If New Orleans is considered to be a city of resilience, the story of the Peach Orchard skate park is a shining example, demonstrating that great things are possible through grassroots citizen action.
As skateboarding became widespread among youth and young adults across the nation, New Orleans lagged behind in providing infrastructure and recreational space for these skaters. In 2010, seeing insufficient action from the city, a group of local skaters and friends chose to do something and built a guerilla-style DIY skate park called Peach Orchard.
Peach Orchard existed near the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks underneath the I-610 overpass in Gentilly, New Orleans. Without official help from architects and urban planners, skaters selected an unused piece of land, designed ramps, pipes and jumps, and created the park themselves with donated concrete, materials, and plenty of sweat equity.
Peach Orchard thrived for two years as the only skate park in New Orleans. It became a destination for teenagers and young professionals who shared a common love for skating. The park was constantly under construction, with new ramps and improvements built by the users of the park themselves. Peach Orchard served a recreational function that the city lacked. It did so until May 2012 when Norfolk Southern, the owner of 100 feet of land on either side of the railroad, demolished the skate park due to graffiti concerns.
Just twelve days after the demolition, the skaters at Peach Orchard began pouring concrete and rebuilding a new skate park just blocks away from the old site. Through fundraisers and Saturday workdays, skaters created a place for themselves in the city again. Like the old site, this was an unofficial, guerilla skate park built without permission on public land underneath the freeway overpass. The DIY nature of this skate park gave it a precarious status, with the threat of demolition constantly lingering.
Recently, the Peach Orchard skate park finally won some guarantees of stability. In February 2013, the City of New Orleans voted to designate Peach Orchard an official skate park under the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission. In addition to Peach Orchard, more skate parks are coming to New Orleans, including Lil Wayne’s skate park in the Lower Ninth Ward and a potential skate park along the forthcoming Lafitte Greenway.
As the city begins to embrace venues for skaters, the story of Peach Orchard reminds us that it was citizen-led action and a DIY mentality that brought skate parks and attention to skaters’ needs in New Orleans.
What else can cities do to be wonderful places for skaters? How else can cities leverage citizen-propelled initiatives to create official plans?
Credits: Photos by Jessica Yoon. Data linked to sources.