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

By Peter Whitley


kateparks are hot. Communities all over the country are considering one, and many park planners indicate that a new skatepark is in their future. However, just because they're popular doesn't mean that it's easy to create the kind of success story everyone wants. In fact, a few poor decisions can quickly turn what should be a progressive, visionary space into an unpopular and controversial eyesore. With the recent boom in skateparks going, we now have plenty of evidence to determine what works and what doesn't.

A Great Site Makes a Great Space

Few people have an issue with skateboarding when it's someplace appropriate. In fact, skateboarding is fun to watch. Cities that have their skateparks where people can see them have developed a new admiration for the skill and tenacity required of skaters. Similarly, no skateboarder wants to be skating where it's not allowed; they would prefer to be doing their tricks in the public realm. When skateparks are located in remote areas of town, the social exclusion and lack of visibility work against the vibrancy and health of that facility.

When a new park was planned for Ballard, an urban village near downtown Seattle, the skating structure was put in the middle of a grand lawn with nearby benches and a sculptural water feature. As a result, visitors have plenty of options. There are nearby coffee shops, a library across the street and plenty of other things to do in the immediate area. Visitors may skate or, more likely, sit back with their latte and library book and hang out in the park. The important thing is that the space is shared by diverse users, reflecting the character and values of the neighborhood where it's located.