You may have the opportunity to deliver a presentation on skatepark development to your community. At Skaters for Public Skateparks we encounter the same thing on a national level and we never pass on a chance to share our opinions on design and development. We’ve gone through the hard work of putting together a pretty good presentation on skateparks and we’re offering it to you to use or change as you see fit.
This presentation can take as little as 45 minutes to fly through or up to 90 minutes if you explore each concept thoroughly.
In the gallery below you will find images (JPG) that can be placed right into your Powerpoint, iMovie, or PDF. The PDF format also has some nice slideshow options if you don’t have Powerpoint. If you don’t want to change the presentation you can use the full presentation PDF below. You may also find the attendee handout useful. It should be printed out beforehand for each of your attendees. It contains all the of the presentation’s main points.
Download: NRPA09_Presentation (5 Mb PDF)
Download: Presentation Attendee Handout (Notes)
The script below the slideshow is what we talked about when the slide was on the screen. You may use it as-is, change it, or use different language altogether. At least you should read through it to be familiar with the content before presenting it to an audience.
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Slide 1: Presentation Cover
This is the entry slide that can be up when people are finding their seats. The three logos are the agencies that contributed content and support for this material. From left to right they are:
International Association of Skateboard Companies (IASC), who supports skatepark development through the support of non-profits like Skaters for Public Skateparks.
Skaters for Public Skateparks (SPS), the suppliers of information in this presentation and authors of the Public Skatepark Development Guide.
Tony Hawk Foundation (THF), providing financial, tactical, strategic, and occasionally emotional support to grassroots skatepark organizations.
We’ve left room for you to include your own organizational or partner logos if you wish.
Slide 2: Introduction
Thank you for being here. Your initiative and commitment to grassroots efforts like ours is the bedrock of healthy communities.The fact that you take this issue as seriously as we do is testament to the strength of our town’s leadership.
We’ve given a lot of thought over the years to what makes a skatepark succeed or fail. Nobody wants to create a failure but it happens. When it does, it’s always an accident and nobody feels that they’re making a bad decision; they just think they’re offering a small compromise. Sometimes these compromises are okay and sometimes they can stack up until it’s too much of a burden and the park turns into a community embarrassment. We’re going to look at those factors today and look at how we can plan for success and be prepared for the inevitable compromises that will arise along the way.
Thanking your community and community leaders is an important aspect of this slide. You want them to know that you understand and appreciate that they have other things they might rather be doing. The second paragraph frames the presentation in an interesting way; you’re not there to convey absolutes but to actually educate the group on some of the decisions that will arise.
Slide 3: 10 Factors title
We’ve identified ten factors that have significant impact on a skatepark’s success or failure. Some of these have deep overlap with some of the others, while some are isolated concerns that can be easily avoided. The question remains; What makes a skatepark great?
All of the things we’ll be looking at today are within our abilities to influence. None of these factors are off-limits to us. For example, there isn’t a factor that says, “Great skateparks all cost more than 2-million dollars”…although I suspect that all skateparks that cost more than 2-million dollars are pretty great.
This slide establishes a navigational framework for the rest of the presentation.
Slide 4: Isn’t Hidden Away
You all ready? Our first factor is that great skateparks aren’t hidden away. The opposite is true; great skateparks are in places where the whole community can see them.
At first you may think that the good ones are in view because it keeps criminal activity down. That’s probably got something to do with it but the bigger reason is a lot deeper than that. The skatepark that is within view and in an area where there is community activity tells the skatepark visitors and users that they are as important as anyone else in the community. Skateboarding is a subculture that is fond of its rebellious, countercultural public persona…but what we’re talking about here is not a place for people to celebrate their gnarly lifestyles but to simply recreate and have a good time riding their skateboard.
It’s up to each advocacy group how much they feel they need to manage the skateboarder image. Some communities seem to be deathly afraid of skaters while others are totally over it and understand it’s just a board with some wheels. It’s up to you to convey this message (or not) as you see fit.
Slide 5: S-Ledges, Tacoma location
Here’s a satellite view of a small park in Tacoma, Washington. You see the grand lawn with the wavy contour. There’s some parking and a row of trees. This park is near downtown and just out of the frame there is a business mall. Lots of people come out here during the summer to eat lunch, walk, engage in a little sun worship, or even launch their kayaks and canoes. The water there is Thea’s waterway that goes all the way out to Puget Sound and eventually to the Pacific Ocean.
If you look very closely you can see a small rectangular shape. That is a manual pad; a concrete block about 12-inches high, 5 feet wide by 10 feet long. It’s a very simple structure used for a variety of skateboarding tricks. This park succeeds because the skateboarding is completely integrated with other non-skating park activities. In the two years since the manual pad was installed there have been no complaints, overt safety concerns, or conflicts between skaters and other visitors.
We’ll be looking more closely at this type of skatepark later in the presentation.
Slide 6: Ed Benedict location
Here’s another skatepark that was placed right in an area with lots of diverse activity. This one’s in Portland, Oregon. The park is new so it didn’t show up on the satellite view but we’ve blocked it in there for you. Check out all of the other things going on around the skating! This is great for the skaters and so far this park is getting a lot of positive attention from the whole community. It’s cool.
We’ll be looking more closely at this park too in a little bit.
Slide 7: Interprets and Improves
Next factor: Great skateparks interpret and improve upon existing forms. This may sound obvious—and it is—but it is important that it remain in focus when compromises in design or construction tease their way into the process.
Let’s look at some specific examples…
Slide 8: Skatepark bowl
Swimming pool. Many of us have heard the stories about the birth of modern skateboarding during the droughts of the 1970s that left so many southern California swmming pools empty. Skaters, eager to try their new skills on more challenging terrain, climbed into these round bowls and quickly discovered that the smooth, curving surfaces were much more fun and exciting than the rough city streets.
Those empty pools were the basis of today’s skatepark bowl. The design of these forms are hotly debated by fans of this type of terrain. Artifacts of the native ancestor are still faithfully replicated…the stairs (not for getting out but for going over) and the filter boxes that are now called death-boxes because they are so challenging. Today’s skatepark bowls are refined versions of the backyard pools of southern California.
Even if you plan on advocating for a street plaza, slides like this can help your audience understand why good skateparks look the way they do.
Slide 9: Skatepark Hubba
This may look like the entrance to a library or City Hall. It’s actually better. When skateparks were being demolished during the ’80s (due to strict new liability reforms), skaters took to the streets and learned a whole new discipline of tricks that didn’t use the flowing forms found in swimming pools but the angular ledges, stairs and rails found in ordinary urban environments. Street skating was born.
These forms interpret and improve upon those architectural shapes seen downtown. They’re better because they are smoother, sometimes easier, and less irritating to property managers and security guards. Most importantly, in this environment they are much safer. There are no cars, no unwary pedestrians, few (if any) pebbles and cracks…it’s the place to do tricks. You can see the steel lip on the leading edge of the ledge. That’s coping and provides a smooth surface to grind or slide on. Hundreds of thousands of grinds can be made on this form without any maintenance concerns…something we can’t say about the handrails down at the library.
The small image is a famous spot called the Hubba Hideout. What you can’t see is the 30-foot drop on the other side of the wall to the street below. This spot was made famous when it appeared in dozens of magazines, videos and advertisements. In skateparks when you see the descending walls, usually next to stairs, they are called Hubbas after this spot.
Slide 10: Ed Benedict bench
Here’s a low bench. It’s just like a bench you might find at a bus stop or in a city park. The back is gone because it’s unhelpful for skateboarding. It’s a little lower to make it easier to ollie onto. It’s made of concrete and granite so it’s super fun to grind on but can withstand the wear. It’s longer than an ordinary bench to provide a scaleable challenge for those advanced riders. In other words, it interprets an ordinary bench but improves it in ways that skaters will find appealing.
Check out the curvy thing. That’s basically the same type of form but is interpreted even further. Cool stuff. (Note also the rocks under the raised ends of the bowed ledge. Rainwater sheet drains into those recesses. Pretty smart design.)
So, it’s important to remember when thinking about skateparks that they improve upon the kinds of forms that are found outside of skateparks. This will help draw skaters to the park where they belong and away from places where they don’t.
Slide 11: Led by Skaters
The skatepark effort should be led by skaters. They are the ones who need to live with the decisions that are made, and they are the ones that have the biggest stake in the park’s success.
Too many times we’ve heard of critical decisions during development made by people who would never use the facility. It’s as if their concerns for…whatever it may be…are more important than the end user’s priorities. Perhaps they are! But there’s also a message that the community’s leadership doesn’t consider the skaters prepared to be involved in these decisions. The result is often that the park fails and the skaters themselves are blamed.
We believe that the skaters are the best prepared to help inform the process and influence key decisions. This is a prevailing pattern in hundreds of the nation’s best skateparks. Let’s look at a few examples.
Slide 12: City Hall Skate Advocate
Portland, Oregon may very well be the epicenter of the modern skatepark renaissance. In Portland, one of the chief advocates is the mayor’s chief-of-staff. Here’s a photo of him from the Wall Street Journal. Skaters aren’t the necessarily the scruffy teenagers many people think of. They might be highly respected professionals in their professional field—and skaters—who are dedicated to public park improvements.
Slide 13: Ojai Kids
Here’s some kids in Ojai (“oh hi”), California working during a volunteer day. They may be just students but they understand their responsibility to their community. This is a prevailing opinion against skateboarders; they are held to a public responsibility that few other interest groups are…and they typically rise gracefully to the higher expectation.
Slide 14: Council meeting
Skaters are getting older and are more capable today to provide thoughtful, important feedback on skatepark development than ever before. Here’s a guy in Texas, Jared, providing some information to a Parks committee. When he isn’t advancing skatepark, Jared designs cell phones and maintains a deep commitment to the analysis of people and the forms they interact with.
Slide 15: What makes skateparks great?
Great skateparks meet the need. There is enough accessible terrain to accommodate, attract and retain those users.
Conversely, skateparks that fail to reach their potential don’t quite measure up in these ways. Maybe there’s one central skatepark that is expected to support every skater in the area…or maybe the skatepark has a few underwhelming elements that aren’t competitive with what can be readily found in the city streets.
For now we’ll be looking at the amount of terrain our community needs.
This section has a little bit of math in it. It helps a great deal if you run these exercises for your community before the presentation so you have specific numbers available.
Slide 16: What is the need?
This is the million-dollar question: What is our skatepark need? How much park will support our community’s skateboarders? Do we need 10,000 square feet or 100,000? Let’s find out.
Slide 17: Two ways to look at it
I’m going to present to you two different ways of measuring our need. They’re both valid but the first one, The Right Way, is more comprehensive.
Slide 18: SAM Formula
Here’s the only math you’ll see in this presentation. First we need to know what the target area’s youth population is. Youth population is defined by the number of residents who are between 5 and 24 years of age. We need to know this because some communities have higher retiree populations and so there won’t be as many skaters. Other areas may have lots of young families with local recreational needs.
Once we know the youth population, we divide that by the number of youth that have skated this year. This percentage is based on research studies done by American Sports Data. For example, if we have 10,000 youth then 1,600 of them have skating this year. Right? 16-percent of 10,000 is 1,600.
Now we presume that of those youth who have skated this year, one-third of them are dedicated skateboarders who would use a skatepark. This separates those die-hards form the kids who have fool around on a skateboard from time to time but aren’t really into it and wouldn’t use a skatepark. So, of our 1,600 skaters, we can presume that 528 of them need a skatepark because 33-percent of 1,600 is 528.
We need to consider how much space a single skater needs. We’re going to add up all of the things that need space. We can start with what a person needs for pushing twice towards an obstacle. We’ll add enough space to roll away safely, and of course the space required by the obstacle itself. Finally, we include a bit of buffer around it for safety…to allow other users and visitors to move through the area without interfering with the person doing a trick. That factor is 1,500 square feet.
Finally, we consider how many skaters may share that space at one time. Skating is strenuous and done in short bursts. One person takes their turn while the others rest and look on. When that person’s turn ends, the next person goes. In skateparks there is an ettiquette and subtle cues for determining who is going next, so the group at a single skatepark element are all paying close attention to who is doing what and looking for the cues that permit them to take their turn without bumming everyone out. Our observations are that 10 people can use one 1,500 square foot element concurrently.
This is an average. If you look at a halfpipe, it’s may be about 1,500 square feet total with the decks on either end. The halfpipe can typically support ten users before it simply gets too crowded. A manual pad may only be 50 square feet but it will require about 60 linear feet on either end and about 25 feet of width. There will usually be four or five skaters at either end staging up to take their turn.
A bowl is not much different. A larger bowl may be 3,000 square feet total and would support 20 users concurrently. Maybe they would agree to split the bowl into different usable sections to have two simultaneous users and two groups of 10, or there would be 20 skaters standing around waiting to take their turn. That would be a busy bowl.
Let’s return to our formula. We established that our example community has 528 skaters that would need a skatepark, and that as individuals they would need a total of 792,000 square feet. But since ten skaters can share 1,500 square feet, they collectively only need 79,200 square feet of skatepark.
That’s a huge skatepark. We’ll look at what we do with big numbers like that later. Also remember that this is presents a number useful for planning…it’s a target we would apply to establish 100% level of service.
Slide 19: Elevator version
This is the 10-second version. What we should really be looking at is a skatepark in every neighborhood. Skaters are kids, they usually don’t drive, and they want to recreate and exercise outside near their homes. This is a simple way to communicate the same vision.
Slide 20: Busy skatepark
It wasn’t very long ago that communities were looking at every skatepark as if it should be a regional attraction. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with adopting a bold vision, today most skateboarding activists understand that different sizes of skateparks can offer unique experiences to the community. Regional skateparks don’t perfom in the same way that neighborhood parks do. The newest player in the skatepark scene is the “skate spot” which is a small number of elements…sometimes just one…that is integrated into a larger park context. We’ll talk more about those later. The point is that the footage recommendation is for the service area’s total skatepark terrain and not necessarily the size of a single skateboarding facility.
It’s revealing that when polled in 2006, many parks planners in Oregon responded to the question on what they would have done differently with their skatepark with, “we would have made it bigger.” What our community needs to realize today is that we won’t be able to meet our skateboarder’s needs any time soon but that doesn’t mean we aren’t obligated to try.
Slide 21: Embrace by the community
The fifth factor in great skateparks: The skatepark is embraced by the community.
At first glance this may seem like something that is not within our ability to manage. The community is going to believe what they believe, for better or worse. That’s not exactly true. Those of us who skate regularly are as suprised as anyone by the bad company we are often told we keep. What we see from within skateboarding is that people who don’t skate, have never ridden a skateboard, and have no previous experience or familiarity with skateparks are the loudest opponents to the idea of a skatepark.
Skatepark advocates fully understand what those community fears are. Some of them are reasonable. Skaters don’t want to skate in a park filled with garbage and graffiti or around trouble-makers. Skaters just want a cool place to skate. In places where the community has embraced the skatepark, they share the vision of the skatepark with the skaters…a cool place to skate. When the place is healthy and attractive, it also becomes a cool place to hang out. The great skatepark becomes a community gathering place for skaters, parents, and people interested in this athletic activity.
Slide 22: Sad skatepark
Here’s a skatepark where none of that happened. This place sucks.
The skatepark is near the freeway because the people who didn’t understand skateboarding convinced everyone that skateboarding was loud. It’s not. Visit a skatepark and you’ll see that they’re quieter than squealing kids on those jungle gym toys. (I suspect these people also complain about the racket of laughing kids.) So the skatepark is next to the freeway where those kids go to exercise all day next to truck exhaust.
The skatepark is then next to a gravel parking lot. Gravel is a skater’s worst enemy. I’m sure the kids who use this park are constantly kicking little pebbles out of the area so they don’t crash.
Adding insult to injury, the whole park is surrounded by a cinderblock and cyclone fence. This is a mystery. Perhaps it’s to keep the wrong element out, or keep the skaters in. Maybe it’s so the park can be closed as punishment if anyone gets out of line. Whatever the reason, the fence is ridiculous.
The final flaw is that it’s not even a skatepark that anyone would want to use. It’s a few ramps ending at the cinderblock wall. This is the result of a park that is not embraced by the community…and it never will be.
Slide 23: Happy skatepark, Los Angeles
When Los Angeles opened its new street plaza downtown, the event was attended by the mayor. This sends a strong message to the community that the skatepark plays an important role in the city. People and public agencies take their cues from this kind of approach and the skatepark then has a better chance of being something that everyone is proud of rather than a container for community fears.
Slide 24: Aspects of community embrace
When the katepark is embraced by the community, it’s reflected not just in the location of the park but also in the design. Here are a few examples. In the photo on the left you can see that non-skating spectators are right up next to the park where they can check out the action. There’s a sense of comfort and safety afforded by the railing but it doesn’t distance the viewer from the skateboarding action. This lets curious pedestrians check out what the skatepark is all about without feeling threatened.
On the right we see a skate path in England (Stoke-on-Trent). The path may be used by pedestrians, joggers, bikes, and skaters. The ramps are interesting architectural features that appeal to all park visitors but are a strong interactive attraction for skaters. This is a great design.
Slide 25: Four factors of inclusion
One of the non-profits that we like is Project for Public Spaces. They have four qualities they promote as opportunities for urban renewal. We’ve modified them slightly for a skatepark context. These are the four characteristics of a skatepark and its surrounding environment that will help ensure the skatepark is a success.
Visibility is useful for crime-prevention but also for helping visitors be prepared for the kind of activity they are about to encounter. A skatepark that is hidden away can produce unfounded fear due simply to the fact that there is a group of young adults gathered around in a secluded area. Before it is clear that they are enjoying a healthy, athletic activity, many non-skating visitors may be reluctant to investigate the activity. When a space has good visibility, it becomes social and dynamic. Those spaces will routinely have elderly visitors, single women, and young children all intermingling. In the evening the space should feel equally safe.
Comfort simply measures the physical and emotional qualities of the space that make it pleasant to be in. This includes things like restrooms and places to sit in the shade, but also has some special skateboarding considerations. Because skaters often come to the skatepark after school and don’t drive, they often carry backpacks full of books or a water bottle and snacks. When they’re skating they’ll need a place to put this stuff down that is out of the way but also reasonably secure. It’s hard to be comfortable when you’re constantly concerned that someone is going to walk off with your stuff.
Access allows skaters—again, most of whom don’t drive—to get to the skatepark safely and easily. The park should be on major public transit lines, be in a location that is easy to describe, and be connected to other community attractions. Activity measures the quality and quantity of other things to do in the immediate area. Skateboarding is social and an active environment is reassuring to people…whether they’re skaters or other park visitors. The more things there are to do in an area, the better.
Slide 26: Skatepark systems
A great skatepark works with its surroundings and takes its rightful place in the urban environment. It’s much less common these days that a region have only one skatepark. There are usually a few here and there. It’s important that these skateparks work well with each other so that they provide some fundamental structures but also something unique.
The unique qualities of a skatepark are important for a variety of reasons. At the most abstract level, the unique qualities help add to a sense of place.
At a more practical level, the skatepark should help build on the variety of terrain options for a community yet without compromising the access to those fundamental forms that are popular with a majority of skaters.
Any experienced, qualified skatepark designer that is respected by the skateboarding community will know how to extract the skateboarding community’s needs and desires. They will look to other nearby skateparks as well as popular spots around town where skaters congregate.
Slide 27: Diverse skateparks
Here’s an example of how a skatepark in an area can work both with the geographical characteristics of a community and with the other skateparks in its system. Each park has a different style and scale, but as a whole they provide 100% level of service. What we’re looking at here are four types of skateparks; spots, neighborhood parks, regional parks, and plazas. We’ll check out this skatepark typology in a minute.
The main thing to understand here is that these skateparks aren’t all identical. They each serve the immediate neighborhood but also provide that something special to encourage “cross pollination” with the other skaters in the city.
Slide 28: Types of skateparks
This is the text version of what we just talked about. Although the details here start investigating skatepark design, you should respect that a professional designer also considers lots of other factors in skatepark design…like flow, traffic control, speed, visibility, and drainage. When we talk about skatepark design in this presentation we’re only concerned with the general style of the park.
All the skateparks in a skateparks system, (that is, all of the skateparks in a larger community), should meet a particular expectation of quality and design excellence. Note that it isn’t necessarily an issue of money; great skateparks aren’t the result of huge budgets but rather the result of good decisions.
When one of the skateparks in an area is significantly more attractive to skaters than others, it carries more than its fair share of the activity. The park will frequently be at or above capacity, and on-site amenities may suffer as a result. Too many people will generate too much trash. When the park is crowded, fewer people will skate and they’ll get bored…so then the park becomes a gathering place for bored teenagers.
The other parks will suffer from the opposite problem. Everyone is at the “good” skatepark and the others are empty. While this may delight a Parks maintenance staff, it’s not an optimal situation. The empty park only attracts non-discriminating skaters and those people who don’t appreciate a quality design. Those people who cannot appreciate the facility will likely not respect the facility and trouble can occur.
That’s why it’s important that all the skateparks in an area meet the same expectations of quality.
Let’s look at the Plaza first…
Slide 29: The Plaza
Here’s a plaza in Portland, Oregon called Ed Benedict. We saw a satellite view of the surrounding area earlier in this presentation.
Plazas attract street skaters. They’re characterized by angular, geometric forms that interpret and improve upon the same style of architecture you might find downtown in business plazas, hence the name. This particular park is especially noteworthy for some of the other ways it works with its environment, such as the bioswale in the middle of the skating area. However, for now we’re just looking at the style of the terrain.
In the foreground here we see a low bench covered by a handsome slab of salt-and-pepper granite. The edges are eased a bit to prevent it from chipping under the strain of grinding skateboard trucks. In the middle of the picture you see a gap that skaters can jump or ollie over. For those who are unsure of their abilities, there are some metal bridges that allow people to roll over the gap or, if they like, try to ollie it. The metal plate provides audial feedback when the wheels didn’t clear the gap. It’s a great way for a person to practice ollieing the gap without risk if the distance isn’t cleared. This is smart design. In the distance we can see some stairs, a railing, a bank, and some ledge-like forms.
Slide 30: Plaza 2
Here are some other aspects of the par. You should be able to recognize why this park works based on some of the lessons we’ve already learned today.
In the top-left we see the main access path to the skatepark. It’s a bike and pedestrian path so it gets lots of non-skating traffic. The skaters share this path with other park visitors without a problem. In the distance you can see the light concrete forms of the skatepark while on the left there is a rugby team getting prepared for a match.
In the top-right photo we see a clever drainage device. Rather than a simple drain, the designer has created a sump that rain water sheet drains into. The “counter form” is raised and offset to create an interplay between the shapes. The ensemble is fully skateable and provides lots of opportunities for interaction.
In the bottom photo we’re looking at the park from the opposite side. The shade is a great relief on hot days and gives a good view on the rest of the park. The group you see there are staging up for their turns at a nearby obstacle.
Slide 31: Plaza 3
Again, there’s the steel plates and another bench in the distance. There are a few stairs to ollie down, (or up!). The nice thing about plaza designs is that they’re mostly flat, open areas with a selection of structures spaced around it. The arrangement of these structures is carefully considered by the designer. The flat space appeals to even beginning skaters and most experienced skaters are happy to share the space with people just learning.
The top-left photo shows some artificial rockery which has been carefully sculpted to provide some interactions. By popular accounts this is the one element in the park that wasn’t necessary. Still, it reveals a desire to create an organic, interactive space that is visually arresting.
The top-right photo shows a small curb surrounding the bio-swale that prevents wayward skateboards from falling into the natural area. There are cuts in the curb to permit water to pass through. This is thoughtful design.
Slide 32: Regional
In San Jose there is a large, regional attraction skatepark called Lake Cunningham. It’s a great example of a regional park. These parks attract skaters from all over the nation because they provide something special for every type of skater. They are large enough to easily accommodate big contests and usually provide a full assortment of ancillary services.
Slide 33: Regional 2
Here are a few more views of Lake Cunningham. In the top-left photo we see some of the landscaping. These natural elements help soften the area and can provide a little shade…though not much in this case.
All parts of the skatepark are usable for skating, though lots of structures have dual purposes. A bank-wall also serves as a place to sit and rest, for example. (Top right.)
In the bottom photo we get a good overall view of the park. The array of bowls you see here in the foreground are all considered “micro bowls” because they’re less than 5-feet deep and have mellow transitions. They are easy and fun to skate but also support very technical, difficult tricks. These micro-bowls are connected by spines or small distances and can be traversed quickly by advanced skaters which makes this particular area appealing to lots of people.
Slide 34: Regional 3
Here are some more views of Lake Cunningham, our regional park example. In the top-left photo we see just one of the park’s several unique structures. Skaters simply cannot find a structure like this anywhere else in the area—in a skatepark or not. This makes Lake Cunningham the ONLY place to go to try this device.
In the top-right photo you see a swimming pool replica. While many skateparks have these types of structures, a great regional park will have them too. The regional park offers both the standard, common skatepark elements as well as unique ones.
The bottom photo shows a massive full-pipe. Again, it’s difficult to find something like this in the area. For people who seek out this kind of skateboarding experience, this regional park will definitely be on their “must visit” list.
Slide 35: Neighborhood
Neighborhood skateparks are what most people envision when you say skateparks. They are usually somewhere between 6- to 12-thousand square feet and offer a basic variety of skateboarding structures. Although they might provide a unique structure unavailable anywhere else, their focus is on delivering a solid variety of terrain options in a limited space.
Slide 36: Neighborhood 2
Our sample Neighborhood Skatepark, in Oceanside, California, is half street and half bowl. The bowl section has some simple hips and pockets, a variety of coping styles, and some lower and higher sections for special tricks. The depth is gradual so that less confident skaters can hone their skills in the shallower areas while experienced rippers can use the whole area.
Slide 37: Neighborhood 3
The Neighborhood Park aims to be inclusive and deliver a humble but active attraction for the neighborhood. The park policy is as liberating as the design and invites all users—whether they’re highly skilled or beginners—to share the space. Most neighborhood parks will allow BMX users as well.
This particular park has multi-purpose benches along the side of the park. These are ledges that skaters can do tricks on but also offer a place to sit and relax or put a backpack or water bottle.
Ultimately, the neighborhood skatepark is a social place where the area youth come to share and learn tricks, recreate, and have a good time.
Slide 38: Skate Spot
The Skate Spot is the last piece in the standard skatepark typology. Spots are basically small modifications to existing parks or public spaces. In some cases they aren’t even actual improvements but rather the removal of anti-skating devices. By allowing skaters to return to some city parks, we bring the youth back into the areas where other people are. It’s really simple! Skaters have been showing everyone for years that they don’t necessarily need an exclusive place to skate but rather just a legitimate one.
Here’s a great example from Tacoma, Washington. Thea’s Park is a city park where people come to eat lunch, walk around, and access the beach. We saw the satellite view of this park at the beginning of this presentation.
The local skateboarders were awarded a local neighborhood improvement grant to build the concrete manual pad that you can see in the photo. It’s about 12-inches tall, 5 feet wide by 10 feet long. The edges feature salt-and-pepper granite.
More importantly, the space is beautiful. There’s Mount Rainier in the background and Thea’s waterway leading to the Port of Tacoma.
Slide 39: Skate Spot 2
Here are some photos of the skate spot at work. During festivals and events in the park, the manual pad is completely unobtrusive. People can easily step over it or sit on it. They don’t even need to know that it was built for skateboarding. The entire pad was actually poured over a sheet of plastic so that if it ever needs to be removed, cleanup will be easy.
The small photo on the upper right shows the skateboarder group removing the anti-skating clips from the ledges. The small anchor holes were patched with grout and wire-brushed so there was no evidence that they were ever there.
Below we can see the manual pad as it sits in the park. The large blue orb is a giant steel earth model with Tacoma’s sister cities indicated on it. It’s really easy to see when there are skaters there and in the two years it’s been there, the Parks Department has received no complaints. (Though at first some people called to inform Parks that skaters were in the park.)
Slide 40: Skate Spot 3
The coolest thing about this particular solution is that it basically cost the Parks Department nothing. All they had to do was accept that skateboarding at this park was okay. The skaters took care of the rest.
The result of this action—removing the anti-skate clips and installing the manual pad—was a ground-breaking event nationally. It was featured in the street-skating documentary, Freedom of Space, which airs periodically on FuelTV. Tacoma was also honored with an award for Policies in Youth Inclusion from social equality branch of the United Nations. Again, this cost the City nothing and everyone wins.
Slide 41: Types of skateparks summary
Here they all are again: The plaza with its angular forms. The regional park with its larger footprint and unique signature elements. The neighborhood park with a little bit of everything. And the singular structure, the skate spot, that can be included in any public space. Taken together they offer excellent options for achieving that 100% coverage.
Anyway, back to the presentation…
Slide 42: Effective Advocacy
This idea overlaps the earlier concept, Led By Users. That concept shows us that the greatest skateparks are initiated and directed by the local skateboarding group. This concept means that the Parks Department and other governing agencies empower that skateboarding group to actually exert their wisdom in a positive way. In other words, you can have the most articulate, knowledgeable activist group in the world but if the governmental agencies don’t provide the tools and opportunities for that group to be effective, that wisdom and insight is wasted.
Slide 43: Poor design
Here’s an example where knowledgeable skaters weren’t consulted in the critically important matter of skatepark design. To the average person this may look like a reasonable skatepark. It’s concrete, seems like it’s in good shape, and has the tell-tale forms seen in other parks. That’s where the similarities end.
In the back you see that quarterpipe. It looks like it’s maybe five or six feet high. A person dropping in on that will be going much too fast to do anything on that rail or the ledge you see at the edge of the frame. The skater must take his or her foot off and brake to lose some speed before a trick can be done. Another option would be to approach the quarterpipe from this side, go up it a ways and turn around to approach the rail or ledge at a more reasonable speed. That’s perfectly fine but it completely ruins that side of the rail and ledge as a staging point. Everyone must stage at this end. This introduces another complex situation. Let’s say I take off to go down to that quarter so I can then turn around and do a trick on the ledge on my return trip. If you’re waiting your turn at this end, you have to watch me until you’re sure that I’m coming back towards the ledge before you can go without risking a collision. If I’m actually going down to the halfpipe you can see hiding out behind the quarterpipe, then you’ve been waiting for nothing and could have taken your turn at any point.
Check out the huge flat bank. There’s no way to get enough speed to actually go all the way up it and if you did, you couldn’t come back down safely or you’re break your shins on the long rail that is dividing the space. That’s probably what the stairs are for, getting down if you accidentally get stuck up there.
Anyway, this park is probably the result of someone in a city agency making a critical decision about the prequalifications of potential builders without consulting the skateboarding community. How can we presume this? Two reasons. First, we’ve seen this type of park a hundred times and it’s always the result of an unqualified designer or builder. Second, no qualified, skater-recommended builder would produce something like this. To the inexperienced eye this may look like a skatepark but to someone who truly understands and respects skateparks it looks like a squandered opportunity.
Slide 44: More poor design
Here’s another result of well-intended people simply making poor decisions. These aren’t acceptable compromises and the end result is that this skatepark probably shouldn’t have been built at all. It’s not because skateboarders are prima-donnas who can only skate the best stuff available. On the contrary, skaters will often skate anything and everything. The skatepark is a place specifically designed to attract and retain skaters. When bad decisions are made, it doesn’t function like that. When there are no skaters there, either the place lies dormant or it attracts users who don’t take the place seriously…and maybe a few of the younger neighborhood skaters who simply don’t have anywhere else to go.
In these photos we see a quarterpipe-flat bank thing. You can see the uneven arc even from here. These are called kinks are make shapes like this very difficult to ride on. At the top is a tiny lip that isn’t shaped correctly and only provides enough resistance to buck a skater off the back side of the ramp. The deck on top is just large enough to fall off of. And, naturally, three of the sides are completely unusable which only reinforces its uselessness.
On the right we see a little grinder rail. Seems reasonable, right? Apparently the person who built this saved a few bucks by using plumbing materials. Even a person who doesn’t skate can probably think this one through. The skater approaches the rail, ollies onto it to either grind (aligned with the rail) or slide (perpendicular to the rail). Along they go sliding on the pipe until they get to the end. The elbow stops the skateboard but not the skater. Fun! How much did the City pay for this?
Okay, this is getting depressing. Let’s move on.
Slide 45: Positive example (Denver, CO)
Here’s a skatepark in a town with a very active, involved skateboarding community. The park is in a great location and enjoys lots of nearby activity. The facility itself is attractive, offers something for every type of skater, and is respected by the community. The City listened to the skaters’ recommendations and took them seriously.
Slide 46: Designed by professionals
This is a big one. Great skateparks are designed by professionals. By professionals we don’t mean professional bus drivers; we mean professional skatepark designers.
Unfortunately we have no national acreditation system for identifying the world’s qualified designers. Skatepark design and construction is in its infancy and there are bold new shifts and trends every year. Most of our skateparks are less than 15 years old and so we know, for example, what materials don’t last 15 years. Those skateparks are gone. We also know that certain understandings and priorities in skatepark design seven years ago proved to be wrong. Those assumptions weren’t disasterous but the industry is learning quickly and skatepark design today is a dynamic, exciting place.
Skatepark designers and builders have built powerful reputations within the skateboarding world. Any skatepark advocate is able to immediately produce a short list of designers they would love to employ locally. The reason these skateparks producers are so well known is because they are making the parks that are appearing in magazines and videos. Only a small number of skatepark designers use any kind of marketing; it’s almost entirely word-of-mouth.
Back to the point, the great skatepark is actually designed. The design is the result of a thorough process that involves an inventory of other skateboarding oppportunities, design workshops with members of the community, maybe some historical or cultural investigations, and put through the labratory of flow, traffic, and speed control. The end result is a facility that fires on all cylinders.
Slide 47: Identifying the right team
Here are those ideas again. You can trust that the skatepark designer is legitimate because they are known and respected by the local skateboarding community and have projects celebrated in the skate media.
Slide 48: Is not modular
Most skatepark planners get this but it bears repeating. Great skateparks are not modular. There are two concerns introduced by this kind of product. Of the two, the more abstract concern is that modular ramps and structures on a slab do not create the kind of skateboarding facility that the community can take pride in…not like a concrete park.
The reason modular parks tend to be unappealing to some skaters and the public is due to a number of visual and physical characteristics. The ramps only operate one-dimensionally; they sit on the flat slab and offer no substantial elevation changes which simplifies the appearance and diminishes the riding experience. The ramps are typically pointed into the main traffic areas which is fine for one line of approach but produces three sides that are wasted. These vertical walls are a kind of barrier—both visually and interactively—that significantly reduce the funtion of the ramps.You don’t get this kind of narrow usage from concrete.
The second concern is more practical. Modular ramps wear out. Few of our nation’s skateparks are 15 years or older. None of those are modular. They simply don’t hold up that long.
Slide 49: Is not made of wood
There are several kinds of modular ramps. One of the most common are those made of a wood polymer surface with wood or steel structure beneath. These types of ramps can be fun to ride because the material is fast and smooth but in a municipal situation with thousands of users a week, small divots appear from impacts with axles. These tiny holes trap moisture and dirt which further weaken the integrity of the surface material. Before long the moisture and dirt loosen the grip on the screws which back out and present raised heads that can be devastating to someone sliding out of a failed trick. If the holes aren’t immediately repaired they quickly become potholes that can trap wheels and allow moisture and dirt into the substrate where it can do structural damage, leading to expensive repairs.
The other common type of modular ramps are steel. Depending on the guage of steel, these will usually hold up better than the wood polymer variety. However, they introduce their own unique maintenance issues. In areas with salty air the steel can quickly rust and become corroded. Not only will this will complicate any later repairs but it can roughen the surfaces to a degree that they are dangerously abrasive. Furthermore, with thousands of users the steel eventually sags and becomes fatigued.
The biggest maintenance and usability culprit is common to both types of modular parks. When a ramp, whether it’s steel or polymer, is placed on a concrete slab, a steel plate is frequently used to provide a transition from one plane to the other. This is called a transition plate, but sometimes called a toe-plate or a kick-plate. These plates frequently come loose and trap dirt. Because of their location on a ramp, the skater is going his or her fastest at this point, (the bottom of the ramp), and is exerting the most pressure on the surface. When the plate becomes loose, the distress on the structure is exponential. Once the plate can vibrate, it is usually a matter of weeks or days before the entire ramp is dangerous or outright unusable.
There’s a new player on the modular scene. Precast concrete forms are prepared in a manufacturing facility then shipped to the site and installed. Some companies simply place these onto an existing slab which obviously negates the issue of screws coming up and the surface material wearing out but does nothing for the appearance of the ramps or, most importantly, the kickplates. Other companies are installing the precast forms and using poured-in-place concrete to build around the structures. This is a much better solution as it removes the need for kickplates and allows skaters to use all sides of the forms and enjoy the benefits of broad elevation changes.
Slide 50: Celebrates skateboarding
The greatest skateparks celebrate skateboarding. This is pretty straightforward perhaps but it’s an easy point to miss when a community if facing tight budgets, limited space, or a fearful public. This chapter is a little different in that we’re just going to look at some great skateparks and the people who use them.
But before we do, let’s touch on that modular concept one more time…
Slide 51: One more bad example
Make no mistake. This space presents a dystopian view of what skateboarding is all about. This is absolutely the worst sitaution a community can find itself in and there’s really no excuse for something like this being a municipal skatepark. Not only do these ramps cost as much as it would to build some compelling concrete structures, but it completely mischaracterizes the skateboarding activity and shows the larger community that since Parks doesn’t respect what the skaters are into, why should they?
This is not a community gathering space but instead a place to put the skaters. It’s wrong.
Slide 52: Good example
Here’s a better situation. In Philadelphia there is a park that is currently being developed. It’s on a city thoroughfare, near historic buildings and tourist attractions and provides access to the Skuykill River. Through this plaza are pedestrian and bike paths that link to other paths that go along the river. There are lots of places to sit and relax and the architectural details are inviting and interesting. Throughout this public plaza are skaters enjoying themselves because the whole place is designed to attract skaters. This is what it it’s all about! This is where skateparks are going.
Slide 53: New Mexico
In New Mexico there’s a public park being built whose design is an interpretation of a cultural symbol. Every element in the plaza is conscientiously designed for skating on and around.
Slide 54: Texas
In Texas, old and young skaters meet as peers. Tricks and skateboarding wisdom is traded and a community is supported.
Slide 55: Camaraderie
There is a degree of cameraderie in skateboarding that few other sports share. A skater can travel anywhere in the world and find the local tribe of skaters and get along just fine. Within skateboarding there is a spirit of inclusion and openness that we can all benefit from.
Slide 56: Idaho
The skatepark is the sacred ground where this community comes together. The parks can be epic and reflective like this one in Hailey, Idaho. Their skatepark was built right in the middle of town.
Slide 57: Colorado
Skateparks can also be amusing like this funny structure found in Colorado.
Slide 58: United Kingdom
Or they can be architectural marvels that carry a particular theme like this skatepark in Stoke-on-Trent, England.
Slide 59: Houston
The skatepark reflects the community’s priorities and values. The skatepark in Houston is large and spacious.
Slide 60: Uganda
When South African Peace Corps students visited Uganda with their skateboards and found little terrain to skate, they built a skatepark. The locals were eager to try and within a year they were doing the same tricks that we see in videos.
Slide 61: Seattle
The skatepark in Seattle Center is in the shadow of the Space Needle.Thousands of tourists walk within a few feet of the skatepark. This is the way it should be.
Slide 62: Kabul, Afghanistan
In Kabul, Afghanistan there is a new skatepark being built. Here’s an Afghani kid practicing his ollies.
Slide 63: Portland, OR
The skatepark is where you go to show off your tricks. It is where heroes are born.
Slide 63: Concrete ribbons
It’s also where skaters go to meditate and work through whatever’s going on in their lives.
Skateparks are complex and important facilities and we cannot afford to underestimate their importance to our youth.
Slide 64: Summary
Here are all ten factors together. To quickly review they are:
The skatepark celebrates skateboarding.
The skatepark is placed where the rest of the community gathers.
The skatepark interprets classic and local elements but makes them better to attract and retain the skaters.
The project is initiated by the local skaters.
The skatepark is according to a plan that will eventually achieve 100% level of service.
The project is communicated to the public by everyone as a positive asset.
The park is sensitive to and works with other facilities in the area.
The activist group behind the effort is invited to participate in meaningful discussions with decision-makers.
The park is designed by a professional skatepark designer.
The park is not a few ramps on an existing slab.
Slide 65: Thank you
Thank you again for taking an interest in this important topic.
Slide 66: For more information
For more information on skatepark development, check out SPS’ Public Skatepark Development Guide or visit www.skatepark.org.
Slide 67: Q&A
Should helmets be required?
Although we strongly recommend helmets, we do not recommend that they be required. Helmets are meant to address concerns about safety and when we look at skateboarding fatalities we see two alarming trends. First, nearly all fatal accidents happen outside of skateparks. Second, most of those involve a motor vehicle. So, the best thing we can do to improve the safety of our skaters is to get them into a skatepark and away from traffic. When the park requires helmets, if someone chooses not to wear a helmet…or if the enforcement of that rule is so severe that it turns occasional indiscretions into big confrontations or steep penalties, people will simply avoid the park. Suddenly the skatepark is not a place to recreate and have fun but rather a place to avoid. (In most areas that require helmets, a helmet is not required for skating in the parking lot right next to the skatepark…so where do you think people will skate?)
What about graffiti?
Skateparks can be attractive canvases for aspiring graffiti artists. Skaters are split on whether graffiti is acceptable. Some hate it because it junks up the appearance of the park. Others don’t mind it and accept that graffiti is a natural part of the urban experience. However, the public mostly doesn’t appreciate graffiti and when the skatepark looks bad, it only makes the skaters look bad for allowing their facility to get that way even though they weren’t directly responsible. We recommend that a Parks Department adopt a zero tolerance policy and remove any new graffiti within a day of it appearing. On concrete surfaces, a water-based graffiti remover is best. The graffit should then be pressure washed. Painting over the graffiti is not recommended.
Should the park allow BMX?
Absolutely. We are trying to create a gathering place for the community. This is going to be very difficult if we begin by defining who cannot use the park. It’s important though that the BMX community be involved with the effort and are contributing to design concerns. The skatepark designer will also need to know that BMX will be a part of the mix so they can make special design decisions that accommodate BMX’s higher speed