Net: Realizing that our son had no dedicated places to skateboard in our town of Brookline, Massachusetts, my wife Patty organized a group of young skate boarders and parents, teachers, nonprofit and other leaders to advocate for the creation of safe places to skate in our community. Although we have a lot of work to do and have only taken the first few steps in what will undoubtedly be a long journey, the collaborative efforts of our small but committed group, the over 100 friends who supported us online and the 60 young skaters and their parents who attended our presentation to the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission have successfully launched our campaign.
In his recently published book, my friend Alan Khazei – the social entrepreneur , Co-Founder of City Year and former candidate for the US Senate – makes the case for creating change through the collaborative efforts of public private partnerships, where citizen activists, business leaders and government agencies work together to address challenges and create new opportunities. He refers to this model as Big Citizenship, advocating that the old models of relying too heavily on either big government or private industry are tired, ineffective and not appropriate for creating change in the 21st Century.
Although the concept of Big Citizenship is not intuitive to all, you clearly know it when you see it in action. I had such an experience recently. Realizing that our son had no place to skateboard in our town of Brookline, Massachusetts, my wife Patty organized a group of young skate boarders and parents, teachers, nonprofit and other leaders to advocate for the creation of safe places to skate in our community. Alan would see this as a clear example of the power of big citizenship, and I would agree. But I also see it as a compelling example of collaboration and, as we are beginning to increase our social and traditional media outreach, a great case study in how the internet can support and turbo-charge the efforts of a small but committed group.
None of this would have been possible without both Patty’s initiative and the phenomenal and strategic efforts of our friend Armin Bachman. Armin is truly a Big Citizen. (Last year I encouraged Alan to promote his book by starting a Big Citizen contest where people could nominate others for recognition; I had Armin in mind as a leading candidate.) Armin is an entrepreneur; he is co-owner of Orchard Skateshop, by far the best skateboarding store in the Boston area. He is a social entrepreneur, having founded the nonprofit Extension, to make skating more accessible in the greater Boston area. Armin and
the other owners of Orchard are big citizens in their community as well, giving 1% of their revenues to local nonprofits and helping new artists by hosting shows in the gallery above the shop. He is also one very smart and connected dude, knowing leaders in the skateboarding space across the country and increasingly around the world, and very gifted at finding data related to developing safe places to skateboard. (Full disclosure: Armin is also Myles skateboarding teacher.)
Other members of the original group included Nicco Berinstein, a Brookline High School 11th grader and avid skater; Eileen Amy, Nicco’s mother and a registered nurse; Michael McKittrick, a Brookline High School teacher and the faculty advisor to the school’s skateboarding club; John Wynne, a Cambridge businessman, skater, and a passionate skateboarding advocate; and our son Myles, an avid skater and the person who helped us see the need for safe places to skate in Brookline.
Armin, Patty and John found amazing data to support our cause, including the following:
– Skateboarding is one of the fastest growing sports in the US (and around the world) and is now larger than baseball.
– Skateboarding is the 3rd largest sport for ages 6-18 and the 6th largest participant sport in the US.
– Skateboarding is one of the safest sports, with less than 1/10th the injuries of basketball, 1/5th of baseball and 1/3rd of soccer. (My own experience mirrors the data: despite logging close to 100 hours watching skateboarders, the only real blood I have seen was my own when I was stupidly carrying my elbow pads while riding across an asphalt parking lot and wiped out on a pebble the size of a peanut J).
– Over half of the injuries occur from skating on poor surfaces like asphalt, usually caused by a lack of safe concrete skatespots and parks for community skaters.
– Skateboarding is less noisy than football or local traffic and skating on concrete features is over 20% quieter than those made out of wood or metal.
– Brookline has amazing recreational and sports facilities, including 14 official youth baseball fields – or one for every 60 kids who participate in Brookline baseball – and 8 dog parks, but no safe features or parks to skate on for the estimated 600 skaters who skate almost every day.
From Armin and John, we also learned that the idea of “ good places to skateboard” has evolved significantly over the past few years, with leading edge communities working with local architects and landscapers, skaters and national foundations to create a system of neighborhood skate parks, smaller “skate spots” and even smaller “skate dots.” One of the most innovative concepts we learned about was the creation of “skateable art” – concrete artforms designed to be both outdoor sculpture and great skateable features.
Armed with this great data from Armin and the team, I was able to put my Bain skills to work and developed a presentation that we gave to the Brookline Parks and Recreation Commission. Although the presentation was helpful in getting the support of the commissioners, I believe an equal or greater impact on the commissioners came from the 60 young skaters, their mothers, Brookline social workers, and members of the nonprofit Architects for Humanity who came to support us. I haven’t been to a Parks and Rec meeting before, but I imagine that 60 people for a single topic was a rather large community turnout. Credit to Armin again for both being able to factually and compellingly answer almost every question the commissioners asked and for putting our meeting on Orchard’s Facebook page, which received over 100 “likes” from the Orchard Community and many words of encouragement.
Although I am very focused on our goal of getting a system of safe, attractive places to skate in Brookline; as an entrepreneur, I have also learned to enjoy the journey and celebrate the mini-successes along the way. One of the things I liked most about the meeting was seeing the sense of pride and empowerment Patty’s initiative gave the young skaters in the room. These high school, middle school and elementary school Brookline residents were seeing democracy and big citizenship at work. In fact, they were active participants. Myles spoke after Patty’s introduction about the personal benefits of skating and many others answered questions from the commissioners. None were shy about expressing their passion for skating or the appreciation they would feel for the town if Brookline embraced our vision of moving from a laggard to a leader in this fast growing, diverse and accessible sport.
As recently reported in The Brookline Patch, the online community news site that wrote an article about our efforts and the meeting, the commission had a positive response to our collaborative efforts:
“The presentation was well-organized, passionate and articulate,” said Erin Gallentine, director of Parks and Recreation.
The town formed the informal subcommittee to talk about the possibilities after two parents proposed facilities for skateboarding at a recent Parks and Recreation Commission meeting.
Gallentine said the town considered adding facilities next to the basketball court at Lawton Playground when the park was renovated, but the idea was scrapped after neighbors raised concerns about noise. A few proposals for skateboarding facilities have came before the Parks and Recreation Commission over the years, but Gallentine said the Underwood’s proposal had been particularly interesting.
Although we have a lot of work to do and know we have only taken the first few steps in what will undoubtedly be a long journey, the collaborative efforts of our small but committed group, the over 100 friends who supported us online and the 60 young skaters and their parents and supporters who attended our presentation to the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission have clearly move us forward.
Here’s what you can do to help:
Join our Facebook page Friends of Brookline Skaters
If you live in Brookline or know people who do, share this and our presentation with others.
Let us know if you are interested in helping with research, organizing or fundraising.
And think about opportunities in your own community to form collaborative public private partnerships and join with other big citizens to create the change you want to see.