In this article, skateboarding expert, Ben Wixon, discusses various aspects of skatepark design and construction, as well as strategies for incorporating skateparks into the design of a community.
Evolution of Public Skateparks
In the second decade of the new millennia public skateparks have become a common sight in cities around the world. It is estimated that in the United States alone there are as many as 3,5000 skateparks serving communities of all sizes and demographics. Skateparks can be found in master plans for suburban housing developments, or introduced into older urban areas as part of initiatives to revitalize the quality of life and utilize spaces deemed unsuitable for commercial or residential use. While new concepts for skatepark design and innovations in construction techniques continue, and the demand for public skateparks persists, it is inevitable that constrained budgets will have an influence on their development, design, and management plans.
Although economic factors can make creating positive public spaces for skateboarding more challenging, communities recognize the need for skateparks and continue to develop public spaces for skaters to practice their craft. As with many other public projects municipalities commonly look to foundations and sponsors to help underwrite skatepark costs. Other factors influencing the design and development of these skateparks include skateboarding trends in general, aesthetic appeal, management approaches, and the evolution of construction techniques and materials.
One design trend can be seen simply in the size and shape of many new skateparks being built today. As skatepark planners and designers look for creative ways to include skateparks in public areas modern skatepark design challenges assumptions of what a skatepark actually looks like. Traditionally skateparks have had a conventional or “squared” footprint that can range anywhere from five thousand to fifty thousand square feet in size. The perimeter is typically square or rectangular in shape with different designs and features laid out in an endless amount of variations. Today, modern skateparks may be linear in shape, or integrated into pre-existing public spaces. Rather than attempting to “skate-proof” or mitigate skateboarding in undesignated areas, many cities are now planning multi-use areas that include skateboarding as one of the intended uses of the public space. This solution helps reduce the skateboarding impact on areas where it’s not appropriate without dramatically increasing the capital improvement budget.
Influencing concepts for many of these more modern parks is the surrounding environment itself, as well as innovations in construction and design. Green building techniques like rain gardens and green channels included in skatepark designs add visual appeal as they help manage storm water run off and the excessive amounts of heat that can be absorbed by skateparks. Most skate “plazas” mimic street elements, or different features of urban architecture, and including trees and shrubs makes the skatepark experience more enjoyable for the skaters. In addition to green building techniques, detailing skateparks has become quite common and can be seen in the use of integral color, concrete stain and stamping for concrete, cantilevered quarter pipes, granite features, steel/concrete hybrid elements and obstacles, and the use of skateable works of art. Skatepark designers will also look to use materials found on site or locally like rocks/boulders, fill dirt, and recycled concrete or asphalt to use as base rock for new concrete.
New construction materials are also changing the way many skateparks are being built today. Innovative materials like high density foam blocks placed under poured concrete surfaces help to simplify the grading and excavation process and can lower overall weight making it possible to build concrete skateparks in places not possible before. These foam blocks can also make renovations for older skateparks more practical and realistic. One example of this can be seen in a recent renovation of the fourteen-year-old Desert West Skatepark in Phoenix Arizona. In preparation for the annual “Phoenix Am” contest new features and obstacles were constructed in the older park to add variety for the competition and long-term improvements for local skaters. These renovations were made possible by a public/private partnership between the city, a local skate retailer, a large corporate sponsor, and a skatepark designer/builder.
Other evolving facets of public skateparks are the policies and management approaches employed by cities and organizations. According to Tony Hawk Foundation Program Director Peter Whitley we are seeing a slow erosion of harsh helmet and pad requirements at skateparks. He feels that getting kids off the street, where they’re in danger of being hit by cars, is the single most dramatic thing we can do to ensure a skateboarder’s safety. Once skaters are in the skateparks and they are operating in a sustainable way, the community can encourage greater helmet use with incentives and access to safety gear. It seems that the “less is more” approach to supervision is growing as many initial fears of liability issues have failed to materialize and cities look to cut operational costs of facilities.
More important than enforcing rules on safety gear is establishing clearly posted signage throughout the park that outlines park rules and expectations, recommendations regarding safety, as well as the state’s liability law regarding recreational activities and facilities. Many communities are finding that their completed skateparks can even generate revenue by offering programming and lessons. Skateboarding classes, clinics, and camps in completed skateparks can have lower overhead than many traditional recreation programs and encourage a positive climate by establishing a consistent adult presence in the park.
So what types of skatepark design and materials may become obsolete in the next ten years? To answer this question I surveyed a number of experts in the field of skatepark development and advocacy. The experts surveyed unanimously agreed that concrete surfaces have overwhelmingly become the material of choice for skateboarding performance and durability. Whitley thinks we will see less and less public parks with wood or paper/polymer surfaces, and that metal skateparks are showing signs of “critical failure.” Carter Dennis of Skaters for Public Skateparks believes that metal surfaced skateparks reflect excessive heat and even contribute to noise pollution. Colby Carter, Lead Designer for California Skateparks states that “you need the right material for each specific project. The space, the budget, the client, and the nature of the project all affect the materials used and the architecture/engineering of the design.” Although concrete is overwhelmingly the material of choice for outdoor parks, wood and polymer surfaced skateparks are still common for indoor parks and large half pipes. New techniques for construction are even creating hybrids of wood and metal combined with concrete surfaces for less permanent skateparks, indoor facilities, competitions, and events.
Although we can never know for sure what the future will hold, we do know that skateparks have become essential parts of recreation portfolios across the globe. As designs evolve and innovations continue, the durability, aesthetic appeal, and performance of public skateparks will inevitably improve as well. An unchanging variable crucial to making these parks successful is involving local skaters in the planning process and utilizing qualified contractors specializing in skatepark construction and design. In addition, employing a sound management plan and planning for programming can be critical as well. If your city is looking to create a new skateboarding facility, introduce lessons and programming, or renovate and revitalize an older park there are a number of resources to look to. Some of these resources include:
- The Tony Hawk Foundation; http://www.tonyhawkfoundation.org
- The Rob Dyrdek Foundation; http://robdyrdekfoundation.org
- Drop In to Skateboarding; www.dropintoskateboarding.com
- Skaters for Public Skateparks; http://www.skatepark.org
Ben Wixon is a skateboarding expert. He provides investigations, reports, and testimony in matters involving skateboarder actions; skatepark design and management; and the administration of skate events, camps, and competitions.
Ben Wixon is the master trainer for Nike Skateboarding, a recreation leader with Portland Parks and Recreation, director of development for Skaters for Portland Skateparks, a published author, and middle school teacher in Portland Oregon. Ben has extensive experience instructing and managing programs for all levels of skateboarding and has a background in skatepark construction. Wixon was a sponsored skateboarder for nearly a decade, competing and performing public demonstrations.