As Hartford officials plan improvements to the skate park atop Route I-84, they would be wise to seek a compromise between nearby business owners and those who use it.
At issue is graffiti. It's "urban art" to some, especially the young people who skate at the area and call it "Heaven" (though it's technically named for New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland, a Hartford Sister City).
Property owners see the spray-painted designs as little more than vandalism that harms opportunities for economic growth.
mproving the park, which will be done using a community development block grant and private money, is a fine idea. It's a good place for young people to work off energy by performing their gravity-defying skateboard stunts, and anything that enlivens the downtown ought to be encouraged.
But in planning the project, the city ought to lay down some rules about graffiti, be firm in enforcing them and respect different points of view.
After skateboarders started using the park several years ago, the city council accepted a task force's recommendation that an "urban art wall" be allowed. Unfortunately, no limits were set and the result was a mishmash of spray painting, some artistic and some decidedly not, on just about every surface.
The business owners are right that there's more blight than beauty in such defacement. Yet the young people who skate in "Heaven" ought to have a park that reflects their sensibilities.
Accommodation is possible. The city's suggestion that graffiti art be limited to two walls is well worth considering, but history has shown that some spray-painters pay no more attention to rules like that than rabbits do to "keep out" signs on vegetable gardens.
Monitoring, frequent cleaning and repainting should be built into any improvement plans.
And established graffiti artists ought to be invited to participate in enforcing the rules. They have something to gain: Vandals have defaced their works in the park, too.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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