February 2, 2023

Money News PH

The Premier Blog Where Money Talks

Skatepark near the Colosseum gives Rome a modern tourist spot

They built it and people came.

Predominantly teenagers from Roma Nord, Ostia, Prenestina, Monterotondo and other suburbs, trekking board in hand into Rome city center to heelflip and airwalk and boardslide between the obstacles of a new skate park that opened to the public just before Christmas.

“We were desperate; we didn’t have anything,” said Lorenzo Ficini, 27, a marketer and skateboarder, who, on cue, approached a reporter to say he wanted to thank the city for the skate park. An unsolicited PR triumph.

“It’s a dream come true for us – the structure is great. And then,’ said Mr Ficini, nodding to the south, where the upper arches of the Coliseum appeared above a line of trees. “You have this. It is wonderful.”

The skate park – perched atop Oppian Hill, as this area is known, overlooking the amphitheater dating back to the first century since ancient times – is brazenly hailed by Rome city officials as the skate park with the best view in the world.

“Talk about a photo opportunity,” said Alessandro Onorato, Rome City Council member in charge of tourism and events.

The unique location, he said, helped persuade World Skate, the governing body of all roller-skating sports, to hold a street skateboarding competition in Rome last summer. The event attracted hundreds of top athletes from around the world and the state-of-the-art park built for the competition was left to the Romans.

“It shows how a one-off event can have a long-lasting impact on a city,” Mr Onorato said.

On a recent afternoon, the steady “thump, thump” of skateboarders sustaining their landings filled the air, along with the occasional “whoop!”

“It’s a big deal for us,” said Papik Rossi, 49, a fixture on Rome’s skateboarding scene. “We never had a skate park in the center of the scene.”

He fell in love with skateboarding after seeing the 1985 classic film Back to the Future, he said, adding in a lowered voice, “You’ll deny it, but half the people I know got into it for the same reason .”

The new park is “good for new skaters,” he said, but he still prefers the street.

When Mr. Rossi started skateboarding in the 1980s, pretty much every skater in town was on first-name terms. Ugo Bertolucci, 49, was also part of this early scene. Back then, Mr. Bertolucci said, skateboarders were considered “aliens,” freaks in a nation where soccer was king. “Well, it’s an Olympic sport,” he shrugged.

Mr. Bertolucci recalled that before the internet, it was more difficult to learn new tricks. Back then, skateboarders like him watched their peers’ VHS tapes in the United States—the birthplace of skateboarding—”over and over until they wore out.”

Learning by doing, falls were inevitable. Today, a more formal style of education comes from the many skateboarding schools that have sprung up amid the sport’s growing popularity. Those lessons prevent many injuries, said Mr. Bertolucci, who now builds skate parks in northern Italy, where skateboarding is more common.

“Back then,” he said, “you had to be tough.”

And you have to be prepared to risk fines because skateboarding is banned on Rome’s streets. The rebels’ favorite meeting places: the Foro Italico, the grounds of the Olympic Stadium, and the outlying EUR district. Both are areas from the Fascist era, which are densely covered with travertine stones in various geometric shapes and widths – every skateboarder’s dream.

That dream has now moved to an area that, until a few months ago, caused nightmares for Mr. Onorato, the city councillor.

When Rome’s centre-left administration came to power in October 2021, the area where the skate park is now located was spray-strewn and dilapidated, its benches defaced and broken.

A more modest skate park that used to be there was repeatedly vandalized and then closed after a young boy injured himself on a “deteriorated track,” a city spokesman said. Local newspapers reported on the site’s decay, photographic indictments showed piles of rubbish and broken ramps.

“Do you know what my biggest nightmare was?” Mr. Onorato asked in a phone interview. “That nine months ago a foreign correspondent visited the area because he wrote an exposé saying that 200 meters from the Colosseum was an area with drug dealing and drug users.”

“That’s no longer the case,” he said.

The new skate park is part of a larger playground, and the project, which cost about 200,000 euros or about $210,000 to build, will include a small soccer field, a volleyball court, a space with fitness equipment, and an area overlooking the Colosseum and Checkers chess boards. “Just like Central Park,” Mr. Onorato said.

And vandalism, Italian officials say, will be a thing of the past. In the past, Mr Onorato said, surveillance was lax and the area was mostly left to its own devices. Now Sport e Salute (Sport and Health), a Ministry of Economy company that manages major sporting events and promotes sport and well-being, has been entrusted with the maintenance and security of the skatepark.

“We are used to taking care of sports fields and we will be able to do the same for the Oppian Hill playground,” said Vito Cozzoli, President and CEO of Sport e Salute. “We have also spoken to the skaters who are the main users and they will help us to take care of the area as they are also aware of the privilege of having at their disposal a park with a view of the Colosseum.”

“It’s in everyone’s interest that the park is maintained,” he said.

It’s early to say how the project will pan out, but officials are optimistic. The skate park is said to be a way of dusting off Rome’s musty image that has borne the burden of its history.

“We want to appeal to young people with a modern language,” said Mr. Cozzoli, “and the park combines the message of the classic past with the modern message of skateboarding.”

The skate park also meets a growing demand in the city, where skateboarding’s popularity has risen since the sport was introduced at the Tokyo Olympics a few years ago, said Marla Ascone, 44, who, along with her husband, Nicolò Mattia Cimini, 43, owns and manages a private skate park in Rome. “When we go out today, we often run into skaters we don’t know,” she said. “You knew everyone before.”

As dusk fell, the skateboarders made their last rides. One of them, Fabio Spalvieri, bemoaned the lack of structures in his town of Frosinone, some 74 kilometers southeast of Rome, which forced him to travel. “At least it’s fun,” he said.

Now that the skatepark is complete, Mr. Onorato said he was sure people from abroad would come too, citing emails he received from skaters from around the world who were intrigued by the site.

“There’s a whole group of people who will come to Rome thanks to this park, not to see the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter’s Basilica, but because they want to skate in the park,” he said. “That’s what we wanted – to give the world a picture of a more modern city.”

The spruced up park made the locals happy too. Most of time.

“It had been abandoned. At least people are using it now,” said Michele Cubino, the owner of a coffee shop just around the corner from the skate park. “Or at least they will use it until someone hurts themselves because it was left unattended,” he added. “Then they will just close it.”