Many skatepark efforts are initiated by governmental and civic agencies. These projects face unique challenges that delay and often result in facilities that are not embraced by the skateboarding community.
There are a number of reasons these projects frequently lead in lackluster parks. To understand why, it’s helpful to review where traditional skatepark advocacy efforts come from.
Skateboarders in communities without skateparks find places to recreate where they’re usually not welcome. These youth are routinely “evicted” from one skate spot to another. After more than a decade of this treatment, skaters have adapted their methods to protect access to their favorite illegitimate spots. Skaters often canvas their urban environment at night when there are less people likely to interrupt their activity. Furthermore, skaters tend to be secretive about their favorite spots and take measures to ensure the spot doesn’t become too popular (or “blown out.”) Skaters lose when they attract attention by business owners, security, and police, so most skaters make an effort to access a spot in the most unobtrusive way.
Skaters have learned to accept “No Skateboarding” signs as a beacon that suggests there may be something compelling to skate on the premises. These signs are usually not backed by local ordinance; they are simply a property manager responding to skateboarders visiting the property and introducing what they believe to be an unwanted liability. For the skaters, the sign is unenforceable and can be disregarded without risk. Many non-skaters fail to understand that if every skater only rode their skateboard where it was permitted, all the terrain that provided any kind of challenge would be off-limits. The flagrant disregard of site policy is perceived as a blatant disregard of other peoples’ property by non-skaters and as an act of necessity by skateboarding youth. It’s truly an impasse.
Skateboarders have become good at not being seen, which is partly why so many communities underestimate the number of skateboarders in their area. This approach serves skateboarders well until it comes time to engage those youth with an opportunity to assist with a skatepark project.
Finding Local Skaters
It can be difficult for interested non-skaters to contact skaters in a meaningful, collaborative way. It’s even more difficult to provide the leadership tools for those youth to take ownership and champion the project. Skateboarders in their late teens or early twenties may be skeptical of “bureaucrats” wanting to get involved with their scene. These cultural barriers can be overcome but it requires sensitivity and tact.
The first step in engaging local skateboarders and skatepark stakeholders is to host an introductory meeting. This meeting can be advertised on flyers that simply say “Skatepark Meeting” and posted around town, particularly around those curbs and ledges where skaters currently recreate. (Those ledges and curbs often have the telltale black waxy buildup along their edge.)
The meeting should be hosted in a local business or library known to local youth, as opposed to, say, a conference room in City Hall. The intention in choosing a neutral location for your first meeting is to establish a collaborative tone rather than a hierarchical one.