You need to understand that there is a difference between a legitimate concern about the skatepark and a “concern” that is merely a convenient reason to oppose the skatepark on philosophical grounds. One can sometimes feel like the other.
People that oppose skateparks are afraid of any unsupervised facility designed to specifically attract teenage boys. There are people in your community that believe that 90% of the evil in the world comes from 17-year-old boys, and so this new skatepark seems like a very bad idea…especially if it’s built anywhere near anyone else.
You will meet people that support the skatepark but recognize that it must be handled carefully so that it can succeed. You are one of these people. Things can become confrontational when your group’s issues are not the issues being discussed by the broader community.
It’s easy to imagine that your group agrees that a world-class design is a critical component of the park’s success. When you see the community having a legitimate discussion about skatepark noise, it can be frustrating. People that oppose the skatepark on general principle will see the noise issue as “sticky” and jump right in to exaggerate those fears. When the noise issue is resolved, the skatepark opponents will find a new issue to act as a vehicle for their anti-skatepark message.
Sources of anti-skatepark sentiment:
- Neighbors that don’t understand skateparks
- Business owners whose facilities are attractive to skateboarding
- Bureaucrats and elected officials afraid of making an unpopular decision
- Risk assessors and city lawyers hyper-sensitive to risk
- People that have an opinion about everything
Here are common legitimate opinions that should be treated seriously:
“The liability is too high,”
“The skatepark will attract unwanted behavior.”
Here are common opinions that should be addressed fairly, but may be hiding a deeper anti-skateboarder sentiment:
“The skatepark will be noisy.”
“There aren’t enough skaters to warrant this investment.”
“We need an environmental impact study.”
Here are overt anti-skateboarder opinions that don’t need to be addressed:
“Skateboarders are drug dealers and delinquents.”
“Skateboarding culture promotes antisocial tendencies.”
“Skateboarders don’t deserve a skatepark.”
“We should be promoting traditional sports.”
It is hard to believe that there are people who don’t like skateparks. Unfortunately, they exist…and they can seem to arrive when you least want them to and have no issues with making a huge stink. They know that the “controversy” that they create can be as effective in shutting down or relocating the skatepark as the actual reasons they present as evidence. If they can blanket every skatepark discussion with controversy—any kind of controversy—they are raising doubts about the skatepark and scaring community leaders.
For these people, seeing the skatepark stopped or relocated becomes a matter of pride, and as soon as you can address one concern, they’ll present you with a different one.
As you become experienced in talking about skateparks, you may hear a few terms people use to describe those that tend to oppose anything. These terms are derogatory and should never be used to describe someone while they’re within earshot; nobody familiar with the words would ever use them to describe themselves.
NIMBY (“Not In My Backyard”)
NIMBY is a common term that you will hear a lot. Nimbies are against any development near them. They want everything to stay exactly as it is now. Nimbies are myopic and cannot see the larger community value of skateparks, and they will insist that everyone else support their lack of vision.
The solution to dealing with these kinds of people is to follow your four cardinal rules of skatepark advocacy. You may remember these from the beginning of this section.
1. Stay Calm
Fighting fire with fire leaves you with a huge fire. It’s especially true that online you simply can’t “win” arguments. Defuse hostile situations by being kind, reasonable, and mature.
2. Stay Positive
Motorcyclists advise you to look where you want the bike to go, and not at what you’re trying to avoid. Keep your skatepark conversations focused on where you want to go, not where you don’t.
3. Stay Awake
You can beat your opposition to key audiences by knowing what’s going on around you and being there. The skatepark opponents don’t have your group’s capacity, energy, or passion. Play to your strengths by being everywhere and knowing everyone.
4. Stay Organized
Skatepark opponents will try to surprise you with skatepark discoveries and position themselves as more knowledgeable than you. Do your research and own the subject. YOU are the expert.
Great Ways to Combat the NIMBY
Recruit respected community leaders to represent the skateboarders’ needs.
People skeptical of the positive skatepark message will question the objectivity of the messenger. Of course the skateboarders are going to depict the skatepark as a terrific facility. Why shouldn’t they? They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. These people will assume that everything the skateboarders say will be sugar-coated and real concerns will be dismissed. By enlisting a respected spokesperson from the community, you can make your message more credible.
Only share accurate, fact-supported information.
It’s hard to recover from exaggerations and unfounded claims. Let’s say that you claim that there are “like 12,000 skateboarders in town” when it’s wildly inaccurate. Anyone that hears that outlandish claim will be critical of anything else you say after that. It’s very hard to recover once you’ve lost your credibility, so if you don’t know something, don’t punt. Just say, “we’ll have to look at that more closely and get back to you.”
Repeat key positive messages, then repeat them again.
If one of your platform messages is, “the skatepark will give the local youth something to do,” pepper your presentations with that phrase. Your audience will walk out of the room ready to share the idea that “the skatepark will give the local youth something to do.”
Humanize the skateboarder.
Bring younger skaters to the public meetings that promise to be “hot.” (Be sure to warn them that some critical things may be said about them and coach them in not taking the bait.) Also, tell personal stories about local youth.
NIMBYs and aggressive opponents will be more likely to keep it civil when there is media present. A winning scenario for skatepark advocates is when their message is concise, organized, respectful, and positive, while the opposition’s message lacks facts, seems emotional, and is negative.
Propose a developmental partnership.
Many NIMBYs are responding to a sense that the skatepark is being “crammed down their throat.” Listen respectfully, then reflect their concern back at them (if there is an opportunity). For example, “we appreciate your concern that this facility will be noisy. We’re looking forward to working with you and skatepark design professionals to make sure noise won’t be an issue at this park.” This allows them to be part of the solution. (True NIMBYs will find another, “unsolvable” reason to oppose the skatepark once they realize they’re cornered.)
Make sure that everyone in your support group understands these ground rules. You may feel comfortable hearing unsavory ideas about skateboarders, but if one person in your group cannot tolerate it and loses their patience, it can reflect poorly on your entire group. Make sure your group is following your lead by being cool, calm, and not taking the bait.
For advocates, your local opponents can be infuriating and yet fighting with them can also be strangely addictive. In the grand scheme of things, arguing with skatepark opponents is a small and usually trivial part of the process. Arguments are usually held online and via email, safe behind the anonymous comfort of the internet. You will find the most inflammatory and insensitive anti-skatepark sentiments in the comments fields of local newspaper posts. People will say things online that they would never say face-to-face.
NIMBYs—those skatepark opponents that are arguing beyond reason—use fear to spread their message. It’s a powerful motivator. Fear captures the attention of people that would otherwise be neutral about the skatepark, or even support it. Fear sells newspapers and turns boring meetings into chaotic shouting matches. Fear is the NIMBY’s biggest tool in their anti-skatepark campaign.
It’s not because they are afraid of you, but because the internet brings out the worst in people. You are no exception to this rule, and it’s important that you remember this. You are just as susceptible to hopping online and crafting what you think is a “reasonable” response that everyone else reads as outright hostile. That’s not in your project’s best interest. Don’t give these people the attention they need to create their hysteria and they will get bored and move on to other local issues to sink their teeth into.
Every experienced skatepark advocate has a few excellent NIMBY stories to share. After they finish the skateparks, those people that worked so hard to convince the community that the skatepark would essentially ruin the neighborhood disappear. Their unfounded fears never become reality.