An item on the participatory budgeting ballot in Council District 39 could help one Brooklyn mom memorialize her son — and create a new public greenspace for New Yorkers just like him.
The Brooklyn Skate Garden — proposed for the Council district that spans from Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill through Park Slope and Kensington — would combine concrete elements of a skate park with lush vegetation and accessible walkways, making it suitable for everyone, according to the mother behind the project.
“The goal would be to make this a destination,” said Loren Michelle, who’s looking to build the park in memory of her late son Pablo Ramirez, a skateboarder who was killed on his skateboard while commuting in 2019. “This is for locals, but this matters for Brooklyn and New York City.”
The push to build the Brooklyn Skate Garden started in 2019 at a memorial jazz picnic for Ramirez in Prospect Park, where friends and admirers of Ramirez first hatched the idea to construct a skatepark in his honor. The organizers have since hosted park cleanups, mural paintings, and other arts and culture events to get the word out about the initiative.
Now, the city’s Participatory Budgeting program could breathe new life — and funding — into the project.
Voters in Council District 39 can vote this week to allocate $300,000 as a “down payment” for the Brooklyn Skate Garden, and get the ball rolling towards the millions of dollars that will be needed to fully fund it.
While the park’s proponents haven’t yet nailed down a location for the greenspace, they are working with the Park’s Department to determine the best location. Michelle and the Pablo Ramirez Foundation say they envision a skatepark formed in Ramirez’s ethos that is as welcoming to beginners as it is to longtime skaters, and has the potential to host all kinds of community gatherings.
Like Ramirez — who was also a jazz drummer, artist, and poet — the Brooklyn Skate Garden would be eclectic, offering something for everyone.
“It would be a space where everyone is welcome,” Michelle said. “There would be opportunities to garden, there would be opportunities to paint, there would be workshops, there would be skate sessions, there would be community cleanups, there would be music, jazz, there would be poetry readings, there would be ways that people could picnic, people could watch skateboarding. It’s a skatepark, plus.”
The Brooklyn Skate Garden would also be well designed, with greenery and public seating integrated into the park, Michelle said.
“How is it that we have all these baseball fields in Prospect Park, and soccer fields, and everyone gets to hang out and sit on the grass and have a beautiful picnic, and there’s not one bench right here?” she said while seated for an interview on a concrete planter in Washington Skatepark in Park Slope.
Inside Washington Skatepark, organizers have been able to memorialize Ramirez on a smaller scale. They painted a mural and planted a small garden there in the fall, a small hint at their larger vision for the Brooklyn Skate Garden.
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With her local Council district’s Participatory Budgeting in full swing, Michelle is working hard to get out the vote among local skaters and their families. The process, which allows locals to vote for which capital projects they’d like to see receive Council funding, is open now through April 14 for constituents as young as 11.
In the meantime, Michelle says she’s continuing to meet with the city’s Parks Department to determine the best location for the garden while continuing to brainstorm its design with skatepark designers.
“A big part of what it’s about is, ‘How do we bring everyone together?” Michelle said. “Young kids could skate, teenagers could skate, newbies could skate. How could a mother learn to skate and feel comfortable? How could people that have never gotten on a skateboard feel comfortable? How could families come and feel like it’s cool for them to be here with their eight-year-old?”
Ramirez, who was born in New York City before moving to San Francisco, is remembered by many for “changing the way” people see skateboarding.
“Very few skateboarders change the way we see skateboarding,” Thrasher magazine publisher Tony Vitello told the San Francisco Examiner at the time of his death. “Pablo did just that.”
District 39 residents can vote for participatory budgeting here until April 14.