Physical Barriers in the Built Environment

Geographic and man-made structures can have an effect on the skatepark vision. The biggest impact comes from those structures that separate neighborhoods or prevent access.

Freeways, highways, major arterials, industrial zones, rivers, lakes, wetlands, big hills, and major retail districts can each create barriers for young pre-driving skateboarders to the skatepark.

Urban Waterway

There are several man-made and natural features that can restrict access to the skatepark.
Image courtesy:

These environmental obstacles, especially major roads and rivers, can add significant travel time to a destination. Skateparks function best when regular visitors can easily walk or skate to the facility.  For the skateboarder that has to travel an extra mile to reach the skatepark because the nearest bridge or underpass is a half-mile out of their way, the impediment can mean the difference between going to the skatepark or just skating at a closer, unsanctioned spot.

The effective service radius for a neighborhood skatepark is about a mile. Due to environmental obstacles, this means that the service area is not a perfect circle, but rather one that follows the natural and man-made barriers that fall within it.

Major streets can be barriers as well. Younger children often face parental boundaries and are not permitted to cross major arterials on their own. Juveniles may not need to manage this constraint, but may feel uncomfortable travelling to another neighborhood. In areas with lots of gang activity, neighborhood boundaries can be a major consideration when considering travel by foot.

Common natural barriers:

Green spaces (large parks, green belts)
Bluffs, ravines, steep hills
Rivers, creeks, reservoirs

Common man-made barriers:

Freeways, highways, major streets
Industrial and business (non-retail) districts
High-security properties

The most significant barrier in any situation is distance. Other natural and man-made barriers are considered barriers because they add distance between the potential park patron and the park destination.

Industrial and Agricultural Areas

Industrial and agricultural areas can prohibit access to skateparks. Agricultural areas are uncommon in urban areas, but larger cities will often have dozens of industrial zones.

Industrial areas can seem ideal for a

Industrial areas can seem ideal for a “controversial” skatepark, but access is constrained and other problems are introduced.
Image courtesy: Portland Ground

Industrial zones can be a skater’s playground on the weekends when most businesses are closed. The loading docks, parking lots, and vast slabs of concrete can attract experienced and mobile skaters. However, younger and less experienced skaters may feel uncomfortable recreating in these remote and desolate environments… even, perhaps, to the degree that they would not want to cross them to reach the skatepark.

Industrial and non-retail business districts (e.g., “downtown”) are areas that often serve as the community skatepark when a sanctioned, purpose-built skatepark isn’t available.

Agricultural areas are often mixed with suburban neighborhoods from a zoning standpoint. Newer suburban developments are often filled with cul-de-sacs, long winding roads, an absence of sidewalks, and little or infrequent public transportation. These areas are difficult to cross and while the long, indirect routes may be of little consequence to someone in a car, they can add significant travel time to someone on foot or skateboard.

Agricultural areas and farmland are special challenges for skatepark development due to a lack of urban infrastructure and sparse population density.

Suburban housing developments, on the other hand, can be excellent candidates for small skate spots. In many areas, housing developers are required to include some degree of recreational or open space in their projects. Skateparks can, and should, be a candidate for these land developers looking for recreational direction.

Public Attractions

There are areas of town that can hinder access to the skatepark, and there are characteristics that can help attract people to the skatepark.

Large Parks
Skateparks within larger developed park properties are the best way to ensure the skatepark is accessible by a regular group of skaters. Park properties are traditional locations for skateparks due primarily to the alignment of missions. Parks Departments are prepared to facilitate the creation of the skatepark, and the resources to maintain it.

More importantly, parks are places where the community gathers. Skateparks should always aim to offer the most interaction between skateboarders and the broader public as possible. Public parks already attract the public, so they make great candidates for skateparks.

Proximity to Tourist Attractions and Districts
Skateboarders enjoy audiences. Skaters have plenty of places where they can skate in solitude, but skating in an area with lots of other pedestrian activity is appealing for most. This proximity creates ample unplanned social interactions and will mitigate undesired behavior at the skatepark through passive supervision.

Additionally, the subtext of putting the skatepark in an area with lots of tourism is not lost on the skaters. When a community is so proud of their youth and the skatepark that they are willing to put it where people from outside of the area can see it, that sends an important message to the skateboarding youth.

Proximity to Schools
Kids feel comfortable near schools. They know where schools are relative to their homes, and are familiar with the immediate neighborhood. For most students, the vicinity around a school is a “safe area.”

Skateparks near schools will introduce children to positive recreational play. Image courtesy: Heather Flett

Skateparks near schools will introduce children to positive recreational play.
Image courtesy: Heather Flett

Skateparks within a block or two from a school will have lots of people walking by, and it will add to the school’s position as a neighborhood landmark. Core skateboarders will often go directly to the skatepark after school, then go home after a few hours of skating. Associating a skatepark with a school, through proximity, can provide an attractive after-school attraction and, for some, augment students’ physical activity regimen.

Student-aged people form the majority of skateboarders, so putting skateparks near schools, colleges, and universities makes perfect sense.

Proximity to Public Buildings and Agencies
Libraries, police stations, and fire stations are good candidates for nearby skateparks. Libraries, like schools, serve as community gathering places. There is good alignment between libraries and skateparks. Libraries serve the community in similar ways as skateparks, and the two types of activities build on the other’s popularity.  In some cases, the library can help provide essential services to nearby skateboarders such as a water fountain, restroom, and emergency phone.

Proximity to Shopping
Skateparks near supermarkets, big-box stores, and retail districts see an increase in participation by families drawn to shopping. Skateboarding members of the family use the opportunity to visit the skatepark while other family members shop.

Furthermore, many skateboarders will get to the skatepark on foot (or skating). Foot traffic increases retail sales. This aspect may be of interest to the local business community.