Every park has policies governing its management and usage. Skateparks are no exception. Most skateparks, being on public land, are governed by state and local statutes. In most cases the skatepark will be considered a typical park amenity just like the tennis court, and most of the skatepark rules will be applicable to all of the park attractions. The skatepark hours, for example, should be the same as the tennis court.
Special policies that apply only to the skatepark are where open, public conversations need to happen. Here are a few examples:
Will the skatepark require helmets?
Will helmets be required for ALL skatepark visitors any time they’re at the facility?
How will it be communicated and enforced?
How will the policy’s success (or failure) be measured?
What are the repercussions of non-compliance?
Will the skatepark allow BMX riders?
Will the benefits of a particular policy outweigh the risks?
Will the skatepark be fenced?
Will there be dedicated on-site supervision?
Will waivers be required?
Will the park be closed for routine maintenance?
If so, why? Does the cost outweigh the benefits?
Decisions like these are often made by individuals who will probably never use the skatepark themselves. Their administrative wisdom, or ability to interpret the law, or assess risk, puts them in a position to make unilateral decisions that could impact hundreds, if not thousands, of residents and set the new skatepark on a trajectory for success or failure. It’s critical that these decisions are made using transparent rationale and with the most authoritative data available.
It’s been said before: nobody really wants to criminalize skateboarding. Unfortunately, in some cases a policy decision that is made in the skaters’ best interest can create more problems than it solves.
Achieving a high level of compliance from the facility’s patrons is a goal for all skatepark administrators. However, they’re often set against a skateboarding community that has years of anti-compliant behavior behind them. Skateboarders, prior to the new skatepark, are accustomed to searching for recreational space in places that most people would consider inappropriate or even dangerous. No-skateboarding signs are installed with or without jurisdiction all across the city and effectively reduce the recreational terrain to nothing. Many skaters see no-skateboarding signs as a beacon that there may be an attractive structure nearby, and due to the ubiquitous nature of those signs across the community, they are routinely overlooked. The only indication that skateboarding is truly not permitted in the space is when an authority figure personally intervenes. This routine occurrence is exhausting both for the skaters and the person unlucky enough to have an ad-hoc skate attraction on their property.
Even though many communities are finally looking at skateparks to help solve this problem, it’s naïve to expect that a single skatepark for a community is going to immediately draw every skater away from inappropriate places. It’s only part of the solution. After the ribbon cutting, years of learned behavior will not suddenly disappear and the local skateboarders will not be immediately transformed into obedient citizens that skate exclusively in the skatepark and nowhere else. This is often a difficult concept for the non-skating public to grasp.
The skatepark’s ability to attract skateboarders away from inappropriate areas is often reduced by unpopular skatepark policy. For example, a community will support the skatepark proposal in order to reduce risk to its youth by providing a safe place for them to recreate then reduce the attracting power of the skatepark by issuing tickets for not wearing helmets. The skaters then simply return to the streets and the risks associated. The skatepark in this situation is not performing as well as it might.
Two policies are specifically challenging. Mandatory helmets and BMX prohibition are the two rules that are most commonly ignored by skatepark patrons. Raising levels of compliance in these matters are covered thoroughly in their respective sections; Helmet Policy and BMX and Scooter Policy.
Smoking, illicit drug use, and graffiti can be problems where the skatepark location is remote. These infractions are often introduced by non-skaters. Youth are drawn to the skatepark because it’s cool and popular, but when they lack the skill to interact directly with the space as intended, (they don’t have skateboarding experience, for example), they’ll find other ways to “belong” in the space.
Vandals will arrive in the evening and tag the park with the hope that their handiwork will be seen by hundreds of local youth. Individuals that arrive at the park and don’t skate, preferring to sit nearby and bask in the social environment, are sometimes called “lurkers” by skateboarders. These Lurkers frequently smoke, doodle on the furniture, and leave their trash all over the place. They have little awareness of the work that went into creating the skatepark; they only see it as a place to hang out away from adults with other people around their own age.
The key to achieving compliance in any policy lies in the degree of trust between the City and the local skateboarders. Unlike traditional sports, skateboarding communities generally lack a hierarchical social structure and designated authority figures. A trusted relationship must be achieved through open communication and a consistent pattern of reasonable decisions that work for all stakeholders.
A good way that a City can undermine trust with its skateboarders is to make unilateral decisions that affect skaters without their input. (It happens all of the time!) The better direction is to engage the local skaters in meaningful dialog in search of the overarching goals then developing innovative ways to achieve them. Remember: The goal of a helmet policy is not to increase the usage of helmets but rather to make skateboarding safer for its participants.
Public workshops and brainstorming sessions can provide opportunities for the local skateboarding community to offer their ideas and alternative methods for reaching those community goals. At your policy meetings, start with the paramount goal. These should be easy for everyone to agree on.
- The skatepark should remain clean and attractive
- We should make skating at the facility reasonably safe for everyone
- Negative behavior should be kept to a minimum
- The skatepark should serve as a gathering place for the whole community
These points of agreement serve as the basis for a deeper discussion.
- How do we collectively keep the park clean and attractive?
- How do we encourage skaters to recreate safely?
- How do we reduce negative behavior?
- What can we do to attract the general public to the facility?
This is where you will begin to build consensus. As stated before, when the City pulls rank and makes a verdict, if the skaters are not in agreement that policy is not likely to garner widespread compliance. The response to an unpopular policy decision is to unilaterally ignore that policy without the City’s input. It’s the only leverage the skaters have. This typically leads to an escalation of citations. When a portion of these go unpaid, legal actions follow. Sometimes enforcement policy kicks the non-compliant patron out of the park for a period of time. These skaters simply return to the streets where they are at greater risk. In an effort to create a safer environment, many Parks Administrators inadvertently put their youth at risk.
The City may find itself in the unsavory position of inflexible policy requirements that aren’t likely to sit well with local skateboarders. These should be communicated frankly, and their non-negotiable character shared. Without these clear explanations, the local skaters are likely to perceive these rules as arbitrary fixtures that can be arbitrarily ignored.
It’s particularly critical that skatepark rules do not contain unenforceable or unclear rules. These will only undermine those rules that are considered sacrosanct by the City. For example, if rule #1 states, “Helmets must be worn at all times” and rule #2 states, “be respectful to yourself and others,” skaters will take the most liberal interpretation of both rules collectively. Keep your skatepark rules simple and unambiguous.