weren’t on them as much as the older skateboarders. They kids were only using their phones to make calls or what looked like texting, not prolonged use. There weren’t nearly as many bikers there at that time of day as there were skaters. The bikers seemed to keep to themselves and a lot of them had headphones on. There were 2 black bikers; one looked about 19-22, the other 21-24. The rest were white bikers who I would say were all about 21-25. When the bikers would come to a stop after taking a run they all did the same thing: sit down on their seat with their heads down looking at their phones.

I’ve been to this skate park plenty of times and the scene is pretty familiar. I knew what to look for when it came to how friends congregate there. I kept my eyes open every time someone made a call, I would try to remember what they looked like and whom they were with, I would pay attention to who showed up and went to greet those people. Obviously a lot of them were calling their friends and telling them to come down and ride with them and groups grew and also split. Some things that I noticed and implied about the situation were the kids to parents ratio. What I noticed was there were a lot of little kids about 13-15 and no noticeable parents sitting on the benches on the left side of the plaza where they usually sit. My inference was that these kids come there often and kids who might be that age or younger are brought there earlier in the day by their parents before the park gets packed. The day and hour are pretty good indicators of what types of people you might see there. That could have been why there weren’t a lot of bikers and more skaters. I was there on a Saturday from 2 till 4 and the place was packed with mostly skaters and people jogging and riding road bikes along the path next to the river.


From my observation of Paine’s Park, it looked like most of the people that went there were teenagers and young adults who all had mobile devices and a majority of them had smartphones. The idea I have is to create an app that can give either a live feed of the skate park or create some kind of estimable ratio of skaters to bikers, and even scooterers and roller bladers if need be. For the ratio idea to work, people with smartphones can “sign in” every time they enter the skate park, their profile would indicate if they were a skater or biker. Someone who wants to go to the skate park but doesn’t want to get hasseled by the other group can see if there are less skaters there then bikers and feel more comfortable to go. There has been a long line of bad blood between skaters and bikers in Philadelphia that has its roots coming from a DIY skate park in FDR park under the bridge where bikers know the only time they can ride there is early in the morning. Because Paine’s is a plaza open to anyone though, it isn’t as much of a problem, but still there exists a level of discomfort at times. Also sometimes there are ‘Skate Jams’ where sponsored companies bring their pros and have mini contests with prizes. A biker coming to Paine’s on a day like that would be no fun because they wouldn’t be able to get a run in with out crashing into someone, especially because most bikers there on Saturday were riding without brakes.

The live feed idea is pretty self-explanatory, someone can download an app that allows him or her to see if the park is packed or not. This could be used for the same reasons as above. A parent can get the app and check if it is a suitable time to bring their child up there so they can learn how to get better without getting in peoples way. The only downside would be if no one was there and then suddenly the place got flooded with people thinking they’re going to be the only ones riding.


One thought on “Philadelphia’s Skate Plaza”

  1. You can certainly design an app around skate boarding/biking (if you look at the final projects on last year’s course site several people did: The challenge, however, is framing this as a social justice issue. Make sure that in your proposal, paper, and design materials you are clear about where social justice fits in to this design.

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