Designing for Policy

Skatepark design is much more than deciding what the space looks like and where the elements will be placed. Skatepark designers must also consider how many people will be sharing the space, where will they stand when they’re not actually skating, where they will put their backpacks and beverages, how they will enter and exit the skateboarding space, and where they will go to sit and relax when they’re tired.

The most successful skateparks are designed in a way that encourages policy compliance. For example, presuming that BMX will be allowed at the facility, the design should be sensitive to the fact that BMX riders go much faster than skateboarders and can traverse spans between areas of the facility that skateboarders cannot (and therefore may not be prepared for traffic coming from that direction). Allowing BMX use will dramatically improve the facility’s value to the community but must also be considered by the skatepark designer because it is a different kind of user.

There are lots of maintenance and operational (M&O) concerns that will influence the skatepark design. When policy decisions are addressed only after the design is finalized, (or worse, only after the park is open), it often presents challenges. A skatepark design should encourage desired behavior and discourage unwanted behavior.

Most M&O considerations should be discussed before the skatepark design is finalized.

The M&O and policy concerns that should be addressed before the skatepark design is final are:

BMX riders go faster and use the park differently than skateboarders and scooters. Design should accommodate these differences to prevent collisions.

On-site Services
On-site services will require a secure space for volunteers and/or employees, signage, first-aid kid, and so on.

Site Security (fences and gates)
If necessary, fences and gates will encroach on the active space and therefore require wider decks and park perimeter to allow for safe “shoulders” to avoid collisions.

Material (particularly wood and steel)
Specialty tools and training will be required to inspect, maintain, and repair the skate furnishings.

Crowding and Capacity
Skateparks intended to serve as contest venues will require additional space for vendor and administration booths, and onlookers.

Low Activity
Parks in small, remote communities can benefit from designs that are integrated so that the whole space can be used together, rather than broken up into “rooms” for higher capacity.

Adjacent Landscaping
Plants and ground cover that can spill into the skating area can introduce dangerous hazards.

Skateparks sited near residences should be designed in a way that is sensitive to how much noise is generated. For example, berms, landscaping, and elevations can be positioned so that excess sound is directed away from nearby residences.

Lights (evening usage)
Evening use will tend to attract an older crowd with different needs and interests than those using the park before 5 PM.

The M&O and policy concerns that can be negotiated at any point in the development process are:

Graffiti will typically appear within the first month of a skatepark’s opening. If it is removed immediately and consistently, its frequency will taper. The only design characteristic that may factor in graffiti is parks featuring lots of spots blind to passing evening traffic. Areas hidden from the street allow vandals to deface the park in private at night.

Helmets and Pads
Helmet compliance is a byproduct of clear and consistent communication, not of skatepark design. (However, some types of designs tend to warrant higher levels of helmet use than others.)

Trash Removal
Several factors will affect trash management, but trash management should be flexible and modified during the first season or two to achieve maximum effect. Trash management is generally conducted around the perimeter of the skating area and should not impact design.

Park Clean-up
Aside from special maintenance concerns, like mowing grassy areas that might exist within the skatepark, general clean-up should have little impact on the park design.

Skate Classes
Skate classes can be conducted during slow times, like weekend mornings, in the active skate spaces.

Volunteer Stewardship
Volunteer activity is more likely to occur at a park the skateboarding community is proud of. For example, when a community takes pride in its skatepark, people will be more inclined to participate in cosmetic maintenance activities. Beyond the “grandeur” of the skatepark design, there’s little in the function of the skatepark is likely to directly encourage volunteerism.

Unwanted or Criminal Behavior
General crime-prevention principles apply in skatepark design. Keeping undergrowth clear and the facility away from undeveloped green belts will help reduce nuisance behavior at the facility.

Skatepark Closures
Aside from a perimeter fence, skateparks that are closed for maintenance or during evening hours should not be reflected within the terrain itself.