Book Review: The Accidental Playground

the accidental playground

As D.I.Y. spots have become more common over the past decade, the Brooklyn Volcano remains an anomaly. It was the first New York spot of its kind, and existed in a place that could have hypothetically grown into something the size of a skatepark. Given the route real estate has taken throughout the Bloomberg years, it will likely be the last of its sort. New York D.I.Y. spots are now one-offs in spaces that could not accommodate a full, skater-made skatepark.

Daniel Campo’s The Accidental Playground is a case study of the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal (BEDT), a onetime freight loading yard. The BEDT was home to the Volcano, a photogenic D.I.Y. spot overlooking the Manhattan skyline, seen in any skate magazine from the early 2000s. Campo is a former New York city planner and an architecture professor at Morgan State University. He is an advocate of “unplanned” public space, and writes The Accidental Playground to discuss the merits of when cities do not get involved with the recreational lives of their citizens, allowing them to “make their own environment.” These sort of spaces present a “get your hands dirty” alternative to the “manicured” nature of a Central or Prospect Park.

Compared to the restrictions faced in official parks, the BEDT was practically lawless within reason. Recreational use of the space was pioneered by dog walkers fed up with leash laws, but eventually gave way to a range of characters with interests that were not accommodated by other nearby parks. This included artists, a punk marching band, undocumented day laborers who could not procure on-the-books housing, and neighborhood residents who wanted to drink a beer outside without worry of an open container ticket. Campo considers skateboarding to have been the most sophisticated use of the space, though each group is afforded its own chapter in the book.

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