Guest Column - January 2011
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Skatepark Smarts
Using Programming to Promote a Positive Park

By Ben Wixon

Picture this scenario. A community decides the kids playing basketball in the streets and driveways of homes and local businesses are becoming a public nuisance. In an effort to give kids a safer place to practice their skills, the city creates a community basketball court superior to any other basketball facilities in town. The court is a huge success with hundreds of users daily, and is by far the most popular destination for local basketball players (and has even begun to attract players from nearby communities). Although the park is almost always crowded, it is left alone to the participants to self-regulate, mitigate issues, mentor youth and discourage illicit behavior.

This scenario may seem illogical, but this is the accepted management approach for most public skateparks around the world.

Establishing a positive skatepark climate is essential to ensuring a public skatepark continues to be valued as an asset (and not a liability) by the local community. It is commonly said that "skateparks are a barometer for the community and neighborhood they serve." Although a skatepark climate will be most heavily influenced by the accepted behaviors of the clientele it serves, a safe and positive skatepark atmosphere can also be fostered and encouraged through a number of different programming strategies.

Every skatepark is unique, but all of them need a positive mentoring presence and a strong sense of ownership from local skaters. Establishing and cultivating this "mentoring climate" in skateparks can be achieved in a number of different ways. In private or formally supervised skateparks, the process is usually fairly simple as adults and older more responsible skaters are typically present as staff performing day-to-day park operations. For unsupervised skateparks, a positive atmosphere can be encouraged less formally through park programming and special events.

Quality skatepark design and construction are essential ingredients to a park's success, but even a properly designed park cannot ensure ownership from the local skate community and a positive environment for all users. Skateboarders are notoriously finicky and may quickly "shun" an out-of-control skatepark that is perpetually over-crowded with non-skaters loitering and inexperienced users creating hazardous situations. Experienced and responsible park patrons can quickly become frustrated with the relentless distractions of this kind of atmosphere. Quite commonly skaters will forgo the skatepark and settle for skating with fewer distractions outside of the park (sometimes even in the parking lot of the skatepark itself).

So, what can a community do to help prevent a hazardous climate before it becomes a problem? One strategy is offering a variety of programs intended to help educate less experienced users and encourage older, more experienced skaters to assume leadership roles. Creating quality skatepark programming can help temper a park environment by empowering and educating users, while establishing a consistent presence in the park of responsible role models. Park programming can be as informal as free informational clinics facilitated by park stewards, or as formal as structured skateboarding lessons and camps taught by trained instructors. Also, successful skate programs can generate additional revenue as they provide a service to their community.