The park belongs to everybody. That’s the overriding theme of a short documentary shot by a pair of Bushwick skateboarders that celebrates a concrete pump track that was emerged, somewhat mysteriously, at the center of Maria Hernandez Park last summer and has remained there in the months since. In a lot of ways, it both reoriented and reinvigorated the park, after much of it had been closed off for a extensive re-turfing. Under the summer sun, kids from nearby schools wait in line to try their luck on the board in a moving ritual torn from the last century of adolescence.
“I don’t know if it’s factual or not, but supposedly the pump track has been moved around the city a few places, I think it was in Coney Island [last] and it just wasn’t being used there,” says Matt L. Rohrer, a bespeckled psychotherapist by day who skates and writes for skate magazines by night, and who shot the nearly nine-minute clip with his friend Charlie Turner. (Rohrer is also the author, most recently, of My War, “a memoir of growing up punk in a California sliver of light and sea.”) It’s Rohrer’s face that appears throughout, interviewing the assorted strangers drawn in by the lure of the pump track.
“Somebody, like, did a front flip off the side of it. That was definitely the gnarliest,” says one.
“The little kids rule it, we’re outnumbered,” says another.
“It’s a dope vibe,” attests a third.
Rohrer tells me that he thinks the city’s quiet endorsement of turning the park into a safe space for skaters of all ages is a good thing. Compared to the skate park that the Vans brand opened in the former warehouses of East Williamsburg shortly before the pandemic, the pump track is more accessible to novice skaters, he says. At Maria Hernandez — the park named after “a community leader who gave her life in the fight to rid her block of drug dealers,” according to the city — anyone can show up, wait for a space to open up and skate to their heart’s content.
It’s “part of a trend of the city being more supportive of skateboarding,” Rohrer told me. Last year, he wrote about Martinez Playground, another public space in Bushwick where the city recently installed “three simple skateable concrete objects,” which had the impact of memorializing what had long been a haunt known by skaters as “Blue Park.” Their legacy and impact on the neighborhood is not uncomplicated and their presence can feel like a shorthand for demographic change, but at the same time, it emphasizes that these parks are for everybody, which is an accomplishment as much as a provocation.
“I think skaters, graffiti writers and artists are always kind of early gentrifiers, that’s just the reality of it, but a lot of the skaters in Maria Hernandez are local kids, but some are out of towners like me,” he says with a laugh.
Images taken by Matt L. Rohrer and Charlie Turner.
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I love Maria Hernandez Park so much and I’m so glad that folks with all different types of interests are able to enjoy it!