Robert Putnam’s 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community bleakly notes the decline in levels of national civic engagement since the end of World War II. This is argued to be linked with dwindling supplies of social capital, which the author defines as “social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them”. This dismal conclusion is supported through the existence of a stark drop in membership rates for community groups, unions, professional associations and of course, bowling leagues as alluded to in the book’s title. Furthermore the generational nature of this disturbing phenomena is put forward by Putnam as “each generation that has reached adulthood since the 1950s has been less engaged in community affairs than its immediate predecessor.”
With the current economic downturn, continued discussions of the detrimental effects of climate change, peak oil and repercussions of our global population reaching seven billion people, the likelihood of changing this trend of declining social capital seems unlikely. But there may be hope from the unlikeliest of sources: figure skating. But more importantly, figure skating’s existence at community ice rinks which may act to reverse this social capital decline, becoming one of the last bastions of cross-generational social capital creation.
Walking by community ice skating rinks, whether on the grand scale of Rockefeller Center in New York City, or the tiny-by-comparison community rink in Old Town, Fort Collins, one witnesses a kind of disengagement from much of the existing political and economic woes of recent times and a shift from self-isolating proclivities including avoiding eye contact with strangers and perpetual and self-contained hermitage through iPod or iPhone. People at these rinks are laughing and engaging one another and generally seem happy to do so. Additionally the generational gap decried by Putnam is more often than not overcome as the ice is shared by an array of people from families with young children, to university students, to the young at heart.
Denver once again has this frozen community meeting ground after a long absence. The first skating rink in downtown Denver opened in Zeckendorf Plaza at 16th and Court in 1957 and was followed by the first Skyline Park ice rink in 2001 which closed abruptly for the park’s remodeling.The return of the Skyline rink located next to the historic Daniels and Fisher Clocktower is thanks to the efforts of Southwest Airlines and the Downtown Denver Partnership. The grand opening of the Southwest Rink at Skyline Park occurred on November 26, 2010 with Southwest’s Vice President of Communication and Strategic Outreach, Linda Rutherford stating, “Southwest’s partnership with the Downtown Denver Partnership has given us the opportunity to provide Denver residents with something they have been requesting for a long time. The rink is a unique way for us to make a positive contribution in the Denver community, and we’re excited to interact with our customers where they work and live.”
As the inaugural season of the new rink winds down (the last day is Sunday, January 30th) and the second installment of much needed snow begins falling across the front range into tomorrow (Monday, January 10), community members should take advantage of this economically friendly activity that will for a limited time afford a beautiful winter view of downtown Denver while helping reinvigorate a sense of community in the mile high city.The rink is located at 16th and Arapahoe in Downtown Denver (1611 Arapahoe Street, Denver, CO 80202). Admission is free if you bring your own skates and rentals are cheap at $2. For those seeking a little more adrenaline and excitement in their on-ice community building efforts, broomball competitions are another option with registration proceeds benefitting Volunteers of America and the Parade of Lights. The rink’s hours of operation are: Saturday and Sunday 10am-9pm, Monday through Wednesday 12pm-7pm and Thursday and Friday 12pm- 9pm.
Some final upcoming events include “Date Night” Saturday, January 15th and 29th (7-9pm), with an evening consisting of dinner, music from Queen City Jazz Band, treats and ice skating, as well as “Kids Learn to Skate” clinics the mornings of Saturday January 15th, 22nd and the 29th. For more information, visit downtowndenver.com.
Perhaps Putnam was wrong, or maybe he just needs to take up a new winter hobby. In any case, Denver residents have a limited time to take up some local on-ice community building this winter season.