Friday, July 3, 2009

21st Century skate park design : Fusion of skating's surfing and urban influences

Skateboarding has had a lot of challenges thrown at it, so much that you would think the activity would have died a long time ago. It’s still outlawed in most cities with the exception of Vancouver, Canada. Thanks to these challenges, we have seen skateboarding persistently evolve into an activity that has become a host of many skating subcultures that surfaced by its mechanism of its survival. Because of this diversity, it is critical that that both our urban and skate park architect’s designs reflect their awareness of these various subcultures and the skate styles/designs associated with them.

However, depending on who is advocating for the skate park, one subculture’s preferences can weigh in heavily, at the exclusion of the other. Today I read an article that exemplified this.Here is the link to the article. A follow up post can be found on the author's blog.

Shown above is the impressive design of the proposed Paine park skate plaza. Click on it for a better look. For more pictures go to the design page for the project.

Below is a response that I sent to the author who was espousing the amazing design of the future Paine skate plaza in Philadelphia. This skate plaza like it’s Love park predecessor (R.I.P Love) will likely be hailed as the new urban design standard for naturally integrating urban skating into a modern city park.

“I just finished reading your article you published last year in the Philadelphia Enquirer about the need to embrace the skate culture by re-evaluating our approach to urban design.

The Paine's park project that you are working on will clearly demonstrate to other city planners how to effectively design urban parks that will accommodate, encourage and withstand the wear-and tear of the growing population of urban dwellers that skateboard.

Currently in Memphis, we have a new urban park, known as the Beale Street Landing that is being constructed that looks similar in concept to the Philadelphia’s Paine park plans. The main difference being that it was not intentionally designed for skateboarding. Hopefully we will have a more civil outcome then what was experienced for Love Park since according to a number of our "street" skateboarders our new park looks like a world-class skate plaza.

Clearly with your involvement in the Paine project, you have become a major "non-skateboarder" advocate for the Philadelphia skate community, kudos to you for serving in a role that every city needs- Philadelphia has needed one for a long time. I have found myself stepping into that role here for the Memphis skate community while working as a full time scientist at St. Jude.

You mentioned that skateboarding has largely evolved from away from its surfing roots to more of an urban movement. This is absolutely true especially since 99% of the skate population lives somewhere besides the coast. What I did want to clarify with you was your claim that self-contained skate parks have become an "outmoded" form of skating and that skateboarders these days largely are looking for natural urban terrain. It’s not that simple. This switch was not a natural evolution. Back in the 1970's most of the concrete “self-contained” parks that were built to emulate surfing (i.e. snake runs, interconnected bowls) were owned by Mom and Pop set-ups as well as a number of investors who thought they could cash in on the huge wave of popularity. Skate parks as they found out, were not profitable endeavors so most of the parks became more Mom and Pop set-ups which was fine for awhile until liability insurance started to sky-rocket and forced a lot of the skate parks to close. The same thing happened in our city last year when we lost our only skate park which was a privately owned indoor park-their rent doubled. We lost most of our skate parks in the 1980's and skateboarders had no choice but to go to the streets. Thankfully today, most skate parks are public domain.

However, the surfing roots of skateboarding run strong in our skateboarding community and most of our Memphis skaters are frankly tired of solely skating on the street and crave skating elements that are not found in the streetscape. We had a meeting with 20 skateboarders, all “street” or urban skateboarders, with the Germantown (a local suburb) Parks staff last year. They had received $100K to update their skate park and wanted to know what the skateboarders wanted. Unanimously, all 20 youth asked for a skate bowl. My main point is, as one advocate to another it's important to realize that while some venues may appear 'outmoded", in reality the evolution of skating venues was simply a mechanism of survival. “Self-contained” skate parks are just as critical a component to a skate friendly city as is designing new urban elements/architecture that accommodate skateboarders that work, live and skate in the area. A “self-contained” park, when carefully and thoughtfully designed, provides a family friendly area where kids can safely learn to skateboard. At these parks, elements can be designed so that new participants, young or old, can incrementally increase their skill levels without making dangerous attempts to master urban skate elements that they are not ready for.

In reality, we have a heterogeneous skateboarding population some of which as they become more skillful will be drawn to the “street” design, others will be more drawn to surfing curvy-linear design while most of us will cross-pollinate and skate a little of both.

As advocates we should clearly articulate the importance of each design/facility and be certain to promote both so that future generations of kids and potential users have access to the full skate experience.

Thanks again for your dedicated efforts to make a Philadelphia a great place for people to skate!



Bottom line: Building a 21st premier skate park means to design the skating elements to be inclusive as possible to diverse range of users- both skateboarders and participants in other activities such as skiing, snowboarding and roller skating who could benefit from cross-training in a park who’s design allows for that option. This is particularly important in Memphis where outdoor recreation enthusiasts have limited options.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Well put Aaron. The world's best skate park would appeal to all skating styles as well as all people outside the skating culture.