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Design Disasters

The skatepark design and construction phase is the last major opportunity the skatepark advocate will have to ensure the facility turns out as expected. After the designer and builders are hired, the project is almost entirely out of the advocates’ hands. After this phase, the advocate won’t have to defend decisions that encourage excellence…but this also means that poor decisions made at this point can be ruinous for the skatepark’s outcome.

Many skateparks started out with high expectations and ended up being utter disasters due to poor decisions made during the design and construction phase. Here are the top reasons that skateparks fail at this point in the process:

Non-concrete Materials

Topsheet Wear and Tear

Without vigilant inspections and immediate maintenance, polymer and steel skateparks can quickly become dangerously dilapidated. This is never a concern with properly designed and constructed concrete skateparks.

Wood, steel, or polymer-surfaced (e.g., Skatelite, RampArmor, Masonite, etc.) ramps are inappropriate for municipal use. These materials are commonly presented to city administrators as low-cost alternatives to cast-in-place concrete. The advocates have done their work, but a well-meaning city administrator in charge of finding bidders for the skatepark project might be coordinating with a ramp supplier—without consulting the experienced skateboarders in the community—thinking simply that they were exploring reasonable low-cost alternatives. The critical decision to go with a material other than concrete should never be trusted to someone that has not fully investigated the issue. Reiterate the sustainability and design values of custom concrete early and often, and be frank about the likelihood of non-concrete materials being considered when the bid package is being created.

Remote Location

In response to community fears, administrators approve a location that is remote and inactive. The remote site is the least controversial for the broader public, and most skaters are so grateful to see that a site is approved that they don’t want to challenge it. However, the remote facility attracts poor behavior and quickly becomes the type of place that younger skaters and families feel uncomfortable going to. Ownership, philosophically speaking, is granted to the skatepark’s resident thugs. (When problems make the news, people will blame skaters for everything that happens at the skatepark.) Even well-meaning elected officials can succumb to the fears expressed by one outraged resident if that person seems irate enough. (Fears about poor skatepark behavior have resulted in more poor skatepark behavior than anything else.) The solution is to reinforce the idea that the skatepark is a community-gathering place more than a recreational or athletic facility, and that it will benefit from lots of other nearby activity.

Inexperienced Designers

Terrible Skatepark

To the untrained eye this rail looks like something you might find in any skatepark. Skateboarders, however, see a rail that is so poorly designed that it is unusable. Skateparks produced by inexperienced designers, though well-intentioned, squander the hard work and resources devoted to the project by producing a facility that nobody can use. (Image: Thrasher Magazine)

Years of skateboarding do not qualify someone to design skateparks. (Just because you like to eat doesn’t make you a chef.) Hundreds of mediocre skateparks exist because the community thought they could save a few bucks by having the local skaters design the park, usually led by an individual that has some experience building ramps. It’s easy to see why people think this is a good idea. Community-designed skateparks are likely to enjoy a greater degree of “ownership” by the skaters. What usually happens is that the skatepark turns out so weird and unusable that the skaters return to the streets and the new facility is taken over by people treating it as a teen hangout where “anything goes.” There are several signs that a designer may not be up for the job. If the skatepark design has separate areas for beginner and experience skaters, it usually means that the designer doesn’t fully understand how skateparks are typically used. If the primary structures are riddled with innovative forms, it is usually at the expense of “tried-and-true” basic structures that work for most skaters. (Any skatepark should only have one or two unique concept pieces; the rest should be well-understood structures that have proven themselves to be popular among most skaters.) The best way to prevent this is to emphasize the critical role of professional design in the skatepark process as often as possible.

Inexperienced Builders

Poor Construction

Some construction flaws will only reveal themselves several years after the park opening.

Your ordinary construction company doesn’t have the tools and expertise to create proper skateparks. Skatepark construction requires specialized skill and respect for design nuance. Many skateparks are hopelessly flawed after general contractors hire inexperienced builders for their skateparks (or even build it themselves). The solution is to ensure that all project bidders meet the qualifications established by the skatepark advisory committee.

Careless Landscaping

The area immediately adjacent to the skateboarding area should be free of ground cover that can migrate into traffic areas. Crushed rock and gravel are particularly troublesome as the small pieces of rock can easily stop a skateboard wheel. Larger rocks that can be easily kicked or swept out of the way, (and that are easier to see), are preferred.

Poor ground cover

Crushed rock may be an inexpensive solution to high-traffic areas around the skatepark but small rocks will invariably make their way into the skating areas and create tripping hazards.

Skateparks have staging areas where patrons are most likely to gather in preparation of their next run. These areas should be in areas where the patrons can easily see the whole path that they intend to take. Blind spots can result in collisions or falls if there is debris in the park.

Trees, shrubs, and low ground cover should feature plants that do not shed small seeds or hard berries.