It seems wholesome to have local skateboarders design the skatepark. For preliminary concepts this is fine. These renderings can be distributed across the community as a “concept” of what the skatepark might look like, but when it comes to creating a usable, sustainable, and successful recreational facility, a professional designer must be hired.
A skatepark schematic (or concept drawing) is not a design. This is an important distinction to make. A skatepark design includes a concept drawing and all of the blueprints and specifications required for a construction company to create that facility. When a community is critiquing a skatepark concept, they are only looking at the schematic.
Many experienced skateboarders feel that their time on a board qualifies them to be skatepark designers. They know the names of different skatepark structures, and have been to a handful (if not dozens) of skateparks and have seen what works and what doesn’t. Claiming that skateboarding experience qualifies a person to design skateparks is like saying that someone that likes to eat is a good cook. Skatepark design is nuanced, delicate, and requires lots of experience and a heightened sensitivity to how people skate.
Parks and City planners sometimes mistakenly believe that a skatepark designed by local skaters will produce more organic ownership by the community. While the local community should absolutely have input on the design, putting the whole design responsibility upon inexperienced individuals will likely produce a negative result. Amateur designs produce inadequate facilities that fail to draw visitors. The individuals responsible for the design learn from their mistakes, but the damage is done and now the community has invested a great deal of time, energy, and resources into producing what ended up being a failed experiment. These parks sit dormant while local skateboarders return to the streets.
Individuals that have been involved with the advocacy and fundraising effort are certainly in a unique opportunity to directly influence the skatepark design. This has some advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that the individuals most passionate about the skatepark are in a position to be most influential. A disadvantage is that in some situations, the skatepark advocates have very specific ideas about the kind of skatepark they desire but that may not best meet the needs of the larger skateboarding community.
The flipside of this situation is when the Parks Department makes an executive decision on who will design the skatepark without the skateboarders’ input. This usually results in a mediocre facility that put the short-term financial interests of the Parks Department over the needs, hard work, and financial contribution of the local youth. There is also the added detriment of removing this critical decision from the hands of those that will spend the most time at the facility.
It’s vital that the Parks Department appreciates the value that comes with involving the skateboarding community at these critical stages.
The bottom line is that the skateboarding community needs to be directly involved with every aspect of the skatepark development, but must be sensitive to the fact that they themselves are not skatepark designers, and should leave the management of that particular task to those who are more qualified.