Where Should Skateparks Be Built?

Don’t let the wrong site destroy all of your hard work.

Finding the right spot for the new skatepark is often a complicated and often controversial process. The community’s priorities often clash in passionate opposition to the fears—some legitimate and others based on stereotypes and misconceptions—of what the skatepark will ultimately become. Unfortunately, sometimes those skatepark opponents are correct; when the skatepark is built where they recommended—away from everyone and everything—the facility attracts people who prefer the privacy of a remote location and discourages individuals and families who want to recreate in a clean, healthy environment. The skatepark becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy due to the poor site. The opponents feel vindicated in their opposition and those who simply wanted a clean, healthy skatepark lose.This situation is completely avoidable.

Communities all over the nation are starting to see that the healthiest skateparks all have four simple things in common.

The most engaging, socially sustainable skateparks reside where the whole community can enjoy them. Like any public gathering space, skatepark users have the same kinds of needs that other “ordinary” park users might.

1. Access

Skateparks must be accessible to the broader community. A remote skatepark will only attract those people who have the means to reach it. The skatepark should be placed in an area that is easy to find and get to.

You may measure a site’s access by looking at these factors:

  • Adjacent to public transportation
  • Easy to find and get to
  • Nearby parking
  • Linked to other nearby activities
  • Is a “describable” location

2. Sociability

Skateboarders are passionate and committed individuals. Like most people, skaters would rather recreate with other people around than alone. Non-skaters who happen to be nearby can add to the overall sense of community inclusion at the skatepark; the facility should be designed for lots of community mixing. Healthy skateparks incubate a community of park regulars who greet each other and contribute to an overall sense of belonging. The general public will pick up these cues and help perpetuate the sense of sociability.

You may measure a site’s sociability by looking at these factors:

  • The “friendliness” of the environment
  • The appropriateness of talking with a stranger
  • One might bring visiting friends there
  • People voluntarily pick up litter and adhere to basic good housekeeping

3. Activity

The surrounding skatepark area should be active with other users. This diversity keeps the environment interesting and vibrant; without it, the space will feel “overrun” and homogenous…a place for “skaters only.” Planners can quickly eradicate the sense of activity (and sociability) by surrounding the skatepark with a tall fence. The activity of a place indicates how much stuff there is to do there.

You may measure a site’s activity by looking at these factors:

  • Various things to do appeal to a diverse ages and interests.
  • There are individual and group activities occurring.
  • There are quiet or reflective and active, dynamic activities happening.
  • There is plenty of space to move, stand, and sit.
  • The space is clearly managed but not overbearing.

4. Comfort

Often overlooked, comfort is a way of expressing that the users are an important and valued part of the community. A comfortable environment allows people to set proper expectations about the area, use the area in a way that is natural and intended, and ultimately take pride in this “third place.” For many skaters, the skatepark will become the central gathering point for years. An uncomfortable space will feel unsafe and attract the wrong element.

You may measure a site’s comfort by looking at these factors:

  • The environment provides a good first impression.
  • Women and elderly are present and comfortable.
  • The space is clean and maintained.
  • The place feels safe and hassle-free.
  • Vehicles don’t interrupt the space.
  • The space provides good photo opportunities.

When looking at sites you might create a “site checklist” for measuring several candidate sites with the same factors. Skatepark advocates will often have a preferred site—and that may be the best site for the skatepark—but performing a study of candidate sites will help substantiate that conclusion.

Neighbors opposed to the skatepark site—often called NIMBY, (“Not In My Back Yard”)—will be basing their opposition on gut-feelings and a general distaste for skateboarding and “fringe youth.” Their opposition, if it occurs, can be mitigated when you produce the findings of your site study. (They will be hard-pressed to find siting criteria that favor the remote locations where they would prefer the skatepark be built.)