The first few public meetings for new advocates are often frightening. One expects that the audience will be filled with neighbors and concerned citizens with an endless supply of challenging questions about the idea of a new skatepark. While that is sometimes true—neighbors will probably have questions—the reality is that they’re not out to crucify you. They understand why you’re there and that you mean well. Most neighbors just want clarification about the skatepark idea. What they imagine is almost certainly not what you imagine. While you may have been to dozens of skateparks, they have probably seen one or two from a distance. Their questions are not an invitation to do rhetorical battle but rather your opportunity to express your vision for the new facility.
SPS contributors have been to hundreds of public meetings and have heard the same questions repeated. Here are some responses to those questions that you might find useful.
Remember: Each individual and group in your community has a great reason to support the new skatepark. It’s your job to lead them to it.
“Skateboarding exposes our youth to the wrong kind of lifestyle.”
It is very unlikely that you’ll hear this idea as frankly as it’s written here but you will frequently hear it in more polite or subtle terms. Someone might say, “skateboarding seems out of character for our youth…they’re more into baseball.” True, skateboarding doesn’t share baseball’s “All American” image and many people will instinctively resist a skatepark because they either don’t understand skateboarding culture or have negative preconceptions about what skateboarders are all about.
Skateboarding is a popular recreational choice. Over 13-million American kids are skateboarders in the U.S. and it continues to get more popular every year. Skateboarding is as diverse as any other athletic hobby. Parents do it, kids do it, and people of all ethnic and economic backgrounds skate. It would be inaccurate to categorize millions of people as being one certain way. Some kids ride skateboards when they’re not playing baseball.
“Skateboarding presents too much liability.”
It’s important to understand the distinction between personal risk and legal risk. Nobody wants to get hurt—ever. Everyone wants to be able to recreate safely. Some communities consider skateparks as an “encouragement” to risky behavior. Though this is certainly one way of looking at it, consider the alternative: Without a skatepark skaters will to do the same activity in the streets where they share space with automobiles and pedestrians. Skateboarding is risky but skating in the street produces much more personal risk and much less legal risk. While the Parks Department may be interested in mitigating its legal risk, the larger community should be supportive of any measures that mitigate personal risk to their kids.
Like many other athletic activities, skateboarding has its risks. However, the safest place to engage in this popular activity is at a facility specifically designed for it, and away from traffic and private property. When skateboarding injuries occur, it’s usually by someone who has been skating less than a week, and about half of those accidents are attributed to “uneven surfaces.” Compared to other popular sports like football and basketball, skateboarding has far fewer annual injuries per thousand participants (Basketball – 224; Baseball – 116; Soccer – 62; Skateboarding – 20, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a division of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission). The biggest tragedy is when a teenager or young adult dies. When it involves skateboarding, it’s almost certainly out in the streets. In 2006 there were 42 skateboarder deaths in the U.S. and 40 of those were in the streets. Of those, 32 involved a motor vehicle. The best way to prevent this tragedy from happening again is to create safe, sanctioned places for people to ride their skateboards.
“We weren’t properly informed about the skatepark.”
A very common argument against skateparks by concerned residents is that the Parks Department did not follow due process. These residents feel railroaded into having a skatepark near their homes. Although it may be obvious to you that your your group has been at every meeting and participated in the planning along the way, vocally encouraging a the idea of a skatepark at every opportunity, most people simply aren’t paying attention to your plans until it relates directly to their day-to-day lives. Fact is, most people don’t go to Parks meetings and until it shows up in the paper, it may as well not exist.
This argument may be very emotionally charged. The neighbor may feel powerless to influence the kind of developments that are occurring in his or her neighborhood. This unfortunate confrontation is generally not going to happen at your first meeting but rather at one after the skatepark has been talked about and seems underway. This concerned neighbor may have caught wind of the idea and had a few days to stew on it. By the time they are at the meeting they are anxious and ready to make a strong case against the skatepark. It doesn’t matter that they know little about the size, design, or intent of the facility…they only know that they have determined that they don’t want it. The reason they can provide that doesn’t make them look like they simply don’t like kids is that Parks didn’t follow the rules. And who knows…maybe they didn’t.
This site was the result of a city-wide analysis using various criteria for scoring the sites. We worked closely with the Parks Department and other members of the community to measure the candidate sites. This location scored highest and we feel it is the right place for the kind of skatepark we’re talking about. If your Parks Department liaisons are truly being supportive, they may intervene and handle this issue. They hear this kind of thing a lot and probably have graceful ways of defusing the situation. You should not have to handle this hot neighbor by yourself.
Park improvements happen through a common and thoroughly documented process. The process commonly involves a series of meetings or hearings that are publicized in the local newspaper and on city Web sites and bulletins. Be sure it’s followed, then work with your supporters to develop a unified voice when dealing with opponents.
“A skatepark is a wrong fit for the character of this location.”
Granted, not every site is the best place for a skatepark. The process for identifying the best sites for consideration should always be a technical exercise rather than a matter of personal preference. By the time you are ready to talk about a specific site with conviction you should be able to address this type of comment with the results of your siting study. The person who brings this criticism to the table could be accused of forcing their vision for the location on everyone else but then they can just as quickly say the same to you. This is an argument over whose domain the location falls under. Does the location belong more to the neighbors that live adjacent to it than it does to other people in the community? To this person the answer is probably “yes” because they will be the ones that are confronted by the activities that occur there every day.
In looking at potential sites, we felt is was important to establish specific criteria. Furthermore, we felt that because so many youth live in this area it was the safest place to have them recreate. The advocate needs to demonstrate that the best practices were used in considering different sites and that the opponent’s concerns were considered. For example: “We considered a number of locations and this proposed site scored highly on issues such as visibility, pedestrian activity, proximity to the residential neighborhoods, existing park activities, access to public transit, and several other matters. Please feel free to contact us if you’d like the full results of our analysis.”
It may be tempting to simply ask the concerned neighbor what kinds of activities they feel ARE appropriate at the location? This is obviously a baited question and what you’ll quickly find is that the person views the character of the location and the character of skateboarders to be mutually exclusive. This might tempt you to then ask what it is about the character of skateboarders that is not appropriate for that location. This is basically where an argument starts so try to avoid it.
“The skatepark will be an eyesore.”
Any place where kids and teenagers recreate and socialize is going to struggle with garbage. It’s true for schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, and so on. It’s particularly true for skateparks due to a number of factors and is one of the trickier topics to satisfactorily address in a public meeting. The best response is to admit that skateparks can become messy but that you and the parks department understand this and plan on doing everything possible to make sure that it doesn’t become a problem.
It’s true that skateparks can sometimes become messy. The average age of skateboarders is 14, and picking up after oneself is not generally a high priority. We understand that extra measures must be taken to ensure that the skatepark is as tidy as possible by installing plenty of trash cans, a water fountain, (so that plastic bottles don’t need to be brought to the park), and a rigorous volunteer stewardship plan that will have the skaters themselves working with the Parks Department to keep it nice. Skaters want a clean place to skate as much as anyone and we’re committed to ensuring it stays looking as nice as possible.
“A skatepark will be too loud.”
This is the most common negative reaction that you’ll hear. The ironic thing about it is that it’s simply not true. There is no shortage of perfectly reasonable concerns about skateparks but noise just isn’t one of them. Skateparks aren’t any noisier than other light public park activity. Nonetheless, most people who bring up the sound issue will be sincerely convinced that they’re on to something big…a real deal-breaker. You can be assured that anyone who claims that skateparks are loud will never have evidence to support their assertion.
Actually, skateparks—especially concrete ones—emit less sound than most other park activities. Several skatepark sound studies have been conducted. The most notable was done by Portland, Oregon’s Parks and Recreation Department and found that their 10,000-square-foot skatepark emitted less constant noise than light automobile traffic. Baseball games and playgrounds are typically louder. With tact, nimble advocates may challenge this testimony by requesting contradictory results to existing sound studies but it’s not generally advised because it will be viewed as combative. Stick to the sound studies and, if necessary, reinforce the claim with your own experiences. Namely, that you’ve been to dozens of skateparks and for the most part they tend to be somewhat serene and subdued. (If you really want to help the person learn about skateparks you might describe how usually only one or two people are ever skating at the same time…so imagine how soft urethane wheels sound on smooth concrete from a distance away. That’s the sound you’ll hear from the skatepark…oh, and people laughing and talking.)
“People will come from all over.”
The best approach to this concern depends on the site and what kind of skatepark you’re advocating for. If you are trying to build support for a 20,000-plus-square-foot “regional” skatepark, parking will almost certainly be part of the development plan. If you’re looking at a neighborhood skatepark or a skate spot, you’ll remind the concerned neighbor that most people will simply skate to the park and that the average age of the skateboarder is 14-years-old. (80% of skateboarders are 18 years or younger.)
The answer (for a destination skatepark):
Adequate parking will be a component of the design.
Most regional skateparks will include other non-skating site amenities and features. Regional skateparks fit well in parks that include space and equipment for other athletic activities. Because skateboarders are younger than the average park visitor, a skatepark is actually a great way to mitigate high parking demands. Any other attraction will draw people who will be driving to the park.
The answer (for a neighborhood skatepark or smaller):
The scale of skatepark we’re envisioning won’t support large numbers of people. You will want to help your audience (or a particular opponent) understand that the scale you’re talking about is not a concrete monstrosity. Many people imagine acres of rolling concrete when they hear the word “skatepark.” You’ll need to help communicate what you’re working for. Pictures can be helpful but be careful that you don’t show images that make a space appear larger than it really is. (Avoid panoramas. Try to include portions of the park that are interesting and use little kids for relative scale. This will also serve to convey what kind of person is likely to benefit from the new skatepark.)
A misstep that many inexperienced advocates make is presenting a neighborhood skatepark to the surrounding residents as a world-class “destination” facility that will draw people from all over and bring tourism dollars into the community. While this sounds great to the average skater, it’s probably not going to sound great to the average person who lives across the street from the site. You’ll want to present the park as a local attraction for the neighborhood youth.
The short answer is that parking will be largely unnecessary as the park is intended to only support youth from the immediate area. Most skateboarders are too young to drive, and most will skate to the park or take the bus.