Tyson McGrew at TF. (Photo: Ari Adams)

On any given day at around 10  a.m., skateboarders slowly begin to trickle in and out of the northwest corner of Tompkins Square Park.  By around 4 p.m., the corner is bustling with young people skating, socializing, and quite often smoking marijuana.  The flat, rectangular piece of asphalt which regulars refer to as TF (short for Training Facility) has long been a home to both the East Village’s most seasoned and newest skateboarders.  Last year, the skateboarders at TF—with the help of an online petition—successfully battled the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation over a proposed plan to fill in the asphalt lot with AstroTurf.  This summer, improvements were made to the space after three ramps were donated by the skateboard and fashion company Supreme.  While many skateboarders are under the assumption that the ramps are permanent additions to TF, the Parks Department has different views on the matter. 

Tompkins Square Park has long been a gathering place for people considered, at one time or another, to be on the fringes of society, such as immigrants, the homeless, drug users, members of  LGBTQ+ communities and, of course, skateboarders. It experienced riots in 1874 and 1988, both times due to violent police responses to peaceful demonstrations there. 

Many skaters saw last year’s battle against the AstroTurf as a victory against the further gentrification of a neighborhood that has notoriously experienced an influx of NYU students and rising rents during the past three decades.  The addition of ramps to TF this summer appeared to be a logical step forward for the skating community.  “There were always objects like traffic cones and bricks here that people would bring for us to skate with, but the Parks Department would always take them away,” said Marquis, a young man who began skating at TF about a year ago and declined to give his last name.  “Now they’re letting us keep the ramps.”

Some of the ramps, boxes, and rails at TF. (Photo: Ari Adams).

The first three ramps were placed in TF early in the summer at the height of the coronavirus’s grip on New York City and were emblazoned with large Supreme stickers.  The stickers were quickly stolen while the ramps—for the skaters—became a welcome addition to the once completely flat asphalt patch.  In addition to the first three ramps from Supreme, the skateboard and shoe company DC has since donated more amenities for local skaters.  TF is now the home to six ramps, two boxes, and two rails, which are all portable.  

 Many skaters who I spoke with at TF believed that the ramps were a permanent addition and that they’d be able to keep them under the condition that they cease graffitiing the ground and benches—something they believed they were succeeding at.  “See all those black marks,” said Slicky Boy—a Lower East Side native, TF regular, and local rapper—as he pointed towards a smattering of large black squares covering the ground near the southwest corner of TF.  “Those were all tags that they covered up. As long as nobody tags anything, we get to keep the ramps.”  

Despite Slicky Boy’s rosy depiction, the Parks Department sees the ramps in TF as flagrant violations of its rules for the space.  Megan Moriarty, a press officer for NYC Parks told me over email that “to support the skateboarding community, we have allowed them to bring their ramps and jumps and then remove them after use. These will need to be removed each day as they have in the past.”  The fact is, however, that the ramps haven’t been removed after months of use.

Skaters at TF. (Photo: Ari Adams)

Denise Telfair, a Parks Department employee equipped with a long pair of tongs and a trash bag, painted an even less optimistic view of the situation.  When I spoke to her in the park on October 8, she told me that a dumpster would come and remove the ramps from TF within the next few days.  Two weeks after we first talked, the ramps continued to see daily use in TF.  As for the graffiti, Denise blames people getting drunk at night and tagging the ground and benches.  Citing her endless work on the black squares that Slicky Boy pointed out to me, Denise told me that any graffiti made in the area after 10 p.m. must be covered by her before 10 a.m. or she will be written up.  Likewise, any graffiti made after 10 a.m. must be covered by 10 p.m..  While I continued to call TF “the skatepark,” Denise felt the need to highlight that the area is actually a “multi-purpose space” and that after the ramps are gone, there are talks about dedicating the space to elementary school classes.  

According to Denise, a local representative was aware of the whole situation.  A communications director for Carlina Rivera, the City Council member representing the area, told me that their office hadn’t been alerted to the issue but would look into it. 

Obviously, this would be a great disappointment to the skaters who continue to frequent TF.  Taerin Kim, a 20-year-old who grew up in the neighborhood, told me that the ramps “fit for what this park is.”  He claims that the quality of the ramps matches the quality of the asphalt. “It’s very bumpy, you know?” he said as he gestured to the ramps and pavement.  “If you fuck up, there’s a 10 percent chance that it’s the ramp itself or something is sticking out.” 

Asa, a skinny teenager with long brown hair who began skating for the first time about a year and a half ago at TF and declined to give his last name, told me that he likes the mobile ramps as opposed to permanent ramps because skaters can “change the landscape” of the park. “Yesterday,” he said, “the ramps were completely different.”