News & Opinion

OPINION: Long Live Eastland DIY Skatepark

Eastland DIY skatepark
One skater films another at Eastland DIY skatepark. (Photo by Ryan Allen)

“Oh, there’s only one car here tonight, we should be good.” My friends and I make the effort to go out skating at the Eastland DIY skatepark a couple times a week. Even though we all have varying degrees of experience and talent, we’re an incredibly supportive group. We teach each other tricks or just cheer each other on when we need the confidence boost. 

We usually leave if we see that there are too many people at the skatepark. We do this for a multitude of reasons like there’s less of a chance to crash into people. Or it’s better to eat it without a bunch of eyes watching. Or just the simple fact that getting into a fight with a dudebro at the park isn’t far-fetched. When the park is packed, the experience is pretty hit-or-miss. So, we usually go at night when the crowd is gone.

Last night there were just two guys there, practicing their own tricks. We were hoping they wouldn’t be too bad. One of the guys pulled up and asked if we wanted to play a skating game with him and immediately after that, we knew that it would be a nice night sharing the park with them.

The sweet moments make up for any sour ones I’ve had at Eastland DIY. Everyone in the skate community has been trying to get a couple more of the sweet ones in before March 3, when the park is set to close. Despite having a petition with almost 10,000 signatures and members of the skate community speaking up at multiple city council meetings, developers have decided to go forward with demolishing the skatepark, with no plans to replace it in their new development. 

Eastland DIY skatepark
Eastland DIY skatepark was a place of camaraderie. (Photo by Ryan Allen)

The park will be replaced by yet another “mixed-use hub” in the city, which includes homes, restaurants and offices. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “Like we don’t have enough of those here!” in response to hearing what will replace Eastland.

The frustration is easy to understand when you realize that Eastland DIY, the only park of its kind in or around the Charlotte area, will be replaced with something that has been done time and time again. Are there other skateparks? Sure. But there’s no others that were built by the community for the community.

Eastland DIY is the only skatepark that is totally accessible to any skater in Charlotte. It’s free to get in, easy to get to, and open 24 hours a day. It’s also easier to feel like yourself in the space because you’re not being constantly surveillanced. I know ‘surveillanced’ is a heavy word but as a Black trans lesbian, I can tell you that thats an everyday thing in Charlotte. 

That’s part of what makes Eastland DIY so cool. It doesn’t just talk the talk – you haven’t lived until you’ve eaten it in front of the Black Trans Lives Matter ramp – it walks the walk too (usually). Skaters who are Black, Brown, gay and trans make up a good portion of the crowd that frequents the park. 

Eastland DIY skatepark
Skaters of all backgrounds hit up Eastland DIY skatepark to work on tricks. (Photo by Ryan Allen)

I’ve gone to many parks and there are no others where I’ve seen as many people like me. Other parks usually consist solely of dudebros. Not to say that Eastland doesn’t have its fair share of those, which is why I’ve heard mixed reactions to news of the park closing from skaters who look like me.

There have been events that have been slightly tarnished if a dudebro decided to show up to the park that day – sometimes even a fight or two. There’s a broader, ongoing argument about how this type of skater makes the skating community less inclusive as a whole. 

The Girls, Gays and Theys skate jam, hosted by Bitches of Chaos and Bruce+AC on Nov. 6th, 2021, was created in part to make space for skaters like me who are typically pushed out by the dudebros of the park. It was a great event up until we were all but pushed out by more experienced skaters. Space is the thing often argued about at the park, which seems silly now as none of us will have it come March 3.

There are people who haven’t been to Charlotte in years and when they come back, the first thing they note is the gentrification. With each year, there are more and more people trickling into parts of the city where in years not far gone they would’ve been scared to walk through, much less plant themselves in. Yet the city keeps making way for them. 

This city values its money and presence more than it values different communities having their own space. And it’s not just with the park that this is happening. The city has already closed the Central Market, an open-air flea market that has operated on the same property as Eastland DIY for seven years. Central Market consisted mostly of Latinx vendors who used the space to sell their wares every weekend. 

Claudia Garcia spoke on behalf of Eastland market vendors before a recent Charlotte City Council meeting. (Photo by Justin LaFrancois)

With each space that’s taken away, it feels more and more like the city is trying to suck every part of actual culture out. To remove any actual happiness that we can experience without having to first buy into a major chain or corporation. It’s not shocking and it’s not new but it doesn’t stop hurting.

The argument could be made that, through this pain, new things will bloom. That is an argument made from a place of privilege, however. Charlotte is ranked last in the list of major cities in the U.S. for upward mobility. If this was a time for changes and new things, I’d like to know where the opportunities for that will come from in this new “mixed-use hub.” 

Besides scribbling BLM somewhere or saying this or that business is owned by [insert underserved group here], there’s no community benefit to demolishing this park or getting rid of Central Market. The people that know this don’t have to be told, but it’s already been said that redevelopments like these create growth in the city.

Specific to the skate community, I think that speaking up to and making ourselves heard to our elected representatives is needed if we are to have a space like Eastland again. I do think that we have to get through some hurdles before being able to be properly listened to. I’ve heard time and time again, “I wish people made more noise about this,” from people that have used the park over the years. There is so much power, talent and resources in the community but it has to be utilized. 

Eastland DIY skatepark
Long live the spirit of Eastland DIY skatepark. (Photo by Ryan Allen)

No more arguing about who deserves to be in what space. No more making people feel like they aren’t welcomed to a park that is rightfully theirs. When we can stand stronger together, then we can come better equipped when people outside of our community try to tear us down. 

Once we fully appreciate all members of our skate community we become impenetrable. I believe we will have another space like Eastland DIY in time. And if (when) the city tries to come for that patch of land, we will have learned to come together to use all our strengths to protect what’s ours. Long Live Eastland DIY.


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One Comment

  1. The community at Eastland (as you mentioned in your op ed) is very diverse. There are regulars there everyday that represent many different types of folks. It wasn’t the intention of the builders to create a paradise for “dudebros” but to try to create a place that is inclusive. There has been BLM and BTLM in multiple locations within the park for years. When that signage got vandalized we fixed it the very same day because it matters to us. In skating everyone is welcome.

    Despite the intention for inclusivity, community building, and healthy outdoor activity unfortunately there just isn’t PHYSICAL room for everyone at all times. Traffic is something all communities have to deal with and Eastland is no different. In the last few weeks I have found myself skating the parking lot more often than the park itself to give room to people that haven’t had time to skate it in the last seven years. I just like being around the community and people that go there. That physical limitation reality is an unintended consequence of the growth and development of Eastland DIY from just a ledge to a full park. The more stuff we built the more hectic and popular the park had become. With that hectic nature the more experienced skaters feel more comfortable putting themselves out there and I can agree that that may appear to come from a place of “superiority” but for the most part I don’t think it is. They know the lines and who is skating what because we all know each others bag of tricks and lines. At some point you have to just jump in the chaos.

    With that popularity comes a lot of unintended consequences. It brings in people that don’t share the original vision. We try to make a space for the community to come and be active and make friends. But what community doesn’t have issues especially when experiencing explosive growth? With enough time in the community I hope everyone see’s some positives and sees some changes they would like to help facilitate. It all takes time and energy.

    If you have felt pushed aside or unwelcome that isn’t the intention of the community I feel apart of. If you felt that way it is valid and I (as a member of the crew that is there everyday and a builder) apologize for the locals. It’s all I can do. I spoke at City Council on Monday. The email header (which brought me to this) and article below yours talks about my speech on the benefits of Eastland for underrepresented young adults/skaters. I really care about Eastland and the people there. Truly.

    But I’ll ask you as a writer and as someone who has a valid voice if you think it is an appropriate time to highlight the opportunities Eastland (and growth of skating in general) faces? With 48 hours til demolition is this the time to stick it to the “dudebros” and the community at large on a public stage? With the eyes of the community and City Council on Eastland is this the time to punch down to a community that is already hurt? I want you to feel heard just like I wanted to feel heard on Monday night at Council but in my OPINION there is a more tasteful/appropriate way to do it. I hope we both find the strength and good fortune to change the things we want about skating in Charlotte, Eastland, and in general. It’s really hard work. I also hope we can find ways to unify so that our voices are heard. Big Love.

    If you would like to talk in real life ask around and someone will point me out.

    Thanks

    Rob Grauer
    robgrauer@gmail.com

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