Tompkins ‘turf war’ over; Skateboarders to keep rolling

Skateboarders were set to hold a skating rally in Tompkins Square Park on Sept. 6 to protest the loss of their stomping ground. But the Parks Department backed off its plan and the rally turned into a celebration. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)

BY GABE HERMAN | It turns out the skateboarding will continue in Tompkins Square Park after all.

The Parks Department announced on Fri., Sept. 6, that it would not — as previously planned — be laying synthetic turf over a portion of the East Village park that has been used for decades as a spot for local skaters.

The news came hours before a planned rally that Saturday, part of the ongoing effort locally and online to stop the Parks plan.

The Tompkins turf project was part of Parks’ efforts to add more green space to several local parks to compensate for East River Park closing for three and a half years as part of the upcoming East Side Coastal Resiliency Project for flood protection.

Adam Zhu, 22, grew up on 12th St. and ever since he was 12 has been skateboarding in Tompkins Square Park. He works for Supreme, the skateboarding shop and clothing brand. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)

Tompkins was one of five sites slated by Parks for new synthetic turf to accommodate baseball and soccer players, particularly in youth leagues, displaced from East River Park.

“Tompkins Square Park has served as the epicenter of NYC skateboard culture for decades,” a Parks spokesperson said. “As such, we have decided to leave the area previously proposed for synthetic in the park as is, and will not move forward with creating a synthetic turf area there.

“We remain committed to supporting the hundreds of children who play baseball and soccer on the East River Park fields when the park is closed for reconstruction, and will identify a location to replace our initial selection of Tompkins Square Park to ensure that five sites will receive synthetic turf fields where local youth can play,” the spokesperson added. “Planned enhancements are part of a holistic plan to provide alternative recreational space for the community at large during the reconstruction of East River Park.”

A skateboarder doing a trick at Tompkins Square Park. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)

The synthetic turf was scheduled to be installed at Tompkins in spring 2020. The other four sites slated for synthetic turf are Tanahey Playground and LaGuardia Bathhouse, both on the Lower East Side and scheduled for this fall, and St. Vartan Park and Robert Moses Playground, both in Murray Hill and slated for next spring.

A big part of the Tompkins protest was an online petition started by local skater Adam Zhu. The change.org petition collected more than 32,000 signatures.

Zhu told this paper in July that he wasn’t surprised by the amount of support the petition garnered.

“That’s how important the park is to so many people,” he said, “and how culturally important the park is.”

“We Won”: The sign says it all. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)

After the Parks Department decided not to put turf at the Tompkins site, Zhu posted a celebratory statement on Instagram.

“WE WON,” he wrote. “The city called and announced they are NOT going to install AstroTurf at Tompkins. It’s not a coincidence they made the decision the day before the rally. We organized, made our voices heard, and made a difference.”

He said the protest would become a celebration instead, and added, “I could cry right now.”

“This is a huge victory for our neighborhood and community!” he also wrote on the petition page. “Thank you all for your support! This would have never happened without this petition.”

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