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For skateboarders, the rectangle of asphalt in Tompkins Square Park is a sanctuary, an open space in the densely populated East Village where they converge not only to learn new skills but to forge long-lasting friendships.
For nearly three decades, the unofficial skate park — there are no ramps and handrails, so all levels are welcome — has been a slice of the “real New York,” said Andreas Marinos, 20, who has made the park his second home for about six years.
But now change may be coming to this corner of Manhattan — in the form of artificial turf.
The Department of Parks and Recreation is planning to lay down turf to accommodate hundreds of children who play organized softball and baseball, causing the displacement of the skateboarders and touching on questions about what sports, and groups, are valued in ever-wealthier Lower Manhattan.
The Parks Department says it must prioritize “youth sports,” but the skateboarders argue that their sport should not be given short shrift. They are now circulating a petition, asking that Tompkins Square Park be left as is. Since last month, more than 30,000 people have signed it.
The clash between the city and the skateboarders began after the skateboarders learned on Instagram in late spring that the nearby East River Park would be closed in 2020 for a $1.45 billion renovation, to protect it against storm surges. The shutdown, which could last about four years, means that park’s ballplayers will have to go elsewhere.
The Parks Department identified the corner in Tompkins Square Park and spaces on four other properties for “asphalt to turf” conversions.
“We don’t have anything against asphalt,” said Liam Kavanagh, the Parks Department’s first deputy commissioner. “There’s always going to be need for asphalt spaces in our system. But when you have a situation where you are balancing literally thousands of hours of permitted youth sports that don’t have a place to go, we have to prioritize youth sports.”
The Parks Department prioritizes the permitted sports, Mr. Kavanagh said, because of the amount of time groups like the Little League spend organizing and raising funds from the private sector for this “real New York City tradition.”
The skateboarders said they cannot skate on artificial turf. Sidewalks and streets are legal to skate on, they added, but not necessarily safe for themselves or pedestrians.
Tompkins Square Park, which reopened in 1992 after large-scale renovations, appeals to the skateboarders because of its lack of ramps and handrails. Rookies can feel intimidated in skate areas with obstacles, they said. The park’s flat surface enables all users to learn from one another.
Street-hockey players also use the blacktop for games.
Steve Rodriguez, a skateboarder who has served as a liaison to the Parks Department, emphasized his emotional connection to the park. New York is his home, Mr. Rodriguez said, and Tompkins Square Park “is definitely a room in that home. I skated there, my son skates here. I would love if his daughter or son skated here.”
Adam Zhu, 22, started the petition. “There is something important about this specific spot, and that has to do with the history of the park at large and our personal history with the park — having grown up here, met all our friends here,” Mr. Zhu said.
“I’m not fighting to make this a skate park,” he added. “It’s a multiuse park, and it functions very well as is.”
The petition led to a meeting with the Parks Department last month, where skateboarders asked officials to consider sparing Tompkins Square Park. The department has since said it has made no decision on when it would install the turf.
Alyssa Cobb Konon, the Parks Department’s deputy commissioner for planning and development, said she was “very happy that skateboarders reached out to us.”
“We have been working, going to the community board almost every month in recent months,” Ms. Cobb Konon said.
The department is, however, moving forward with four turf installations elsewhere on Manhattan’s East Side south of 42nd Street — at Tanahey Playground and LaGuardia Bathhouse in the fall, and Robert Moses Playground and St. Vartan Park in the spring.
So, while skateboarders continue to flock to Tompkins Square Park, street-hockey players at Tanahey Playground have already left.
Matthew Workman, 43, has played with two street-hockey leagues for more than a decade: Blacktop Street Hockey at Tompkins Square Park and the Mofo Hockey league at Tanahey Playground, which is near the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.
“I’m one of 50 people or so suddenly displaced for two locations,” Mr. Workman said after one of his last games at the playground, where his team, the Black Squirrels, beat its rivals, More Tooth, 3-1.
About two months ago, the Parks Department informed Mofo Hockey of its plans to demolish the playground’s hockey rink and install turf.
Mofo Hockey cannot operate on turf or any flat pavement; it needs a rink with sideboards. So, the league canceled its fall season and is looking for a new home for late spring. The closest available location that meets its requirements is in Long Island City, Queens, said Nate Lerner, a teammate of Mr. Workman’s.
Mr. Lerner, 29, said he was worried that Mofo Hockey would lose half of its members because of the potential commute to a new rink.
“Location is everything, just like in real estate,” he said.
Mr. Kavanaugh, of the Parks Department, said in an interview that the city would help the hockey players find a solution.
Mr. Workman said he understood the reasoning for the turf, but was crossing his “fingers and toes” that the department could come through with a new location. He said he was sad about losing a playground that fostered connections beyond sports; he met his wife of seven years when they played on the same team.
“It’s going to hit me when I walk by here someday and these fences aren’t here, these boards aren’t here,” he said.
The skateboarders at Tompkins Square Park, however, said they were determined to stand their ground.
“They can expect protests if our voices are not heard and there is no compromise made,” Mr. Zhu, the petition creator, said.