If you’re a skateboarder, because you’re reading this you probably already have a sense of your core advocacy group. If you work for a public or private agency interested in skatepark development, you face the challenging task of attracting and supporting this group.
Your core group can be considered the “skatepark street team.” These are the individuals from your community that show the most commitment to the skatepark project. They are prepared to talk about the project, help shape the tone and direction of the advocacy effort, and will ultimately become dedicated stewards of the finished facility.
The composition of the core group will have a big effect on its capabilities and efficiency. Almost every group starts off as one of the following three types.
Adult Skateboarder-led Core Group
Adult skateboarders tend to be the most effective skatepark advocates. There are several opportunities afforded them that others may struggle to achieve. Some of these advantages are due to being skateboarders. They have, as a skater, a personal stake in a successful outcome. As an adult skater, particularly if they have a lot of skating experience (and the skills to prove it), they are granted some immediate credibility within the larger skateboarding community. This can reinforce the adult skater’s role as the popular community spokesperson. As an adult, they may bring professional skills to bear on the project.
The central challenges to advocacy efforts led by these individuals is a lack of recognized relationships with vital community organizations. In other words, they often need to “start from scratch” with their advocacy. Furthermore, the group may struggle to identify essential management skills needed to keep their group healthy and moving forward.
Adult Non-Skateboarder-led Core Group
It’s common to see skatepark advocacy groups led by local religious leaders, teachers, civic organizations, governmental community liaisons, and even private companies. There are strengths to these type of groups. Namely, as an individual representing a larger recognized body, there are institutional relationships already in place that can be leveraged for the skatepark project. Organizational management is not likely to pose any overt challenges. It’s important that these types of groups establish points-of-contact with key individuals within the skateboarding world, such as skateshop managers.
There are several significant drawbacks. Quality standards for the facility are often misunderstood, leading to a facility that seems adequate to everyone but the users. Cultural barriers between “bureaucrats” and skaters can struggle with a lack of trust or misguided faith by the skateboarding community that the facility is being created with no expectations of them. If and when the skateboarders disagree with a direction the facility is taking, they have no seat at the table.
Youth-led Core Group
A vast majority of failed skatepark efforts are the result of younger skaters doing everything they can think of to get a skatepark going then giving up when no apparent progress is made. It’s no fault of their own; skateparks are challenging under any circumstances and the best of resources. When youth-led groups are effective, they have received guidance from experienced advocates and/or adults from their community. They have unique advantages that, if effectively employed, can propel the skatepark project forward rapidly. Most significantly, youth-led efforts easily create a public profile that is earnest and passionate. These qualities, coming from youth that sometimes look weird and do “dangerous” things, can be endearing to the general public.
Unfortunately, the disadvantages outweigh the benefits of a core group populated entirely by youth. Most young adults don’t relate to local political structure and find the required civics lesson unrewarding. As a result, they struggle to identify useful relationships and miss tangential opportunities. Without a larger community context, these groups often focus on the tasks they can immediately investigate, such as gathering petitions, identifying a site, and seeking donations from skatepark companies. When these enthusiastic efforts fail to produce immediate results, the group concludes that nobody supports their concept and they give up.
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. Governmental agencies, churches, civic organizations, and similar groups seeking to advance a skatepark project will encounter unique challenges not found in other, more traditional advocacy group structures. Unfortunately, too often the skateparks created by well-intentioned groups like these are long-term failures that do not deliver on community expectations.
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.
Agencies Enlisting 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.
Successful advocacy groups identify early on what their group is missing and make an effort to fill that gap. Advocacy groups composed entirely of younger skaters will work toward recruiting adult skaters and non-skaters to their cause. Adult skaters will build relationships with the younger skateboarders in their community, as well as community leaders and agency liaisons. Company- or agency-led efforts are wise to establish a group of skatepark advisors culled directly from the local skateboarding community.
On average, the most effective skatepark advocacy groups:
- Are led by an adult skateboarder
- Are populated by a mix of adult and juvenile skateboarders
- Hold meetings regularly attended by liaisons from city government and other community institutions
Important Core Group Roles
There are particular skills that are useful while pursuing a public skatepark. While they aren’t all essential, each will give your group a boost when the appropriate tasks arise.
The skatepark project is complicated and there is no shortage of misunderstanding about skateparks and skateboarders, so clear, concise writing is important. Poor grammar and disorganized writing can undermine your ideas, at best. At its worst, it can vindicate critical accusations by skatepark opponents on the credibility and validity of the group’s project.
Technical writing will be useful in Facebook and website posts, solicitation letters, fact sheets, and press releases.
Advocacy, Nonprofit, and Public Service
People with experience serving in a volunteer capacity, or who have advocated for other causes, will bring valuable wisdom and insight to your core group. This skill is particularly useful while identifying a fiscal sponsor for your project, or forming and managing a nonprofit organization. Individuals with public service experience, such as sitting on advisory boards or public committees, can provide insight to the public engagement process.
Design and Presentations
The first impression many people get from a skatepark group comes from printed or online material. The level of design sophistication presented there forms the earliest reactions from your audience. Material that seems naïve or juvenile can paint everything following in the same tone. It can be a huge burden for a group to scramble every time they need to make an event flyer, update a website, send skatepark images to a local newspaper, put together Powerpoint presentation, or build the files for a vinyl banner. An experienced designer can manage most of these tasks effortlessly. It’s valuable to have someone with graphic design experience and the tools to do the job.
The lead advocate within a core group usually emerges based on their ability to communicate to a group. As you might expect, it falls on the shoulders of the lead advocate to represent the group in public meetings. Public speaking for skatepark projects doesn’t require some innate talent to “work a crowd.” For most people, public speaking is terrifying and so it’s important to remember that when you are tasked with presenting to a large group, stay focused on the idea you want to communicate and not on the impression that the audience will be judging your performance. They won’t; they’re there for the same reason you are… to talk about the skatepark.
If you are deathly afraid of speaking in public, but circumstances put you in that position, you may find relief in knowing that the more you do it, the easier it gets. At some point you may even enjoy it. (The author was one of those people whose hands and voice would shake while addressing a crowd, and now he looks forward to those opportunities to spread the skatepark message.)
Bookkeeping and Business Management
Bookkeepers and business managers have developed the ability to keep details organized. Skatepark advocacy groups can take many different forms. If the group will be an independent nonprofit organization, someone with business management experience (or the ability to learn quickly) is critical.
Project and Event Management
Project and event managers bring the ability to break a complex task down into its resolvable parts. Fundraising and awareness events are challenging for people, not as much for planning what will go as expected, but for planning for those things that are unexpected.
Construction Management (DIY)
If your project will include any direct construction projects or events, someone with construction experience, particularly if it includes construction management, will save your group a lot of time.
The core group will be constantly growing and shrinking throughout the life of your skatepark effort. Original members may move, become disinterested, or resign due to other priorities. New members will be recruited constantly. Your group will need to be always on the lookout for opportunities to recruit people with these essential skills.
Core Group Duties
As discussed earlier, the skatepark development process can be broken down into distinct stages. In practice, these stages overlap and blend into each other. The first two stages are particularly pervasive. The skatepark vision is continually refined until the very late development stages. Advocacy happens throughout the process, and can continue even after the skatepark is open. The fundraising, design, and construction phases are more distinct, but they too can be revisited and improved from time to time.
Now that we know what our core group looks like, we need to know what it is expected to do. The core group is responsible for launching the skatepark awareness campaign and seeking validation and approval from critical stakeholders. Eventually they will lead the process of identifying the most appropriate location and gather community approval for that site.
First, though, we’ll look at getting the core group validated by your local government and community leaders.
Validation is important. It means that your group is recognized by the community and that your group’s mission is worth listening to and, hopefully, approving. Without validation, your group will agitate for a skatepark in a vacuum. A good example of this is a group of skaters that complain endlessly about the lack of a skatepark yet never doing anything about it. This is a group that has the potential to advocate for a skatepark, but lacks validation by their community leaders. Nothing gets done by these groups.
Your core group exists to drive the skatepark project forward. This is what you are seeking validation for; this is your mission. The first step is to introduce your group’s mission to those that can help give your group legitimacy and amplify its message. The biggest and most essential stakeholder in this regard is the local government.
Gaining legitimacy from the local government for your skatepark vision is something that many groups struggle with for months. The city may embrace and support your vision immediately, or try to shut you down right away, or maybe put you off for future consideration.
The best way to introduce your skatepark vision to the City is through a public City Council meeting. Be sure to check out the article on City Council Meetings.
The city’s reaction may be out of your control but there are things you can do to influence it. Most of their reaction will be the result of the individuals sitting on City Council and local conditions and events not directly related to skateboarding or skateparks. Unless your community already has a skatepark, City Council members will only know as much about skateboarding as their personal experience permits.