Troublemaker to Community Catalyst

Every skatepark in the nation is the result of community activism and skateboarding advocacy. However, for the members of the advocacy group, the facility is only one benefit for your years of hard work.

Relentless Problem-Solving
Skatepark advocacy is difficult. Every challenge, great or small, must be addressed. Every requirement must be met, and every task must be performed. To compound the difficulty, most skatepark advocates have never tried anything like it before. The skatepark is a serious and challenging facility to create, and it probably will be your introduction to community activism, project management, fundraising, and nonprofit organizations. The advocacy effort is a living classroom where lessons are learned and your “final project” is a park that will serve the community for generations.

Earning Respect
Throughout the process you will give dozens of presentations and answer hundreds of questions about the project. You will bridge the wide gap between the rough-and-tumble skateboarding community and local decision-makers. You will translate the needs of the skaters in terms the broader community can understand and support, and interpret the expectations of the community in ways that the skateboarding community can meet. In other words, you will become a respected community leader, and you will elevate the reputation of all skateboarders in your community by association, and marshal a group of disorganized youth with little interest in community activism into a force to be reckoned with. It’s an important job.

Mastering Communication Skills
Your challenge is to promote the creation of a space that many people will not support. There will be fights and disagreements. Their reasons may or may not have anything to do with their impressions of skateboarding culture, risk, or even capital improvements. For example, it is a concrete facility, when some people favor green space. It will specifically attract counter-cultural teenage boys, when some people see skateboarders as social degenerates. It will promote daring stunts and risk-taking, when some would prefer a more “positive, healthy activity” like baseball. Not every challenge can be met with the same answer, and you will learn how to carefully listen to others’ concerns and respond to them in a way that (hopefully) produces another skatepark supporter.

Learning to Turn No to Yes
You will start with only a tentative understanding of the capital improvement process, and will represent a group that may carry negative stereotypes. Along the way you will face challenges that will seem insurmountable. People will tell you “no.” (Every skatepark advocate has been told “no” so many times that hearing a “yes” can catch you off-guard.) Yet, you WILL see the skatepark built and it WILL be a success.

Skatepark meeting in Charleston, SC.  Image courtesy: Charleston City Paper

Skatepark meeting in Charleston, SC.
Image courtesy: Charleston City Paper

Induction to a Micro-Community
Successful skatepark advocates are a subculture within the skateboarding subculture. They share tales from the trenches, trade observations, and distribute helpful tools and interesting statistics. Many skatepark advocates know what groups are responsible for their favorite parks and are honored to meet fellow advocates responsible for such highly regarded facilities. When skatepark advocates travel to other communities, they seek out parks and learn first-hand what worked and what didn’t, so that they can avoid those mistakes in their own projects and emphasize those parts that work well.

Respect From Your Peers
Youth are drawn to skateboarding by the complex mix of physical athleticism, individualistic creativity, and street-culture credibility. As an advocate, chances are that you are a skater. You will earn the respect of other skaters and they will appreciate your commitment to skateboarding. Community leaders will come to see you as someone that has reached out farther than most to represent your constituents. Over time, other community groups will see your successes and invite you to partner up, hoping to capitalize on some of the exciting momentum you and the other skaters have accumulated.

Managing Your Influence
Here’s a short story that illustrates what kind of influence you can exert in your town. A parks planner was approached by a woman interested in getting a new off-leash dog park. She had talked to everyone about the project but couldn’t seem to get any good advice and her project was stalled. The planner didn’t have an easy answer for her, but he suggested that she talk to the local skateboarders because, “They know how to get things done.” The skatepark advocacy group was able to point out things she hadn’t tried, and infuse her effort with a renewed enthusiasm. If anyone knows how to start from way behind and finish way ahead, it’s skatepark advocates. Your fellow skatepark advocates all know that although you have been dealt a bad hand, you will still win in the end because your mission is important, you have perseverance, and you know that the skatepark is inevitable.

Passing Your Wisdom Along
When it’s all done, you will share your unique and valuable experiences with people that are just starting out. Your community will see you as the local skateboarding expert. In many ways, most experienced skatepark advocates don’t fully realize how good at advocacy they are. They are valuable members of the community and speak for a group of people seldom represented in places like City Hall.