New Orleans, Louisiana
Interview with Joey O'Mahoney
• What is the history behind Parisite? And the driving force that went into building Parisite Skatepark?
I moved to New Orleans 2 years after hurricane Katrina. There was like nothing to skate, after a few years we got tired of the shitty wooden ramps and started pouring concrete on this slab that we found, and named it "The Peach Orchard," in 2010. The name actually came from a peach farm in Ashland, OR, that our friend didn't get her seasonal job back at. she still wanted to work on the peach orchard, so thats how we named it. in 2012 The Peach Orchard was demolished by Norfolk Southern Rail Road without warning. someone got caught painting trains at the park and 3 days later it was demolished. We had first found a spot that we really liked under the freeway, but the Peach Orchard was more secluded, and we knew we could get away with our concrete stuff a little longer before we got found out. the plan was to ask for forgiveness.
• How did you find the property? And what was the area's quality like when starting to build? What year?
Parisite is directly adjacent to The Peach Orchard, and shares a property line. We had originally scoped out what would become "Parisite" before we found The Peach Orchard. A friend of mine was riding his bike from downtown to the University of New Orleans, and found this epic strip of freeway that was completely paved. it was 13 days after the peach orchard was demolished, and we were pouring concrete again. The area was rough then, and it's rough now. its right next to the old St. Bernard Projects which were demolished right after katrina. People were pretty blown away by what we were doing, and where we were doing it. Especially the older skaters who had kicked their drug habits - they would reminisce about sketchy drug deals going down in the very place they were now skating. I'm not speaking ill of the community there in anyway, its an incredible area, and it's so rich with culture, that I would hate to see the neighborhood change.
• What happened when the city of New Orleans found out about the skatepark? What first initial steps were taken?
So, they pretty much figured us out within a few days of working at parisite. we were getting a lot of press for the peach orchard, and we were very resolved in what we were doing. a few city members tried to stop us, but we didn't let them, at first. we carried on a consistent work schedule from June 2012-April 2013. We refused to stop working, until we got to a certain point. We had essentially "opened up the site," so there was just dirt and rubble all over the area where we were working. working weekends, we closed up all the dirt, and basically transitioned to waiting game, but the park stayed open and we skated everyday.
The city knew about our old park, but couldnt / didn't do anything to help us. Now they had a PR crisis on their hands, and we really helped them navigate their way through things.
• Who was involved in helping build the park and who was directly working with the city of New Orleans, filling out the paperwork, going to city council meetings, etc?
The dirty three were myself, Ally Bruser, and Mark Steuer. We started the peach orchard, (also referred to as the hippy slab, btw.) and then in 2012 we had the artist Skylar Fein jump into our ranks. He absolutely loved what were doing, a professed communist, he saw our work as a "Utopic" project and couldn't help himself. He had previous non-profit experience, he started the gay and lesbian film festival in seattle a few decades earlier. while he left the organization after 2-3 years, it has grown exponentially without him. it has maybe a lot to do with the founder / maintainer mentality. He founded the film festival, and I founded the non-profit Transitional Spaces. His widsom and guidance made him an excellent maintainer of the non-profit. He knew how to grease the machine, and he did it like a master.
skylar and i went to the public city council for 3 months straight, speaking our allotted 2 minutes at the end of every meeting about why what were were doing was important, and they were very receptive. In a city with nothing for kids to do, we have an obesity crisis and a non-carbon based from of transportation all in one. you have to do this. kids are leaving gangs to skate, it's saving lives.
• How the hell did the city of New Orleans agree to allow you guys to build a skatepark? What were the exact steps and procedures taken? Do you have paperwork and/or emails from the city you can share with us?
You're not gonna believe me, but we actually contacted every DIY skatepark, and even used some San Pedro documents for our own precedent studies! we thought you guys had the model! We got really lucky because it turns out that the slab we were using had been a park in the 80's, before the crack epidemic swept through nola, and everywhere else. maybe thats a bit too simplistic, but the city was basically sitting on numerous defunct parks that needed to be revived. We were able to get the documents necessary to bring the park back online..... so we didn't really have to do all new stuff! We definitely had a lot of back and forth emails, and documents. i'll have to dig for them.
• Did you go to the local media? News stations? Newspapers? Outside of skateboarding, who was advocating for Parisite Skatepark?
Yes, without them we would have perished. without skylar we would have perished. I was just going to keep building but he convinced me to stop. we were a hot button on the news for a while because everybody loved it. everybody in the city had seen young black kids picking up skating after katrina, and they loved it (except for parisites neighbors). We started to write grants, and do fundraising contests, we got support from Drew Brees (QB for the saints), Tony Hawk Foundation (With whom we had been communicating with for years), the local architecture school teamed up with us to help build the entrance, we also had this freak thing happen with red bull. They donated a street course to the city, and that too was part of parisite legalization. there are so many ins and outs to this, i could keep going on forever and never stop. better for a phone call really.
• Where did the name Parisite come from?
Parisite, was actually named years before we started on the Peach Orchard even. I named it in 2008 when we were first starting to try and organize a group. It's name is a reference to burnside, but also it is on Paris Avenue. Then there are other metaphors that come out about how skateboarding is parasitic, and it requires a host (the bridge) again, i could go on.
• Any suggestions or advice you want to give skateboarders when dealing with the city's bureaucracy?
Well the Tony Hawk Foundation will tell you the number #1 rule is to not lose your temper, at anyone. After that, i would recommend anyone doing anything with skateparks either read the https://publicskateparkguide.org/ or listen to the tony hawk foundation podcast from the beginning to learn more about the process holistically. I recommend that skaters email, call, and write letters to their city council reps. Go to park design input meetings and ask for a skate park. I literally just saw one of the parks I advocated for after parisite get built, and i'm really wishing I could say that I have advocated for even more parks.
I also recommend that skaters seriously consider studying Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning, and other municipal disciplines, so that we can infiltrate. Myself, I started studying Landscape Architecture in 2015, and i'll be graduating next year, in 2020. It is the spatial discipline for skaters, and it is very much concerned with public space, plazas, skateparks, etc. i have been working on skateparks all over the country both physically and from a design standpoint, I work with 5th pocket skateparks out of Philly, and occasionally with DiamondGrind Coping, but it's not very regular. Get used to the slowness of bureaucracy. it works faster if you keep bothering them (gently) the squeaky wheel gets the grease. It's different when you need money, that is going to require even more skills, but for Channel Street, you're gonna have to bug them, and give them a reason to open it back up. I really think it could really use a woman's touch.