Crowds or inactivity are a reflection of the skatepark’s popularity among the local skateboarders.
Fees, unpopular rules, strict enforcement, and the facility’s design and maintenance can all serve to dampen community enthusiasm to visit the park. When a skatepark routinely lies dormant, or only attracts a small handful of local youth on a daily basis, one or more of the four factors above are probably the reason.
Fees (and entrance requirements)
The revenue delivered by entrance fees is far less useful than the value of promoting a popular park amenity. A hard look at the cost-benefit of your usage fee is warranted. Removing a fee, or waiving the fee for a test period, should see a spike in your skatepark’s usage.
Unenforceable and/or behavioral rules that are sporadically enforced are terrific ways of sending mixed messages to local skateboarders. The skaters will struggle to understand what is permissible at the skatepark. The humiliation of being confronted by law enforcement or Parks personnel for infractions that don’t provide innate value to the skateboarders will eventually drive patrons away from the facility and back to the streets. City Council can encourage local law enforcement to be less strict on certain skatepark rules. This liberty should produce an increase in park patronage.
Poor design and/or maintenance
Sadly, skaters are no strangers to crappy skateparks. Communities across the nation have produced monuments of mediocrity by converting underused tennis courts into skateparks by installing a selection of steel, above-grade structures. After a brief honeymoon, these facilities lay dormant aside from the few local kids with nothing better to do. The inactivity becomes more pronounced when the ramps begin to deteriorate. Eventually the facility is deemed unsafe and is demolished, and the public is left with an impression that skateparks fail to meet expectations. This is a common problem.
There are several interventions that can prevent these skateparks from going into freefall. The first step in any option is to conduct a brainstorming meeting between the Parks Department and local skateboarders. Skaters will not be shy about sharing ideas for improving the facility or adjusting its unpopular regulations, and the City can share their impressions as well. These mutual expectations are defined through open communication among all stake-holders.
Introducing a new element to the skatepark is a great way to renew interest in a skatepark. Replacing aging prefabricated structures with concrete counterparts, or renovating a singular element within a concrete park, can solve two problems: it will draw lapsed patrons back to the facility, and mitigate growing maintenance demands. Most stand-alone structures can be designed by the community and constructed by local services. If volunteer labor is employed, the cost of improving the park can easily fall within the capacities of a neighborhood improvement grant or discretionary spending. To date, a staged replacement scheme has worked well in communities across the nation.
In prefabricated parks, what doesn’t work is rearranging the elements in a facility (that is, within those facilities that afford the repositioning of the structures). For the hundreds of above-grade, prefabricated “ramp-style” skateparks, there are no documented cases where the structures were rearranged to the benefit of the local patrons.
Some concrete skateparks are more than 30 years old and remain popular with skaters. Skaters are attracted to many of these facilities as nostalgic artifacts of an antiquated approach to skatepark. Unfortunately, some older skateparks represent the worst trends in skatepark design and the local skaters must either adapt to the terrain or find better opportunities elsewhere. These parks can be resuscitated using the same approach as with aging prefabricated parks: refurbishing singular elements, starting with the least popular elements.
A bigger problem is overcrowding at the skatepark. When the skatepark’s design and construction appeal to the skaters, their patronage builds on the park’s notoriety, thereby attracting skaters from a wider radius. Some skateparks have become veritable tourist destinations. All of this activity can put a burden on the park.
One symptom of overcrowding is an impression among local skateboarding youth that the skatepark is often too crowded to use, or that it’s “overrun” by secondary users (e.g., scooters or BMX riders). Parks Departments may be tempted to introduce sanctioned hours for special uses, but these kinds of schemes are routinely ignored by skatepark patrons. Compliance in these matters is a steep challenge and will require constant management and reinforcement.
In principle, it’s a good problem to have. The City has effectively created an attraction that works too well.
The surest way to manage overcrowding is to create overflow facilities. A crowded skatepark is a clear sign that it’s not large enough. It is revealing that the number-one conclusion among Parks Directors with successful skateparks is that they should have made the new skatepark larger. Underestimating the popularity of the facility is an easy mistake to make.
Creating skate spots and smaller attractions in other parts of town will help alleviate some of the demands placed on the flagship facility.