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Communities must ask right questions when planning skatepark

By Ben Wixon


Planning and designing a skatepark to serve the local skateboard population and community can be a complicated and lengthy process for any city or organization. Creating a safe and challenging environment for skateboarders is a process that involves a number of variables and hidden details. However, this process can be greatly simplified with good data, statistics, and background information. Parks professionals and organizations need to know the right questions to ask before undertaking the responsibility of creating and building a good skatepark for their community.

Factors to Consider

A number of factors need to be considered when planning for a new skatepark. Some of the most obvious factors to consider include the amount of space you have available, the size of your local skatepark population, and the size and type of skatepark that will best fit your needs and goals. How much space you have available and where you will locate your proposed facility are important factors that will ultimately influence the final skatepark design, as well as the public’s access to the completed skatepark.

Qualified Contractors

Regardless of the style of skatepark you choose, you should be sure to hire a qualified contractor with extensive skatepark experience and positive referrals. The contractor should be flexible enough to work with local skaters and administrators. Contractors should employ experienced skateboarders throughout the process of constructing the park.

Maintenance

As mentioned, you must regularly check for wear and tear on your skatepark. In addition, most surfaces will require day-to-day sweeping as well as mopping with a damp mop or towel. Fine layers of dust can build up on the skatepark surface. This can create an extremely slippery surface that becomes a hazardous situation for skateboarders. These slick areas of dust are often unnoticeable to the skaters until it is too late and may cause skaters to lose traction or slide out when they least expect it. You should create a daily routine and checklist that includes checking for loose screws, sweeping all surfaces (a common leaf blower can be used as well), and mopping with a slightly damp (but not soggy or soaking wet) mop or towel to remove fine layers of dust. Appendix A provides checklists and guidelines for establishing a maintenance routine for the three types of skateparks.

In March of 2003, the City of Eugene, Oregon, conducted a study comparing the costs of a modular skatepark they had recently completed with the costs of three preexisting concrete skateparks in the same city. At less than 5,000 square feet (465 sq m), the recently constructed Trainsong neighborhood skatepark cost $20,000 for the installation of a smooth concrete pad and approximately $40,000 for the purchase and installation of the modular skatepark components. According to the study conducted by the City of Eugene, Parks and Open Space Division, the final costs of the modular park at Trainsong averaged $14.20 per square foot. The study reported that $17.30 per square foot was spent on the concrete skatepark at Bethel Community Park. The study also concluded that the modular skatepark would require more funds for future maintenance than the permanent concrete skateparks located in the same city. Most modern skatepark companies have portfolios with examples of their work, and there are numerous skatepark Web sites that rate, rank, and evaluate skateparks throughout the world. Some of the more popular sites have been included as resources in appendix C. Don’t be afraid to browse these sites and contact other cities and organizations to check on their satisfaction with the skatepark development process in their community.

Amenities and Necessities

Depending on the size and needs of your skatepark, you may want to consider installing drinking fountains, rest rooms, bleachers, and other amenities. Providing essential necessities such as access to water and bathrooms can also help to avoid conflicts with surrounding businesses, schools, or neighbors. Because many skatepark components are constructed and sometimes surfaced with steel, you may also want to consider shade or some type of coverage for the actual skating area. This will keep obstacles from becoming too hot or dangerous during summer months.


Audience

Whichever size or style of skatepark you choose, an important question to ask yourself is what audience you will be serving. Who are the skateboarders in your area and how many of them are there? What subgroup do you want the skatepark to serve? If you are working to create skateboarding opportunities for a youth center or similar organization that will serve a smaller population of skateboarders, you should talk to the skaters themselves. Find out what types of terrain and obstacles they prefer to skate, and work to incorporate these into your skatepark design.

Skaters for Public Skateparks (SPS), a nonprofit skatepark advocacy group, has developed a formula for determining the size of your community’s skatepark population. The formula known as SAM-or the Skatepark Adoption Model-is fairly simple. It only requires that you know the youth population of the target area and the number and approximate size of the public skateparks in your area. This formula relies on the statistic that on average skateboarders make up 16 percent of the youth population of any given area in the United States. SPS estimates that a small population of 500 skaters will require approximately 8,000 square feet (743 sq m) of total terrain in a skatepark, while a much larger population of 5,000 to 8,000 skaters will require at least 64,000 square feet (5,946 sq m) of total terrain. For more information on the Skatepark Adoption Model, visit www.skatepark.org.

Although it is a good idea to talk to young skaters about their preferences for skatepark styles, you should also consult with older, more experienced skaters to get their perspectives. Younger skaters with less experience can be impressionable, and they are often influenced by styles and marketing trends within the skateboarding industry. The last thing you want is for your city or organization to end up with the flavor of the month. Although keeping the local youth involved in the process is very important, the advice and knowledge of experienced skaters can be indispensable. Eric Davis, a member of the Hawaii Skatepark Association, gives his insights on this topic: "Letting kids steer the direction a design takes is a mistake. Kids know they want a skatepark, but they are still developing and have only limited experience to draw on. If our world ran like that, we would have basketball hoops that were four feet high, and everyone could slam-dunk" (Newman 2004). A good skatepark contractor will help mediate the design process while offering advice and guidance in the planning and design of your local skatepark.

One important aspect of skateboarding is that skaters are very adaptable, and they are eager to accept the challenge of overcoming new terrain. This factor often helps mitigate issues when different groups of skaters have different preferences for skateboard terrain. Skateboarders are likely to be open to new styles and ideas for skatepark design. If planned for and mediated correctly, a skatepark design can easily be created that will offer something challenging and entertaining for all types of skaters at all levels.

Permanence

Smaller organizations and cities may be looking to create a temporary skateboarding facility that can be used for skateboarding camps or other seasonal activities. If your park needs to be moved, stored, or used indoors, you may want to consider a wooden or modular skatepark design. Wooden and modular parks are commonly used for skateboard events and competitions because they can be constructed on site and then disassembled to be moved or stored for future events.

Obviously, concrete skateparks are permanent. They are also extremely resilient because they resist the elements and routine abuse from day-to-day skateboarding with little routine maintenance. This can be a benefit for public skateparks because there is little risk of an obstacle becoming a safety hazard during a day of typical skateboarding use. Modular and wooden parks can chip or have parts loosen, which can quickly become hazardous if not attended to immediately. These repairs will usually be minimal, but they will require immediate attention in order to prevent possible injuries. If you are planning for a wooden or modular skatepark, you should also plan for park supervision and inspections, as well as the daily maintenance of the park.

Location

Determining the site for your skatepark is a crucial step in creating a positive skating environment and can greatly influence the final costs of your skatepark in a number of ways (figure 7.12). If possible, you should consider a location that is already equipped with public rest rooms, parking, water fountains, shelters, and electrical and plumbing hookups. If these amenities are not already included in the proposed location of your park, they will undoubtedly have a great effect on the final costs of your project. If you are planning a concrete skatepark, you must ensure that the location provides for proper drainage, because concrete parks can disperse large amounts of water and create runoff. Be sure to plan ahead and select a site that allows for proper drainage before you begin the design process.


The location of your skatepark can also greatly influence common problems associated with most public parks, such as graffiti, litter, and illicit activity of any kind. A location that creates opportunities for passive observation will discourage bad behaviors and other possible problems. If the proposed location is near well-used roadways, schools, or parks, it will more easily allow for routine supervision and the presence of law enforcement. Locating your park in an out-of-the-way location in an effort to hide the skatepark will only encourage bad behavior. The skatepark can become a place for nonskaters to hang out (or loiter) and create possible problems. Believe it or not, skateparks can create a very aesthetically pleasing landscape. The new skatepark you design should be celebrated by your community, rather than tucked away or hidden from the public.

Noise

A social stigma often associated with public skateparks is that they are a wild and noisy place that not only can become an eyesore but can also contribute to neighborhood noise pollution. According to the official Web site of the Skatepark Association of the United States (SPAUSA), "a skatepark has no more noise than the ambient surrounding noise that exists in other parks, and is not nearly as noisy as a baseball park" (Skatepark Association of the United States, n.d.). The reality is that the majority of noise attributed to skateboards does not come from the act of riding the skateboard.

Most people’s experience with skateboarding noise is associated with the act of skateboarding across city sidewalks. The majority of this noise does not actually come from the wheels rolling across the surface of the concrete, but rather from the cracks in sidewalks and other rough surfaces and inconsistencies. In a 2001 study conducted by the Portland, Oregon, Office of Planning and Development Review, city noise control officer Paul Van Orden found that the impact of noise on skatepark neighbors could be minimized through adequate planning and design. Van Orden found that the sound of urethane wheels rolling across a smooth surface is not inherently noisy (Van Orden 2001). The loudest noises produced by skateboards typically come from hitting the nose and tail of the skateboard on the ground or from sliding and grinding the skateboard trucks across skatepark coping and ledges.

Skateboarders will ollie or pop their skateboards into the air by hitting the nose or tail on the ground in an effort to execute a variety of maneuvers. The instantaneous noise that is created from these pops can be compared with the sound of a baseball bat hitting a ball. The noise study conducted by the City of Portland found the noise levels for popping and ollieing to be at 65 to 71 decibels (at a distance of 50 feet [15.2 m]) and found the levels for grinds or slides to be at 54 to 63 decibels. According to Van Orden, a typical conversation occurs at 59 to 63 decibels, and background noise can usually mask the majority of the sound produced by skateparks. Interestingly, a similar study from an October 20, 2006 newsletter of the LifeTips Web site found the following: "One of the most common misperceptions about skate parks is that the noise created by their users will surpass code limits and upset the community. But the reality is quite different. In a recent study, it was found that peak skate park noise levels averaged 70 decibels from 50 feet away. In comparison, from the same 50 feet away a dishwasher and toilet produce comparable decibel levels. A football game produces 117 decibels, heavy traffic 85 decibels and a home refrigerator 50 decibels. All in all, a skatepark is no more noisy than similar recreation areas like a basketball court or children’s playground" (LifeTips 2006).

A significant factor that can greatly influence the amount of noise produced by a skatepark is the construction materials. Because of the hollow designs of wooden ramps and modular obstacles, these structures can often amplify the noise created from the skateboards. A noise study conducted by SPAUSA (n.d.) found that noise levels for concrete skateparks can range from 64 to 78 decibels, noise levels for wooden parks can range from 75 to 85 decibels, and noise levels for steel-framed and modular obstacles can range from 75 to 96 decibels.

Manufacturers of wood and modular skateparks incorporate a variety of methods to help dampen noise created by skateboarding on skatepark obstacles. In regard to noise and skatepark materials, the SPAUSA study concluded that "concrete had the lowest noise levels, and steel the highest, but at 100 feet from the park there was little noise above the surrounding ambient noise no matter what surface was used." Regardless of the type of park you choose, you should find out from the builders or manufacturers about the expected noise levels, especially if you are planning a wooden or modular skatepark.

Graffiti

Graffiti can be a persistent problem associated with almost any park structure. The concrete landscape of a skatepark can be a tempting target for aspiring graffiti artists, and your skatepark will likely experience some tagging or defacing. The skateboarders themselves are rarely responsible for these acts of vandalism because there is a taboo within skateboarding culture regarding graffiti. This taboo can be traced back to some of the first pool skaters of the 1970s. Painting and vandalizing only draws attention to skaters and to what may be a valued skate spot, thus decreasing the skater’s chances of using that spot in the future.

Never paint over graffiti or use antigraffiti paint on the concrete skating surface. Doing so can seriously affect the performance of the park by making it too slick or too sticky. You should always check with the skatepark contractor before applying graffiti removal products to ensure that those products will not affect the finish of the park. After using an approved graffiti removal product, make sure to always power wash the surface clean to avoid creating slick spots and hazards to skaters.

 

 

This is an excerpt from Skatebarding: Instruction, Programming, and Park Design.



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