Critical. Subversive. Irrepressible.

AWOL

Critical. Subversive. Irrepressible.

AWOL

Critical. Subversive. Irrepressible.

AWOL

24/7 bus service followed by student use and safety policies
Magazine Release
The Magazine has been released!

Skating to a stop

D.C. skaters worry as Freedom Plaza scheduled for remodel
Skating+to+a+stop
Casey Bacot

A planned redesign of Freedom Plaza has worried skateboarders in Washington, D.C. about the future of the area and their ability to skate there.

Situated between the Capitol building and the White House, Freedom Plaza is a marble plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue that opened in 1980, according to the Cultural Landscape Foundation website.

Mikey Payne is a 31-year-old skater who has been going to the plaza for almost 20 years. Payne said the plaza is the best place to skate in the Washington area compared to other smaller and confined parks.

“The marble, the amount of space Freedom Plaza has and the fact it’s not like a skate park where you’re in a confined environment make it great for skating,” Payne said. “You can just bounce around and there’s no people in the way.”

However, an initiative to change the plaza was proposed by the National Capital Planning Commission, a commission that advises the district government on urban planning, as part of a larger redesign of Pennsylvania Avenue. Some aspects of the initiative have concerned the skaters of Freedom Plaza.

The initiative is focused on adding more green space and larger sidewalks to Pennsylvania Avenue and the surrounding area, according to the NCPC Pennsylvania Avenue Plan Request for Proposal report. The report was released in September 2015 and is intended to make the area more attractive to tourists.

An NCPC report released in March 2022 introduced the public to the designs by the NCPC. The report implied that the plaza was going to be redeveloped in some way. According to the report, reconfiguring
Freedom Plaza would “restore the avenue’s historical alignment.” Some of the designs suggest cutting through Freedom Plaza, and one design suggests rerouting traffic from Pennsylvania Avenue north of the Plaza.

Fears about the plaza’s fate have caused some in the skating community to take action. Brian Aguilar, the owner of Crushed, the only skate shop in the district, started a petition on Change.org that aims to save Freedom Plaza from redevelopment. The petition, created in March 2022 after the initial designs by the NCPC were released, has over 12,000 signatures.

“So initially the plans the NCPC had didn’t have any marble, and it seemed like they planned on leveling the plaza with the street and putting in grass paths,” Aguilar said. “Seeing this plan is what got me to start the petition to make folks aware of what’s happening.”

In the past, Freedom Plaza has had multiple uses, Payne said.

“The community of D.C. itself, outside of skateboarding, utilizes this place as a tool, or platform to bring people together,” Payne said.

However, the skateboarding community has utilized the space for years.

Freedom Plaza is well known in the skateboarding community and has been a breeding ground for many famous skaters, such as Darren Harper, Sean Sheffey and Pepe Martizen, according to style magazine The Face.

Planning for the initiative has progressed in 2023, and phase one of the planning process is estimated to be completed by the end of 2024, according to the NCPC. The initiative’s planning has been split into three phases, with the first half of phase one scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023.

Even though the project has been in development for a couple of years now, according to the NCPC, there is still a lot of work to be done. Karin Shierhold, an urban planner with the NCPC, said that the first request for proposal, or RFP, develops an economic analysis of the plans that factor in potential revenue opportunities. The RFP then identifies feasible options for the reconstruction team to pursue, Shierhold said.

“We’re looking at about a year of that kind of work combined with updating a lot of the studies that we did pre-COVID,” Shierhold said.

Shierhold said the NCPC wants skaters to have a voice in the project.

“We’ve reached out with the skateboarding community and we’ve met with them and cleared up some of the concerns and really tried to help provide additional context,” Shierhold said when asked about the potential redevelopment of Freedom Plaza.

“We tried to communicate that we’re not just targeting Freedom Plaza, we’re looking at Pennsylvania Avenue holistically. We’re happy to receive feedback and skaters are a stakeholder group that need to have a voice.”

Nikita Farsh, a younger skater at Freedom Plaza, said he has met many friends and found a community there.

“It’s so unregulated, and that’s what I love about it,” Farsh said. “It just brings everyone together.”

Freedom Plaza serves the community by allowing skateboarders to skate there instead of other areas around the city, Farsh said.

“The police don’t really care if we skate here,” Farsh said. “They think of it as stopping people from skating near actual government buildings.”

The NCPC has been hosting public comment sessions, which are held and recorded by the organization in order to get public feedback for the project, according to phase one of the Pennsylvania Avenue Implementation program. Part of the initiative was a 136-day period for public comments on the redesigning of the Plaza that concluded on July 29, 2022, according to the program. The comment period was conducted after Aguilar’s initial petition was made in March 2022.

The NCPC will take the public feedback into account when choosing a design, according to the implementation plan. Because the organization is in the early stages of development, there is still uncertainty over whether Freedom Plaza will be affected by these changes.

The NCPC is continuing its efforts for the initiative, which includes further engagement with stakeholders in the project and working with other organizations in the district to garner public support for the project, according to the NCPC implementation program.

Aguilar said he attended the initial meetings, but since he was interested to know more about NCPC’s plans, he reached out to them personally. Aguilar said he has not heard back from them yet.

Aguilar said he was born and raised in the district, and the Plaza has a magic to it.

“You go there and it’s just this open space of marble that’s just like a playground where everyone meets up and skates,” Aguilar said.

Jocelyn Peller
More to Discover