The FDR skatepark is maintained entirely by those who use it

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Thanks to a $200 million renovation, South Philly’s giant FDR Park will look pretty different a decade from now. One thing that won’t change? The world renowned maze of graffiti-adorned half pipes tucked into one of the corners.

A master plan unveiled last month outlines the redevelopment of the 350-acre oasis that hugs the Navy Yard — but to the delight of Philly skaters, officials confirmed they are not planning to touch the skatepark.

During the design process for FDR 2.0, administrators met several times with the Friends of FDR Park group. From the community, they say they heard a resounding call to maintain the concrete playspace exactly as is.

“It seems that the skaters’ main concern was that the skatepark be preserved,” said Sharene Azimi, spokesperson for the Fairmount Parks Conservancy.

Nestled under I-95 and covered in colorful artwork and tags, the skatepark is famous around the world. Folks travel from all over to try tricks there. FDR is where Jami Godfrey got his start, and it’s featured in some Tony Hawk video games.

For the foreseeable future, it’ll stay exactly the same.

“It’s pretty awesome,” said Lauren McFadden, a 33-year-old skatepark regular. “There’s tons of things about the way that Philly’s changing that are kind of a bummer, that aren’t really my style. It’s cool the city can recognize what FDR means.”

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World-renowned skatepark with DIY maintenance

For Philadelphia’s skating community, FDR is a staple.

It’s a place to skate — and it’s a lot more than that, too. Regulars say it’s a great place to make friends. It often functions as a music, arts and poetry venue. Sometimes it’s a place to take on unfamiliar construction projects.

Just by watching the skaters who came before her, McFadden learned to build skating ramps out of concrete — and she contributed to the peanut bowl.

“It definitely inspires you to think big,” McFadden said. “It feels like home when I’m there.”

Matt Rea, the designated skatepark rep in the Friends of FDR Park group, isn’t surprised. He expected the city to leave the DIY roller rink be — especially since he and his crew take such good care of it.

Rea and his friends run a standing crowdfunding page to maintain the skatepark. It takes constant work: filling in stress cracks, repairing the gates, removing litter. Frankly, all he thinks the park is missing are trash cans.

“We have to do it,” Rea told Billy Penn. “Because the more of an eyesore the park becomes, the more other people want to step in.”

“For them to come in and change the largest DIY skatepark in the world, something that people come from all around the world to skate, I couldn’t see that happening,” he added.

Credit: Kait Moore / For Billy Penn

FDR renovations that are happening

Situated parallel to the Pattison Avenue sports complexes, the green space is a fixer-upper. The water, sewer and electric lines there are almost 100 years old. The historic buildings have long gone without maintenance. Invasive species run wild.

Plus, it’s a low-lying area that’s prone to flooding — and the gate that helps drain it has been broken for years.

“The park is, in many ways, meant to be under water — it had been underwater for many years,” Parks & Rec Commissioner Kathryn Ott-Lovell told WHYY’s PlanPhilly. “But we can do a better job of controlling where the water ebbs and flows in the park, and controlling the amenities and where they’re located in relation to water in the park.”

So the Central Park of South Philadelphia needs some repairs. Here’s what’s on tap:

  • New boardwalks on the lake
  • Access points for fishing and paddling
  • Kayak and canoe rentals
  • Picnic areas
  • Food concessions
  • A huge playground
  • Renovated athletic fields and basketball courts
  • Tree canopies
  • Pedestrian- and bike-exclusive entrances
  • Structural changes to help water to drain from the park
  • Extra soil on the park’s edges to create a hill that buffers the river, helping the rest of the park stay dry
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Michaela Winberg

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...