Keelin Austin on Harrison Street DIY’s 2015 collaborative project Columbus Park Skate Park: Talking with neighbor Dan Wayne about how the project went from DIY to DIWO
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Seeing the potential in an abandoned lot
Keelin: Skateboarding is meant to use something that a normal person wouldn’t use. So the point of our project is changing the way an unused lot or road… – old public housing that was neglected for over twenty years – looked to the community.
… they saw the potential from just the skate ramps, that it could be like a public park, or a dog park, or a multi-purpose space for the whole community. And it brought some kids out of their house that would normally just be inside playing video games, and it… brought something to our community that they haven’t seen before which was, like, a lot of excitement.
Dan helped a lot with… getting the news and the community leaders involved, and our neighborhood president, and that’s what was really cool. But right when we got our Rocket Grant that all kind of went into place – where we got permission to build and change this property into whatever we wanted…
How the neighborhood shifted from concern to support
Well, I think the whole community learned a lot from these guys that came out and just did it on their own and didn’t think about the repercussions… I think it’s the kind of thing that everybody learned from, not just the guys doing it, and not just the kids in the neighborhood, but the whole neighborhood saw the value in that.
It really changed that area because, like Keelin said, it had been neglected for so long. So you know it was literally a dumping ground… And all of a sudden you’ve got a bunch of skaters there, and there’s no more dumping anymore. And besides that they cleaned up the area.
It was very unusual when they had a meeting to discuss it. Our meetings in our neighborhood are usually very contentious and rowdy, and it was the most productive, polite meeting I have ever been to. Everybody supported them.
So, all of a sudden you’ve got people with no money that come in… spending their own money, doing all their own labor, learning how to pour concrete. And creating a really positive thing in an area that… is known for drug use and prostitution and dumping. And all of a sudden none of that was going on, it’s just a bunch of… people there having fun.
Community built strength
Keelin: The neighborhood almost legitimized us to the city. It gave us a backing… As we were going to city meetings instead of just being three random skateboarders, we were these three random skateboarders that partnered with Columbus Park Neighborhood Association. And some certain individuals that had a lot of say in things that have happened in Kansas City – they stuck up for us, they stood up for what we were trying to do and gave us the opportunity to make it a possibility with the city.
Dan: Keelin here thinks they’ve spent a lot of money on the D.I.Y. skate park – which by definition is D.I.Y. These guys have spent almost no money. If the city would have done this it would have taken five years and it would have cost probably half a million dollars.
Even if they did do it, it wouldn’t be the same, it wouldn’t have actually built the community like it has…
Teaching each other
Keelin: When the kids started like showing up and getting involved, actually wanting to put in the work, … they were… looking to us to teach them something.
That’s part of the art in it – we’re learning an art form, a craft that we’re not going to learn at school.
There wouldn’t be a place that I could learn how to pour concrete. There wouldn’t be a place that I could teach a kid how to shovel dirt.
Dan: You know there’s not that many opportunities for kids to play outside anymore… kids learn by taking risks. And if they don’t take risks they don’t learn.
Keelin: The values that it taught me were… talking to your neighbors, not being afraid to communicate and say something. Because without just having the conversation, without… knocking on his door to borrow power, we could have never created what we created… I realized just starting the conversation and initiating the topic with somebody that I see on a daily basis… it builds that connection and builds the community.
Keelin: It wasn’t just three people stepping up and just doing it on their own it. It took three people to initiate… a whole community, stepping up and realizing that they can just do it on their own.
Whenever the city or somebody keeps telling you ‘no’, there’s nothing that will hurt just by trying.
Because we didn’t listen to one no, now we’re getting a hundred thousand yeses from all over the place.
I wish I would have known that at a younger age, because I would’ve been more focused going through school… on what I was passionate about. If I could make a kid realize that… they have a voice to actually do something, at fourteen…
Keelin: It’s beyond just a skate park. We had an opportunity… to teach kids… teach non-skaters, the… benefit of not just skateboarding but…of taking the reins and doing a project like this on your own.
… we were able to say… ‘Hey do you know about that park that people are building down the street? Yeah, I’m part of that.’ And then the whole skateboarder thing is eliminated because we’re volunteers and community representatives that… are doing something good.
It makes me really… emotional because I didn’t think that people that aren’t skaters would see the benefit in something that other people think is so destructive.