The word “advocacy” sounds like a fancy political term, but advocacy is exactly what you’re doing whenever you are talking about the skatepark project. Whenever you are describing the idea with skaters, telling neighbors how the project is coming along, or presenting a concept to the Parks and Recreation Board, you are doing advocacy. A skatepark advocate is a community activist representing local skaters, a catalyst for social change, and an essential part of the democratic process. Nothing in a city or town gets built without someone advocating for it. Every skatepark in the nation has an advocate to thank. Your newest skatepark will be due to your advocacy efforts.
Advocacy is basically another word for “promoter.” As a skatepark advocate, you are a skatepark promoter. Your job is to share your vision with your community and its leaders in a way that builds support for the cause. As an advocate, your task will be to accelerate and amplify the skatepark message. You will influence how often the public talks about the skatepark, but also the language they use when they talk about it. You will use language that calms fears, sheds light on the unknown, and presents the skatepark as a great opportunity for your community.
Although advocacy is presented here as a “stage” in the process, it exists throughout the whole effort.
The more you advocate (or talk about the skatepark), the easier and more fun it becomes. At first, you will prepare your presentations carefully, review your statistics, and have thoughtful lists of things you want to cover. You might even read prepared speeches from notes. That’s okay! After a while you’ll need fewer notes and will begin to develop key phrases that seem to work well for you. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t.
For most skaters, skateboarding is a lifestyle more than a hobby. A core skater skates almost compulsively. For advocates, promoting the skatepark vision is a lot like this. No opportunity is missed to talk about the skatepark vision. You will eventually come to live and breathe skateparks. That’s what this chapter is all about.
In the author’s earliest days of skatepark advocacy, a friend once described him as “someone who could turn any conversation to the topic of skateparks.” This will be you, too.
The different stages of the skatepark development require different types of advocacy. When you’re in the early stages, you’ll focus your attention on building relationships with key people in your community. As you begin exploring potential locations for the facility, you’ll reach out to people from that neighborhood. How you describe the skatepark will take a different tone, and you’ll talk about aspects of the facility that you didn’t have to cover earlier. Later, you’ll use your experience to seek funds for the design and construction. The language will become technical, and you’ll rely heavily on statistics. In other words, each different stage in development and every audience will benefit from a slightly different focus. Through practice, you’ll learn how to anticipate your audience’s interest and tailor your language appropriately.
Although advocacy is presented here as a “stage,” it actually exists throughout the whole process. In this chapter you’ll learn how advocacy works, how to avoid some common mistakes, and how to adjust your language to suit a particular audience. Remember, though, that nothing can replace experience and the best way to become an effective advocate is to get out there and do it.
IN THIS SECTION:
Four Simple Rules
Effective skatepark advocacy is guided by four principles.
Maintaining Your Sanity
Advocacy is difficult, lonely, and can become an obsession. Use these techniques for keeping your balance.
Running an Organization
Tools, skills and resources you’ll find useful in your skatepark effort.
The Core Group
Your tightest core of advocates are the best of the best.
Getting local skaters involved is not as easy as it sounds.
City Council Meetings
Getting to your first City Council meeting is your first major act as a skatepark advocate.
Resolution Supporting the Skatepark
The goal of your City Council interaction is to earn their endorsement.
Skatepark Advisory Committee
Your working committee has members from different agencies all working toward a solution everyone can support.
Agency-led Skatepark Efforts
Skatepark projects orchestrated by governmental or civic agencies have special considerations.
Awareness and Support
No skatepark was ever created without a good show of local awareness and support.
Working with the Local Press
Tips and tricks for managing your press opportunities.
Direct Advocacy (“Reaching Your Community”)
Organizing your outreach program into achievable goals is the easiest way to raise awareness.
One of the first things groups usually do is build a Facebook page, but what can you do to maximize its impact?
A great way to reach a lot of people at once is through public events.
The key messages delivered by your group should be consistent, factual, and compelling.
All About Meetings
Poor communication holds many groups back. Learn what you can do to ensure your meeting time is used efficiently and effectively.
Public Voting Methods
Whenever there is an option available, the public is often asked to declare their preference. Knowing how these practices work can prepare your group for contested issues.
One of the most controversial aspects of skatepark development should be handled with care.
Military Base Locations
Military bases have special needs and constraints.
Meet the Opposition
Most projects have no shortage of opponents. Learn how to manage them and prevent their obstructions.
Common Issues and Answers
Throughout your advocacy you will hear the same questions and concerns over and over. Here are some sample responses that have shown to be effective.
BMX and Scooters
For many skaters, these secondary users are non-starters. Excluding these groups from consideration may do more harm than good.
THF Police Study
A 2009 study conducted by Tony Hawk Foundation explores law enforcement’s observations on skateparks.
Title image courtesy: St. Charles River Conservancy