When local governments build lame skateparks,
no one wins.
by Jason Fritzsche - Citypaper.net
(August 16-23, 2001)
Imagine a public baseball field with its bases arranged in a circle instead of the regulation diamond. Or a golf course with tees in the sand traps. Or a hockey rink that slopes.
Absurd as these examples sound, theyre fairly analogous to what often occurs in the construction of public skateparks. The same municipal governments that wouldnt dream of spending taxpayers money on fields and golf courses and ice rinks without consulting professionals in such projects apparently dont think twice about awarding contracts to build skateparks to contractors with little or no experience.
In this region alone (Philadelphia), there are three public skateparks that fall squarely into the "waste of public funds" category. Parks in Brigantine and Manahawkin, NJ, and Lancaster, PA, are not making the grade. Online skatepark review site skatespots.com says Brigantines is "nothing too spectacular," adding: "The park features a concrete snake run with tight and quirky transitions with no coping" (the lip at the top of a slope). Manahawkins park suffers from similar ailments. (And in this writers opinion, the surface looks like it was finished with a landscaping rake.) Lancasters park has been described as "lumpy as hell," "barely skateable" and "not challenging."
And skaters arent the only losers.
This trend toward poorly designed and hastily constructed parks is occurring at the same time that many cities and towns are adopting anti-skateboarding policies. Section 10-610 of the Philadelphia Code makes skateboarding in the citys most popular spots - including City Hall and the internationally known Love Park - a criminal act. Such laws are often accompanied by the construction of public skateparks, as a compromise. But when these parks are deemed unskateable, skaters may return to the areas from which theyve been banished, contributing to the perception among many non-skaters that theres no point in trying to accommodate their needs, and the policy toward them becomes less carrot and more stick.
It doesnt have to be this way. If local governments and the general public could change their views of skateboarders, the groups could work together and stop the pointless ghettoization of skaters.
"Many forward thinking communities, such as Nanaimo and North Vancouver, B.C., have realized that skateboarding is a healthy activity which ought to be nurtured," says Jim Barnum, president of Spectrum Skatepark Creations Limited, of Whistler, British Columbia,Canada. "Thus, they have built skateparks not in response to problems, but based on popularity and youth demand. This action further legitimizes skating and assures growth of a positive sport. In our experience, projects based on a positive goal tend to be enjoyable, rewarding and smooth running while yielding the best finished product."
The statistics speak for themselves: A 1993 independent study found skateboarding as the sixth-largest sport in the U.S. and third among youths 6 to 18. There are about 10 million skateboarders in the US, according to TransWorld magazine. Its undeniable that skating is not a "fad" anymore, and that its here to stay. The need for quality facilities is a situation not to be ignored.
Planning and building a skatepark is not as straightforward as constructing a baseball diamond or basketball court. In addition to surface quality, the overall flow of the park is extremely important. Good parks provide a multitude of paths with plenty of speed and a good balance of learnable advanced sections, and they appeal to different styles of skating. Lack of attention to these details will result in a park that cannot be effectively skated or isnt challenging - and therefore wont attract skaters.
Municipalities cant simply pick structures from a manufacturer and plop them in a parking lot or award a contract to the lowest bidder. There needs to be an ongoing dialogue with the people who are actually going to use the facility.
Team Pain, headed by master ramp builder Tim Payne, has draws upon its years of skating experience to build renowned skateparks in Aspen, CO; Nashua, NH; Ocean City, MD; and St. Augustine, FL, to name just a few. Payne believes the only way to create a park is to constantly skate it during the development to see which areas, if any, need work.
Barnum, of Spectrum Skatepark Creation, also brings his knowledge of the sport to the table. "I am lucky enough to have ridden every existing type of skateable terrain from streetstyle to snake run and bowl, old school to new, quarterpipes to full pipes, backyard pools to professional competition courses," he says. "Some time ago, as a hobby, I began to document skatepark details, including slopes; radial and elliptical transition sizes; ratios between ramp height and flatbottom; number and size of steps; coping types, sizes and placement; plus a myriad of creative elements and features. By experiencing skateparks on my skateboard, I have also gained an intimate understanding of how all these variables come together to produce a great park."
Simply put, just as Jack Nicklaus builds award-winning golf courses, skateboarders should build skateparks.
Many skateboarders are taking it upon themselves to educate others. Consolidated Skateboards, a California-based skateboard and clothing manufacturer, makes its publication The Plan - a comprehensive guide to the planning and development of quality public skateparks - available on its website. And right here in Philadelphia, Franklins Paine Skatepark Fund is working to "to fund the construction of free, public skateparks" that skaters will actually enjoy using. Its board already includes professional skater Kerry Getz and City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.
"An integral part of our mission," the organization states on its website, "is to work with the City of Philadelphia on site selections for these facilities, and to provide the oversight and guidance in the park design process to ensure that they meet the needs of Philadelphia skateboarders, to provide challenging terrain where they can enjoy their sport with the same access to multiple Citywide facilities enjoyed by basketball, baseball, football, tennis and soccer players, but with little or no dependence on City taxpayers."
No one in City Hall, working on their own, has offered a solution as logical and equitable as that.
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