Communities and skatepark advocates everywhere face the same crossroads at some point in the development cycle:
“Do you want the skatepark to be cheap, fast, or good? (You may choose only two.)”
Skateboarding advocates obviously lean towards making the skatepark good because nobody wants a crappy skatepark, (right?), and fast…like, it should have been built yesterday. The cost of the skatepark is the last priority. The rationale is that the money will come if the park vision is inspiring.
Parks planners tend towards making the skatepark good so it can become a community landmark and cheap so the whole effort is at or under-budget. Today parks agencies across the nation are pinched for dollars and tough decisions are being made. Grants are more competitive than ever, services are being cut, and in some cases even whole facilities are being closed. Frankly, it’s an awful time to be looking at new facilities. Most planners understand that if it’s worth building, it’s worth building well. Most of a facilities long-term expense is due to maintenance so creating a skatepark that is inexpensive to operate will provide a good community service at a low operational cost. That’s a win-win.
Administrators and politicians generally opt for having the skatepark be cheap to provide more money for other causes and fast so that it fits into the budgetary cycle. Time is money and the longer a process takes, the more expensive it becomes. The cost of a one-hour meeting, for example, that has three Parks employees in it, (each earning $60,000 a year), is about $60. Imagine paying $60 to meet with three people from Parks for an hour. That’s how some administrators see things. For these people the skatepark that can be built inexpensive and right away is the best value. That value is converted into more time to provide more value to the community it serves.
How can these three interests reconcile their approaches? And what is a skateboarding advocate (good and fast) supposed to do about the standing partnership between the parks planner and the parks bureaucrat (cheap and fast)?
The correct answer is that the new skatepark should be made quickly and of the highest quality possible.
Sure, you must be thinking that you’ve come to a skatepark advocacy website for information about skatepark development…of course the answer is “fast and good.” It’s not just rhetoric. This conclusion is apparent when you consider the factors and results of diverging opinions.
Let’s start by exploring how the three characteristics—cheap, fast, and good—manifest in skateparks.
WHAT IS CHEAP?
How much will the skatepark cost to create and maintain?
To understand the cost of the skatepark it’s important to consider where the expenses lie. The land beneath the park has financial value but most skateparks are constructed on land already allocated for public recreation and so there’s usually no “hard cost” for land acquisition. The fee for design and construction is the largest expense, particularly construction. Permitting, fees, and environmental impacts can also add to the cost of creation.
Parks budget planners and maintenance staff understand that long-term maintenance is a significant consideration for the park’s budget and for many facilities the maintenance can surpass the cost of creation in just a few years.
Green ball fields are excellent examples of how maintenance costs can quickly dwarf the cost of creation…one community accounts for $20,600 a year for maintenance of a single 114K square foot soccer field. If that soccer field cost $200,000 to create, within 10 years the price of ownership for that facility will have doubled.*
The total cost of the skateparks should be considered for the life of the park, (15 years or more in some cases). This is the TOTAL cost of ownership and includes (but is not limited to) the initial cost of creation and the cost of maintenance for the life of the facility.
Cost-savings in skatepark constructions takes several forms. Most typical are the catalog skateparks that one can construct using common, pre-designed, pre-fabricated structures. These prefab structures are bought then installed on an existing slab…perhaps a decommissioned tennis court or parking lot. The price tags on prefab will be attractive to the unscrupulous politician who may view maintenance expenses as someone else’s problem. People unfamiliar with how skateparks are used or what is desired in them by skaters may see the catalog options of prefab as a fun way to mix-and-match components for the final skatepark.
Skatepark advocates everywhere face this kind of misunderstand from their elected officials and (sometimes) park planners. At its core, the attraction of prefab is in its turnkey expedience. The needs and desires of the people who will use this facility every day for hours at a time should be the ultimate priority; not the inexpensive cost and expedience in which the facility can be delivered. Working with an agency that is seriously considering prefab ramps as a viable public facility is the most significant crisis that skatepark advocates face today.
Inexpensive skateparks can also manifest in design and construction by employing underqualified service providers. It’s not uncommon to have a great design compromised by a builder who is under-qualified. Similarly, but less common, when under-informed or uninspired designs are built by highly skilled builders the outcome can often be improved through changes in the field. If the builders are familiar with design-build situations, this usually results in a better park than what was designed. However, in some cases the overqualified, overzealous builder has undermined the skateboarding community interests by “improving” upon desired elements of the design during construction.
In cases where there are threats to “good” by the forces of “cheap” during design and construction, it’s imperative that the community activists (skateboarders in particular) remain vigilant to design and construction developments. Frequent design dialog and construction site visits are the two best ways to ensure that the skateboarding community’s priorities are being met. This is never more important than when the skatepark is being built by general contractors.
The final consideration is the skatepark site. Locations with lots of in-place support will require less maintenance than remote parks with few amenities. Sites with lots of linkage, pedestrian activity, and on-site amenities will have lower instances of vandalism, trash, and poor behavior. This can spell the difference between a facility that the Parks Department is proud of and an eyesore than nobody likes, (not even the skaters).
When considering how to cut costs in the skatepark development, look at these factors:
• Long-term maintenance
• Materials (wood, steel, concrete)
• Quality of design
• Quality of construction
• Site factors
WHAT IS FAST?
There are lots of reasons to build a skatepark quickly. First—and most important—is that the skatepark is needed right now. The need exists today and it’s not going to go away by itself. If anything it’s just going to increase. To demonstrate this need, even if unwittingly, skaters will be recreating on the ledges downtown, parking garages, business plazas, and other places that try the public’s patience and that can contribute to ill-will between business managers and the skateboarding community.
While one might presume that this frustration can provide a catalyst for support of a new skatepark, it often builds resentment towards skateboarders and a sentiment that they don’t “deserve” a skatepark after all of the nuisance behavior. This point of view perceives the skatepark as a gift when in actuality a significant portion of the funds will usually be raised by the skateboarders themselves AND that the skateboarding community has probably been working closely with the City and Parks Department for years trying to solve this problem. The real result of prolonged frustration with skateboarding in inappropriate areas is typically new ordinances, sharper enforcement, and negative opinions about the character of the local skaters. The skaters’ often view their form of recreation as healthy and positive…and the ordinances as evidence of old stereotypes and misunderstanding. When the ordinances and “no skateboarding” signs are ignored—as they often are—young adults who feel that they have done nothing wrong are fined, boards confiscated, and sometimes face criminal charges.
What started as simply a need for a place to skate has collapsed into a group of active kids facing conflicts with law enforcement for doing what they love. We know that skateboarding is not a sickness…it can’t be cured or prevented. When a kid discovers that skateboarding resonates within them, they will usually pursue it passionately for years. A mere ordinance cannot stop this profound drive to skate. They are not bad kids, they merely don’t have a good place to skate. The new skatepark is needed quickly so that the cultural and legal situation doesn’t continue to deteriorate.
Finally, the need for a new skatepark is growing every year. The longer the project languishes, the less applicable it becomes to your community’s need. New skaters are entering your community every year and experienced skaters require terrain that challenges their growing level of skill. Without the skatepark they either become disenfranchised or must recreate in an unsanctioned (and often unsafe) environment. The dynamic, ever-growing skateboarding community will not wait for the skatepark; they will adapt to the environment available to them. The fundamental question is not “where DON’T you want skaters” but rather “where DO you want your local skateboarders to be?” How soon is soon enough?
The skatepark creation process is long. Most of the time is spent engaged in advocacy and fundraising. When fundraising is done, the planning, design and construction process can also take up to a year, sometimes even more. To create a skatepark fast, the best place to look is at the part of the process that takes the longest: Fundraising.
TIP: To reduce time in advocacy it can be efficient for advocates to meet with their City and Parks leaders first as a small coalition to discuss their plans and solicit advice on the best approach to getting the park (or parks) started. At this stage the advocate is not testifying to the power and value of skateparks but rather simply gathering advice on the best approach to seeing a capital improvement through to completion…just like any pocket park, street improvement, or other community asset. This “pre-advocacy” investigation may reveal unique local processes that can shorten the advocacy cycle. It’s also an excellent opportunity for the City administrators, politicians, and planners to get to know the skatepark advocates on a personal basis before the “public awareness” campaign gets underway.
Reducing time in fundraising is practically a career for some people. The most efficient fundraising efforts have deep volunteer rosters or diverse staff and aim big. There are lots of ways to raise funds. Some methods have added benefits of raising awareness and interest in the skatepark (and skateboarders), like t-shirt sales and door-to-door drives. These programs require activity that the average skateboarder will be enthusiastic about. Other methods just go for the money, like grants. This type of fundraising requires great organizational skills and some ability technical writing ability…so most of the individuals in the skatepark advocacy group won’t be directly engaged in any grant application efforts. Grants are often pursued by the leaders of the advocacy group, sometimes in a joint effort with the Parks Department.
It’s best when these qualities combine so that the skateboarding community is active in a project that has the potential of raising a significant amount of money with the Parks Department and other local agencies. A broad coalition of support will produce results much more quickly than a group working independently.
One more important component to raising money efficiently is setting targets. The fundraising group should not just have a total target but also smaller amounts to aim for on a program-by-program basis, or set for a certain amount of time, or both. For example, if it’s the community’s task to raise $50,000 by the end of the year, perhaps $5,000 of that could be raised with a silent auction. If the auction is done twice this year, that’s $10,000. Two grants can take care of $20,000. Perhaps a Skate-a-thon could raise $5,000. And so on. Each program has a target, then after all the preparation is made, those targets can be broken down even further for a weekly goal or even an individual goal so that each person raising funds has an individual target for the week. This will motivate the volunteers and that enthusiasm will spread to the people they encounter.
Reducing time in planning, design and construction is generally out of the advocate’s hands. Different factors can influence this time. Site conditions or location, such as being near a wetlands or having peculiar soil conditions, can complicate and lengthen this time. Local agency norms will also have in impact. Small communities are typically better at “getting it done” than larger burgs. Furthermore, skateparks are small capital improvements for all but the smallest of towns and frequently aren’t treated with the urgency that larger, higher-profile projects generally receive. Any new facility involving a building structure, such community centers and sports complexes, will usually take priority for available resources (personnel, mostly).
While considering ways to make the skatepark more quickly, look at the following:
• An advocacy plan
• Fundraising that engages the community
• Specific fundraising goal schedule
• Keep the skatepark on the priority list
WHAT IS GOOD?
For skaters “good” is paramount. Nobody wants “not good” yet the nation is littered with under-utilized “not good” skateparks. These are the well-intentioned artifacts of hard work by the community and city leaders being drawn into poor decisions. They’re empty because…well, because they suck. The spaces don’t attract the skaters for any number of reasons.
The easiest way to investigate what a good skatepark is is to look at what it isn’t.
The most common reasons for failed skateparks are:
1. Lack of linkage and/or anti-social locations
When the park is set in some remote location away from the rest of the community, the facility becomes overrun with activities that desires secrecy. Eventually this nonsense displaces the skaters. In a cruel twist of public perception, problems at the skatepark that most of the skaters have abandoned will still be attributed to skaters. Graffiti at the skatepark is often viewed by the general public with comments like, “why would the skaters ruin their new skatepark?” Skaters wouldn’t, of course. The skaters who understand that they have the most to lose from problems at the park. Skaters are quick to identify a person who is “blowing it” for everyone with their behavior. Unfortunately, like all young adults, it’s often challenging to intervene and try to stop the activity…it’s much easier to simply ignore it or leave the area.
2. Poor design and/or construction
Parks designed and/or built by unqualified contractors consistently result in facilities that fail to attract and retain skateboarders. Skaters don’t want to use
3. Small facility for the large need
Small skateparks are great but only when the entire local need is adequately provided for. Otherwise they become crowded, dangerous, and frustrating for the users and the larger community.
4. Skateparks lacking a sense of place
Many skateparks are intended to serve only one purpose: To provide a place to skate. Skateparks perform many functions however and when these other needs aren’t met, the skaters won’t build a sense of ownership with the park.
The first step in creating a successful skatepark is defining what that success looks like. Creating a “good” skatepark isn’t difficult or expensive or even time-consuming, it simply requires understanding what value the skatepark will bring to the community and aiming for it. These values are vital to the long-term success of the facility. At the end of the day communities and civic leaders need to stop and consider their skatepark intentions: If the skatepark isn’t planned to be successful, what is it destined to become?
Skatepark advocates are all too familiar with well-meaning Parks Departments making “executive decisions” about the location, size, design, material, or service provider against the skateboarding community’s advice. That’s not to say that the skateboarding community must “call all the shots,” but what may seem like an insignificant decision by a well-intentioned public employee can swiftly lead to the ultimate failure of the facility that everyone worked so hard to create. While this may seem like a dramatic depiction, it’s all too common and everyone responsible for the creation of the nation’s best skateparks are battle-scarred from fighting off the bad decisions.
Good skateparks all have several factors in common:
• Significant community leadership at all stages in development
• An adherence to the vision
• Adequate size
• Compelling design and sustainable material
• Socially inclusive site
• That “something special”
YOU GOT IT!
There’s no “special circumstances” in any community that can provide an adequate excuse for building another unsuccessful skatepark. Prioritize Good, then Fast, then Cheap. You won’t be disappointed.
* Soccer field (114,000 sq ft) Maintenance Breakdown
(Figures rounded to nearest hundred.)
Staff hours: 113
Product cost: $0
Staff hours: 12
Product cost: $1,200
Staff hours: 32
Product cost: $2,000
Staff hours: 6
Product cost: $5,700
Staff hours: 12
Product cost: $1,500
Staff hours: 45
Product cost: $400
Staff hours: 14
Product cost: $0
Staff hours: 5
Product cost: $1,100
Staff hours: 2
Product cost: $20
Staff hours: 8
Product cost: $100
Staff hours: 50
Product cost: $200
Staff hours: 0
Product cost: $400
Annual Maintenance Total: $20,600 or $0.18 per square foot