Advocacy Misconceptions

You may begin your effort believing that the skatepark will be a cool thing for your community. Your understanding of skateparks may not go much deeper than that. You may have already made the connection between skateparks and youth obesity, that a kid on a skateboard is a kid that isn’t doing drugs or getting into trouble, and that a skatepark will help reduce the “nuisance” of skateboarding downtown. These are all effective platforms for your skatepark message, but you’ll need much more.

What you don’t know about skateparks probably outweighs what you know. That will change. Before long you will be the local expert on skateboarding and skateparks. You will work to correct other peoples’ misconceptions about skateboarding and skateboarders.

Over time, you will gain valuable insight and learn what advocacy techniques work and what techniques don’t. These lessons sometimes come at a high cost to your project’s progress. Most are avoidable and can be prevented by something as simple as a shift in tone, emphasizing a different aspect of the project, or clearly establishing what characteristics of the project are negotiable and what characteristics are not. One of the goals of this Public Skatepark Development Guide is to help you avoid these detours.

The most common misconceptions propagated by inexperienced advocates are:

  • The skate industry will rally behind this project.
  • The city hates skateboarders.
  • Skateboarding is perfect in every way.
  • The skatepark will cause an increase in tourism.
  • Everyone that has a concern wants to shut the project down.
  • The park might be paid for by one wealthy donor.
  • The skatepark will take a few months.
  • It is better to ask for something small than something large.
  • One nicely worded email will make all the difference.
  • Rob Dyrdek or Tony Hawk might build it for us.
  • Anything is better than nothing.
  • “No” means “never.”
  • It’s not worth the effort.

The reason these misconceptions exist is because each holds a kernel of truth, but they are not as significant as most beginning advocates seem to think. What really drives skatepark advocacy is enthusiasm, contagious positivity, unwavering commitment, and trusted partnerships. Each of these misconceptions will resolve itself as you gain experience and gather information.

Here is that same list, corrected:

  • The skate industry may help in small, limited ways.
  • The city doesn’t understand skateboarders.
  • Skateboarding has challenges that must be managed.
  • Some skateparks attract skaters from a wide area.
  • Some community concerns are valid and should be negotiated.
  • The park will be paid for by engaging diverse and creative sources.
  • The skatepark will take a few years.
  • It is better to propose a plan that meets your community’s needs.
  • Thousands of nicely worded emails will make all the difference.
  • Rob Dyrdek and Tony Hawk are just a few of our many resources.
  • A skatepark failure is worse than no skatepark.
  • “No” means you’re not asking the right question.
  • It’s totally worth the effort.

Through experience, you will learn that there are dozens of ways of understanding and depicting your skatepark project. For each misconception about the skatepark, your experience will allow you to meet them with a comfortable, nuanced way of addressing that concern.

“A skate-WHAT?”
When you mention “skatepark” to an uninitiated audience, you don’t really know what they visualize. Imagine that you are standing in front of a City Council meeting to talk about the skatepark project. The council and members of the audience listen politely, but each individual is thinking of something different:

When you say:
“We’d like to see a new skatepark for our community.”

They hear:
“We’d like to build a stadium with a bunch of ramps in it.”

This person has watched contests and demos on television. They imagine a large halfpipe with people flying through the air and thousands of spectators. That kind of facility seems inappropriate for your town and so they think skateboarding is a poor cultural fit. Their preconceptions have influenced their idea of a skatepark.

They also might hear:
“We’d like to have a place to be noisy and disruptive.”

This person walks their dog near the school. Whenever a skater rolls by the dog freaks out. The skater just keeps going without a word (probably to get away from the snarling dog). This person sees skateboarders as inconsiderate and disruptive. They consider that a skatepark will be filled with inconsiderate youth that make a racket all day and night. Again, their idea of a skatepark is colored by their personal experience.

Or maybe they hear:
“We are suicidal and need a place to break our necks!”

This person is an involved parent and is concerned that the facility might encourage reckless youth behavior. They envision kids limping away from the skatepark with scrapes and bruises. All they see is risk.

Perhaps they hear:
“We expect the town to pay for our hobby.”

Massive crowds are not the norm for skateparks, but most non-skaters don't realize that. Image courtesy: TeamPain

Massive crowds are not the norm for skateparks, but most non-skaters don’t realize that.
Image courtesy: TeamPain

This person is a fiscal hawk and skeptical of any public spending for anything, and quickly concludes that the value to the community isn’t worth any public funding. They see skateboarding as a fad that appeals only to a small number of youth. Their opinion of the skatepark is influenced by their political views.

… and so on.

Not all preconceptions are negative. Many people see skateparks in the same way you do: community gathering spaces that celebrate and support a particular kind of recreational activity. An effective advocate knows how to carefully choose their words and phrases to help people imagine the skatepark accurately.

Make no mistake: Skateparks are controversial. But there are ways of managing these preconceptions and avoiding the common pitfalls that come with advocating for a polarizing issue. For every positive opinion of skateboarders and skateparks, there is a negative one, and vice versa. You will learn how to manage these issues more in Chapter 2. For now, you only need to recognize that you have a responsibility to understand skateparks in a way that can break through these preconceptions.