Guest Column - April 2009
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The Rite Site, The Right Design

By Peter Whitley

Fences Create Separation and Isolation

Security fences are installed around skateparks for a variety of reasons. Some claim it is to prevent access by unwanted users. They are also used to define the boundary of the designated skating space. Most often it is the result of a risk assessment that considers the skating space a liability to the general public. While a fence may protect the park from unwanted visitors and nearby property from unwanted skaters, there is a significant psychological impact on the skatepark users.

Fenced spaces suggest private, exclusive properties, and only those who can claim a legitimate stake in the space feel comfortable being there. Those who are unsure about their skatepark visit will be made more uncomfortable by the barrier.

At first, this may seem like an acceptable exchange by the average park planner, but consider what kind of activity the fence will keep out. Younger users—as well as their parents—will feel understandably unsure about recreating there. Parents will tend to drop their kids off rather than watching. Younger children will feel excluded from the interesting forms. The message becomes one of exclusion and privilege rather than community participation. In all but the most advanced styles of skateparks, there is little benefit to enclosing the space with a fence.

Plan for Success

Skateboarding participation has been steadily increasing for the last three decades, but it's only recently that communities have identified the enormous need for skateparks. Today communities want to know how much skatepark is needed and, once built, what kind of programming will be successful there.

Early adopters of the skatepark boom often explored their local need with a few ramps on an unused tennis court and provided little or no programming. Many of these types of facilities are dormant as the skaters have flocked to the more popular concrete parks.

Contemporary skateparks feature the kinds of structures found "in the wild." The concrete forms are often textured and dyed to mimic the institutional architecture found in business plazas. When a skatepark contains the curvilinear forms characterized by bowls and snake-runs, these too have a calculated logic that provides a unique riding experience. Ramps on a slab of concrete or abandoned tennis court have never come close to providing this kind of interactive experience.

An experienced skatepark designer will provide your skateboarding community with a facility that can meet all levels of skill. Your skateboarding community will respond accordingly; a quality park will demonstrate your commitment to your community's needs. Any professional skatepark designer will deliver a substantial design dialogue with your skateboarding community. These design workshops will add to the ownership and stewardship of your final facility by its passionate users.