Love him or hate him there is no doubt that Rob Dyrdek has joined the pantheon of skateboarders who have become widely recognizable by the general public. And why shouldn’t he be with two television programs behind him and a track record of putting skateparks at the forefront of his world vision.
When the skatepark at Kettering, Ohio was built it set a new standard in skatepark design. More importantly it was the catalyst needed for thousands of ordinary skaters to approach their Parks Departments and City Halls and declare that THIS is what they want. We can thank Dyrdek’s Kettering Plaza for the newest generation of skatepark advocates.
Most people would be happy with a legacy like Kettering. Not Dyrdek. His list of goals addresses almost every aspect of today’s skateboarding environment…create the “NBA of competitive skateboarding”, reposition Los Angeles as the Skateboarding Capital of the World, attract mass-market sponsors to skateboarding, (beyond the usual suspects of Nike), and ultimately leave behind a skateboarding environment that is stronger than it was before.
Even if one finds this kind of unbridled ambition distasteful there’s still a good chance that the benefits of Dydrek’s mission will resonate in your community. For skatepark advocates and City and Parks planners who support skateparks, your job is about to get a little bit easier.
Dyrdek’s bold vision is a skate spot system across Los Angeles. Each spot, called a Safe Spot, will feature a few simple street elements. These will be sanctioned, bona fide places to skate. Because they will be scattered around the City, Los Angeles skaters will be sure to have one or two of the Safe Spots near them. Skatepark systems are nothing new; most cities are considering levels of service for their skateboarders and have plans for comprehensive coverage.
The city-wide skatepark system goes beyond simple skatepark advocacy. Unlike other communities considering integrated skatepark networks, the Safe Spots plan includes a landscape architect within the Parks Department to act as liaison to the skatepark designer, arrange community meetings, and identify suitable sites for future facilities. The process for finding a site, funding, designing and building each Safe Spot grows the method, practices and model for the next one so that they become more efficient to create as time goes one.
The strategy on the concept that the Plaza Foundation can avoid the lengthy and expensive processes that often stall traditional skatepark efforts. The Safe Spots don’t feature any bowls so there is little reason to assemble a team of risk-assessors to review plans or excavation permits. The Safe Spots are integrated into existing public parks so the plans don’t start from ground-zero each time. The pace of each Safe Spot allows the same people to work together on projects one after another instead of bringing new people up to speed and finding new champions within different agencies that plagues a more leisurely schedule.
There are also cost savings found in the Safe Spots process. Funding sources don’t require as much investigation, community awareness and support can be kept high, and the designers and builders can charge less for their services because they’re already mobilized and up-to-speed. Furthermore, projects at this pace get attention…one aspect that certainly meets Dyrdek’s approval. After all, it is these kinds of bold actions that will attract corporate sponsors outside of skateboarding.
Unlike many skate spots, the Safe Spots are being created by experienced professional skatepark designers. The first Safe Spot at Lafayette Park was designed by Newline Skateparks and the newest three were all designed by California Skateparks.
The design philosophy is typical by skatepark advocacy standards but still progressive to many community leaders; the skate spot should be integrated into the fabric of the community and feel simply like “a park that you can skate in” rather than a skatepark. These spaces will certainly appeal to skaters but also average pedestrians. A typical skater may not be overly concerned with being integrated with wider community settings but to the larger rhythym and fabric of the community, embracing the skateboarding youth can be a powerful message that they are welcome and appreciated.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a skate spot is the smallest functional scale of skatepark. It is essentially the building block for larger skateparks and can support a small group of skaters. A typical skate spot will be a single structure or obstacle on a slab. They generally do not include any elevation changes. (An elevation change would be created by two or more slabs at different elevations with the key element between them, be it a bank, stairs, ledge, or whatnot.)
Within the last five years the skate spot has become a popular solution for communities looking for ways to support their existing skatepark(s) without going through the process of creating a new full-size skatepark. The newest interpretation of the skate spot is being practiced by progressive cities and Parks Departments through the inclusion of “skateable” materials and forms in traditionally “non-skateable” structures like seating walls, planter ledges, and so on.
Besides their relatively low cost, skate spots appeal to communities due to the smaller groups they attract. Where a popular skatepark may have up to 60 skaters using it at its peak, a skate spot will only sustain four or five users. This tends to reduce neighborhood fears about a skatepark “going rogue.”
The Safe Spots distribution calls for a minimum of one spot in each of LA’s 15 council districts. The system was designed to focus first on those areas most in need—neighborhoods with no safe, sanctioned place to skate. There are currently Safe Spots in North Hollywood, Hollenbeck Park, and Lafayette Park. A fourth Safe Spot is under construction at Rancho Cienega. There is also a traditional Plaza-style skatepark at Stoner Recreation created by Dyrdek’s Plaza Foundation.
The first facilities in LA’s system will be directed by Dyrdek and company. Once a model of success is established, the following facilities may be driven by local skatepark advocacy groups on an as-needed basis. The framework for where the skateparks and Safe Spots will go will be established early on and effectively remove that challenging part of the advocacy process. Should LA’s Safe Spots program prove successful and garner the attention, (and donations), of the business community, he’ll certainly introduce the Safe Spots program to other cities.
The design of each individual Safe Spot is negotiated between the skatepark designer and the community being serviced. In places where the skateboarding community does not have a cohesive voice, the design will be led by the California Skateparks, (or whichever design firm is responsible for that project). Conversely, in areas where the skateboarders are vocal and organized the design will be influenced largely by their input. For spots that are paid for with public dollars, a full public-input design process will occur.
Dyrdek has established a few design and policy requirements. First, the Safe Spots are street terrain. There won’t be any bowls, snake runs, or rolling flow sections. Second, the Spots are free, unfenced, won’t require pads or helmets, and won’t be directly supervised. They are simply parks that allow (and are designed for) skateboarding. Finally, the Spots must be attractive. These won’t be a quarter acre of slabby gray…each Safe Spot promises to use concrete dyes, interesting textures, and be comprised of interesting structures.
While a comprehensive funding mechanism doesn’t exist for the whole system, today’s Safe Spots were paid for by Parks and Recreation capital improvement funds and various grants, and direct donations from corporate sponsors and even Rob Dyrdek himself.
For more information about the Safe Spots program, you may visit skateplaza.cukerdesign.com/. They’re sure to keep the good news flowing.
There are lots of ways to get involved. If you are a Los Angeles resident, keep your eyes open for Safe Spot meetings or contact the Parks Department to find out what’s being planned in your area. You can make that skatepark or Safe Spot your personal mission. All of the hard work is done for you; you just need to step up and let your voice be heard.
1: North Hollywood Park (North Hollywood)
2: Stoner Recreation Center (Brentwood)
3: Lafayette Park (Westlake)
4: Hollenbeck Park (Boyle Heights)
5: Rancho Cienega Park (Village Green)