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Site Selection

The location of the skatepark is the most controversial part of skatepark development. It is also a major factor in the long-term success and health of the facility. For that reason, it’s strongly recommended that you DO NOT discuss where the skatepark will go until after you have broad community awareness and support for the project. It is when you begin to discuss locations that the skatepark opponents will emerge and try to prevent or delay the project.

You must approach site selection conscientiously. A careless approach to recommending a site will activate the anti-skatepark members of your community and mire your progress in controversy. When an issue becomes controversial, your elected officials will lose their enthusiasm for the project, and all of your hard work will evaporate before your eyes. You can avoid a majority of this blow-back by approaching your site, or sites, using the same processes that other successful skateparks have used.

Choosing a site for the skatepark is best approached by nominating a pool of possible locations and then prioritizing them based on their strengths and weaknesses. The end result is a list of best-to-worst candidate sites that the skatepark advisory committee can recommend to City Council and the Parks Board.

When you have your final site recommendation, you will be able to use this process as “proof” that you took a methodical and thoughtful approach to identifying the ideal site. When people want to challenge that site for unreasonable reasons, the selection criteria can be a powerful tool in defending your recommendation. A terrific response to people rejecting the ideal location—usually because they live across the street and find skateboarders distasteful—is an invitation for them to adjust the criteria that you used to assess each site. They may propose an alternate site that they feel is more appropriate, often some place far away, and you can indicate that their proposal would not score well on several qualities that your group is looking for. This is much better than simply letting them put the skatepark where it will have the least chance of success.

Those people in a community that don’t want the skatepark should be the last people to decide where it will go.

Candidate Sites

The easiest way to create a list of candidate sites is to start with those places that the core group feels would be most appropriate. You can do this during a core group meeting at your local skate shop or one of your homes. The question that should be put toward the group is simple: “Where should the skatepark go?” (Along with: “What other sites might be good?”) You may even have a “perfect location” in mind already. That’s great! Hopefully this exercise will reinforce your impressions, but it also may reveal another location in the service area that’s even better.

Write down every reasonable site you are aware of that seems intuitively good for a skatepark. Try not to get caught up in long discussions about the challenges associated with each location. (You will prioritize the sites in the next step.) Don’t worry about excluding sites because they are near other sites that seem better. Include them all, even if they’re next to each other.

Start with the public parks in your service area. Google Maps and your Parks and Recreation website are terrific resources for finding park space that you may have forgotten about. Very small towns may not have any parks. Large cities may have more parks than you can write down. You’ll need to use your best judgment.

Don’t overlook the undeveloped areas in the service area. Undeveloped tracts of land (often called “green belts,”) may provide a viable skatepark site. If an undeveloped patch of land seems perfect for a skatepark but doesn’t seem like a public park—and maybe seems more like just a chunk of land with nothing on it—go ahead and write it down. You can always remove it later.

Don’t exclude any “perfect” locations because they seem too difficult. Unless you know that the perfect site is soon going to have a Walmart on it, you should go ahead and include it. Other people in your community are pushing for parks too, and it’s hard to keep track of what places other people are talking about putting playgrounds, bike paths, baseball diamonds, and so on. It’s best to throw the site on your list and sort it out later.

Skateparks don’t need to be large, so even smaller plots can work for a skate spot. You don’t need to know who owns the land or what plans may exist for it yet. Focus on places that seem like a skatepark could succeed there without too much work.

After you have a long list of candidate sites, choose the top 20 for your site prioritization exercise. (Keep the other sites as back-ups.) You may also conduct this exercise with a smaller number of candidate sites; adjust your rankings accordingly.

When you have a good list of candidate sites, you can begin prioritizing them.

Prioritizing Sites

You’ll assess each of your top 20 sites based on 5 qualities. Each site will be ranked from 1 to 20 and the site or sites with the highest total scores should reveal themselves to be the most optimal sites. The four qualities are:

Accessibility: How accessible is it?
Visibility: How visible is it?
Activity: How active is it?
Comfort: How comfortable is it?

And three factors that can sometimes trump even an outstanding candidate site:

Feasibility: How practical would development be?
Ownership:
Who owns it? (Can you even build anything on that property?)
Projection: What is planned for it (if anything)?

You, along with members of your core group, will do your best to fill in each space with a number between 20, being best, to 1 (or however many sites are listed), for the worst. A site may be best in one way and worst in another. A good way to manage this is to go through each characteristic and ask the group, “of these site candidates, which one is most accessible?” Then continue to identify the least accessible, and fill in the ones in the middle in the same way.

These seven characteristics should meet your needs, but you are welcome to add or remove any as you see fit. The first four, (Accessibility, Visibility, Activity, and Comfort), are critical for the skatepark’s long-term health. The latter three, (Feasibility, Ownership, and Projection), focus principally on the likelihood that a skatepark could be developed on that property.

Factor 1: Access

A skatepark that is easy to get to will get used more often than one that is difficult to get to. The sole purpose of the skatepark is to attract skateboarders, and access is the most influential characteristic of a skatepark’s power to attract users.

Site access describes how easy that location is to get to. The distance between the location and where most people live is the main concern, but the location’s proximity to a main road, public transit, and shopping is also relevant.

Site by site, rank each of the 20 sites on your list in terms of how accessible it is. Keep these questions in mind while you rank the candidates.

Can you walk there?
Is it near a school or other places where teenagers and young adults often go?
Is it on a bus line?
Is it near someplace where lots of people go, like a shopping center?
Are there any barriers near the site, such as freeways, train tracks, rivers, industrial centers, or steep hills?
(Review section 1.4 for more information on environmental barriers.)

You can rate each site based on your impressions of that location, but you may also take a more technical approach by measuring each site on traffic patterns and pedestrian activity. To do this, you’ll need research data that may or may not exist. You should contact your local Public Works or local Department of Transportation to see if these statistics are available.

The most accessible candidate site should be ranked 20, and the least accessible site ranked 1.

Factor 2: Visibility

You may expect that visibility is important for skateparks because it will keep nuisance and delinquent behavior to a minimum. That is partially true, but visibility is important to protect the skateboarders from influences and activities that prefer remote, secluded environments. Visibility is also important because it will help elevate and expose skateboarding for what it is: a healthy, social, athletic activity.

Skatepark visibility sends an important message to the youth that will use the facility and the broader public: skateboarders are people in our community that we are proud of. The skatepark buried in the secluded outfield of an unused baseball complex tells the skaters, and everyone else, that nobody wants to see the skateboarders. These skateparks frequently attract people that need a little seclusion to do what they’re interested in, and it’s not skating. Skateboarders sometimes refer to people that habitually hang out at a skatepark (but don’t skate) as “lurkers.” Lurkers can be a problem for the skatepark when they smoke marijuana or drink beer. All of that illicit activity is unfairly reflected on the skatepark and the skateboarders. Many communities that put their skateparks in remote, out of the way areas justified removing them just a few years later due to the nuisance activity it was attracting. This could easily have been prevented by putting the skatepark in a more visible location. The biggest victims in these situations are those skaters that worked for the skatepark. Don’t let this happen to yours!

Good visibility allows non-skating pedestrians and motorists to see the skatepark well before they directly encounter it. Visible locations also tend to be more social. Skateparks benefit from lots of unplanned social interaction. In this way, visibility doesn’t just mean that one can literally see the skatepark from a distance but that people passing by can actually see into the park and talk to the skaters, if they choose. Being able to see the activities in an area helps people feel comfortable. Secluded or hard to see areas make people feel cautious and hesitant. Skateparks that are hard to see will be perceived as more suspicious than the same skatepark in a very visible location with lots of social interaction.

Like before, the most visible site would be scored 20 and the least visible site scored 1. When ranking each candidate site for its visibility, keep in mind the following questions:

Does the site have a sidewalk adjacent to it?
Can you clearly see into the skatepark from the nearest road?
Is the nearest road a two-lane city street (and not a park loop or parking lot)?
Would other attractions in the vicinity lead people by the skatepark?
Can the site been seen and approached from two or more opposite directions?

If you would like to take a more technical approach to ranking each site’s relative visibility, you can measure the number of children and elderly people currently using each site. You can also measure what kinds of people are adjacent to the site in the early evening. (It’s a poor location if an average person wouldn’t feel comfortable walking around the site alone at night.)

Factor 3: Activity

Visibility and activity are related qualities. They are both important, so measuring them separately helps emphasize the value of very visible, very active sites.

Activity is just what it suggests: the site has lots of stuff going on in and around it. The more people that come together to share a space, the healthier that space tends to be. In small towns, the most active social spaces tend to be downtown. There may even be a public square or park in the middle of town. These are excellent locations for skateparks because the broader public interacts with the skateboarders. It should be assumed that the skateboarding youth are capable of interacting with the broader public with courtesy.

The broader community will also benefit from the skatepark located in an active place. More people will be exposed to the skatepark, including non-skateboarding youth, and be provided an option of exploring that activity. Skateparks in remote, inactive spaces provide very little exposure to non-skaters and do nothing to demystify skateboarding.

Score the most active site with a 20, and the least active with a 1. When ranking each site according to its activity, keep in mind the following questions:

How many different TYPES of activities occur there? (Not just how many people are in the area.)
Do people of both genders visit or use the space?
Does the location attract children?
Does the location attract the elderly?
Do people pass by or through the space while they’re on their way to someplace else?
How many other attractions are in or near the site?
Are there paths, benches, water fountains, and so on?
Are there shopping opportunities nearby?

An empirical approach to measuring the activity of a space can be found by looking at the site’s surrounding land values. (Active social spaces have higher commercial value than remote, inactive spaces.) You can also measure relative health of a site by the health of its nearby businesses; locations with lots of closed retail businesses near it, (or no retail businesses at all), will be less active than those in thriving retail areas.

Factor 4: Comfort

Just like everyone else, skateboarders enjoy comfortable recreational spaces. Comfort is important for the active park patrons and visitors alike. Spaces that are too hot, too cold, dirty, or unattractive will put people off. The less comfortable a place is, the fewer people will be attracted to it. Those that use it anyway won’t stay as long as they might if the place were more comfortable.

Comfort is a measure of a site’s ability to accommodate basic human biological and aesthetic needs.

Biological comfort questions might include:

Does the site have access to a restroom?
Is there a water fountain?
Is there shade (in hot areas), or enough sun (in cooler areas)?
Are there places to sit and rest?
Does the space have access to a “safe place”
nearby?
Is there clear separation between skating and vehicular areas?

Aesthetic questions include:

Can non-skaters approach the skating area without being “in the way”?
Does the space feature natural elements like trees, shrubs, and rocks?
Is the space absent of devices that constrict access (like fences)?
Does the space have easy, secure places to leave a jacket, backpack, and bottled drink?

As with the other characteristics, you will rank the most comfortable site with a 20 score and the least comfortable with a 1 score, then fill in the others as appropriate.

If you would like to quantify comfort for a site, you can look at police activity in the area, how “desirable” the neighborhood is considered by the broader community, environmental conditions, and degree by which nearby public facilities are maintained.

The following three factors measure the availability of the candidate site for skatepark development and have no significant impact on the skatepark’s long-term health or operation. These are developmental factors that can be measured with a simple “yes/no” metric.

Factor 5: Feasibility

Some locations are simply more feasible than others. This is a “catch-all” category that can reflect extenuating circumstances. Feasibility may reflect positive or negative qualities about a site that simply don’t fit elsewhere. Feasibility, and the other factors to follow, are optional. Some examples of feasibility include:

Was the location recently the center of public controversy?
Is the public vocal about the property being used for active recreation?
Are the owner(s) of the property vocal opponents of skateboarders?
Are the owner(s) of the property prepared to donate the land for the skatepark?
Is the property likely to change ownership?
Would the site be prohibitively expensive to develop (wetlands, toxicity, etc.)?

The most feasible sites should be scored “yes” and the least feasible sites scored “no.” If the site’s feasibility is unknown, simply leave it blank.

Factor 6: Ownership

Knowing who owns the site you’re considering for a skatepark will have a major influence on the feasibility of the park being developed there. Some agencies are easy to work with and are prepared to facilitate the creation of the park, and have the resources for maintaining it when it’s open. Other agencies won’t be willing to even entertain the idea, and will quickly dismiss your proposal. Your group won’t want to spend its valuable time pursuing a site that isn’t feasible, so knowing who you may be dealing with can eliminate a lot of sites that seem optimal but really aren’t.

You may not be able to find who owns every property on your list. Start with the easy ones and investigate the difficult ones only if they seem especially appealing.

The resources you have for discovering who owns a property are mostly on the web. If you live in a larger city, it may take several sources. If you live in a small town you may be able to find out who owns all the properties on your list from a single source.

You may already know who owns some of the properties on your list. For those you don’t, you can use Google Maps, Wikimapia.org, or any number of governmental websites. A good place to start is with your county assessor. A web search for “(your county) assessor” should provide some leads. If you live in a smaller town, your city clerk or county auditor should be able to help you out. You can contact your assessor via email or even in person.

Here are some of the typical landowners you might find in your town. Some agencies will be easier to work with than others. Properties marked with one star are traditionally difficult to work with, while those with three stars are usually easiest. There are exceptions to every rule, but this will give you an idea about what kind of work each property will require in pursuit of a skatepark.

  • City lands
  • City parks *** (best!)
  • School yards *
  • Preservation areas (wetlands, habitat areas) *
  • Some transportation beltways **
  • Yards and green belts around governmental buildings **
  • County lands
  • County parks ***
  • Undeveloped green space ***
  • Under major power lines *
  • Dumps *
  • State lands
  • Beaches **
  • State parks **
  • Federal lands
  • Government installations *
  • National parks *
  • Nature preserves *
  • Forests *
  • Under bridges **
  • Green belts near highways **
  • Private lands (includes land owned by nonprofit organizations)
  • Vacant lots **
  • Green belts next to railroad lines *
  • Parking lots **
  • Derelict or vacant plots **
  • Green belts around zoos, theme parks, fairgrounds **
  • Landscaped areas around stores and shopping centers **

Your list of nominated sites should now show the name of the location and who owns it. Just because a plot of land looks empty doesn’t mean that a skatepark can be immediately put there.

It can be difficult to assess how appropriate a skatepark might be received by a property owner until you have an opportunity to discuss the project with them directly. If you’re unsure whether the property is owned by an individual or agency that would be open to skatepark deveelopment, simply leave it blank.

You can “pencil in” your “yes/no” impression of each site according to how well-received a skatepark project is likely to be to the property owner. You can revise your rankings for this, or any other, characteristic as new information is discovered.

Factor 7: Projection

Every site on your list has a person, group, or company that either plans on doing something with it, or plans on making no changes to it. Their desire to keep it exactly the way it is (i.e., without a skatepark) is a real possibility. Other groups might be open to the idea. Knowing what their desires are for that property will tell you and your core group a lot about the chances they might seriously consider your proposal of a skatepark at their site.

Introducing a plan to build a skatepark in the exact spot where there are currently plans to develop something can be a problem. On the other hand, proposing a skatepark at a location where plans are being developed to create a recreational attraction is excellent. Keep your eyes on your local news for development opportunities. A solid opportunity might even be worth including a location that wasn’t on the list.

“Projection” is the least important aspect of a candidate site. You should have a sense of whether the candidate site is appropriate for skatepark development. If it’s not, it probably didn’t make your list of candidates in the first place. Still, you may find a site that seems perfect in every way only to find out that there are big plans for that site. That doesn’t mean that a skatepark can’t be a part of those plans. It just means that the projection for that site might lead to complications.

Where to look for plans:

  • Local newspaper (and news website)
  • City website
  • Contacts within your skatepark advisory group
  • Direct queries to the property owner

When you contact someone regarding a specific property, avoid mentioning a skatepark. (Skateparks can lead to all sorts of concerns, but “recreational attraction” is probably all they need to know at this point.) You are looking for what, if anything, is going to happen with that patch of land.

(To name and address)
(date)

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing on behalf of a local community group in search of a location for an athletic attraction. A location of interest is 1234 Main Street, a property that we believe you own or manage.

Are you at liberty to share what your intentions are for that parcel? And do you feel that a public recreational attraction is something that might be worth considering for that space?

Thank you,
Joe Smith
(phone)
(email)

When you look at your city website, search for “plans” and “community input.” These terms should each yield mostly irrelevant results. Look for results that are promoting upcoming public planning meetings. Parks planning meetings are particularly important and you should mark those on your SAC calendar in bold type.

Rank the sites with the best opportunity for a skatepark development with a “yes” and the site with the least opportunity with a “no,” and fill in the rest as appropriate. Like the other categories, you can revise your rankings later as new information is discovered.

Concluding the Exercise

Add up all the scores for each of your 20 candidate sites. The site with the highest score should reinforce your intuition about that location.

Remember that you can revise your rankings at any time to correctly reflect new information as it arrives. The site-scoring worksheet should be considered a living document until the final site is approved.

The finished site-selection worksheet, and the logic behind it, is your best tool for defending your optimal location from people that don’t support the skatepark at that spot.