Officials say free-spirited sport puts children at risk, has damaged park property
Teenagers and young adults doing parkour — a free-spirited sport in which participants flip, jump and run over, around and through urban areas while performing moves over or on man-made obstacles such as walls and buildings — have been making their mark in Port Washington.
But they’ve been seen plying their sport at Possibility Playground while children play and their parents watch, and that has officials concerned about the safety of youngsters and damage to equipment there.
Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said he’s been told the groups often have a spotter watching for children, but that isn’t enough.
“Kids aren’t so easy to predict,” he said. “All it would take is a little child running in front of them and someone’s going to get hurt, possibly seriously.”
City Administrator Mark Grams concurred, telling the Common Council last week that the teens take over the playground even as toddlers and young children are playing.
“It’s dangerous,” Grams said. “They’re doing it and there are mothers and kids up there.”
They have also caused damage, Grams said, noting that just two weeks ago they broke a slide in the toddler area of the playground.
“We’re probably going to have to eat (the cost),” he told aldermen.
Sue Mayer, general coordinator of Possibility Playground, said she’s been told the playground is popular among parkour enthusiasts in part because its rubberized surface makes landings softer and safer.
The playground was built for young children of all abilities, not for teenagers to jump and pound on, Mayer said.
“It’s amazing what they can do, but these structures are not built for that kind of pounding,” she said. “I’m trying to be respectful of what they’re doing, but it really worries me to have fully grown teens vaulting over our equipment.”
Although she only recently learned what the sport was called, Mayer said, organizers have noticed damage for years that can be attributed, at least in part, to parkour.
That includes damage to the walls and railings, broken chains on climbers intended for children who have limited mobility, and areas where the surface has bubbled due to the excessive use.
One group of parkour enthusiasts posted a video of their time in Port on YouTube, Mayer said, and it was disconcerting to see how the youths took over the playground while children were present and the way they treated the equipment.
“I thought, ‘This can’t continue,’” she said. “There were little kids playing there. If they run into their path, that child could be hurt seriously.
“I understand their feeling of it being art, but at the same time they’re not being respectful of the areas where they’re doing this.”
The slide that was damaged will cost about $900 to replace, not including the cost of installation, Mayer said, adding several adults in the park saw the group that damaged the equipment.
It’s not just Possibility Playground that’s used by parkour enthusiasts. The YouTube video shows a group practicing moves in Rotary Park, jumping over the picnic tables and off the bandshell in Veterans Park, and doing flips on walls and stairway railings along the Harborwalk. It also shows them jumping from the tops of privately owned buildings.
“They call it art, freedom of expression,” City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said. “I call it trespassing.”
Hingiss said he and Eberhardt are looking at drafting up an ordinance to regulate parkour in the city.
Current ordinances would cover some issues, such as trespassing, but may not be adequate to address the issue, he said.
“We’re not looking to issue a bunch of tickets here,” Hingiss said. “I don’t think they intend to hurt anyone or anything. But the potential is there.”