Officials say free-spirited sport puts children at risk, has damaged park property
Teenagers and young adults doing parkour ‚ÄĒ 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 ‚ÄĒ have been making their mark in Port Washington.
But they‚Äôve 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‚Äôs been told the groups often have a spotter watching for children, but that isn‚Äôt enough.
‚ÄúKids aren‚Äôt so easy to predict,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúAll it would take is a little child running in front of them and someone‚Äôs going to get hurt, possibly seriously.‚ÄĚ
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.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs dangerous,‚ÄĚ Grams said. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre doing it and there are mothers and kids up there.‚ÄĚ
They have also caused damage, Grams said, noting that just two weeks ago they broke a slide in the toddler area of the playground.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre probably going to have to eat (the cost),‚ÄĚ he told aldermen.
Sue Mayer, general coordinator of Possibility Playground, said she‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs amazing what they can do, but these structures are not built for that kind of pounding,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm trying to be respectful of what they‚Äôre doing, but it really worries me to have fully grown teens vaulting over our equipment.‚ÄĚ
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.
‚ÄúI thought, ‚ÄėThis can‚Äôt continue,‚Äô‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúThere were little kids playing there. If they run into their path, that child could be hurt seriously.
‚ÄúI understand their feeling of it being art, but at the same time they‚Äôre not being respectful of the areas where they‚Äôre doing this.‚ÄĚ
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‚Äôs not just Possibility Playground that‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúThey call it art, freedom of expression,‚ÄĚ City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said. ‚ÄúI call it trespassing.‚ÄĚ
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.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre not looking to issue a bunch of tickets here,‚ÄĚ Hingiss said. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think they intend to hurt anyone or anything. But the potential is there.‚ÄĚ