Feature Article - February 2011
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Get In On the Action

Action Sports Parks Bigger, Better, More Balanced Than Ever

By Daniel P. Smith

The Need for Parks

According to the Tony Hawk Foundation, arguably the nation's most influential skatepark proponent given the name and credibility of legendary pro skater Tony Hawk, the United States currently hosts 13 million skateboarders yet fewer than 2,000 skateparks.

In the Philadelphia area, the Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund has become the region's chief skatepark champion. The one-time advocacy group has morphed into a community development group that claims a role in the creation of five current Philadelphia area skateparks and, more recently, drafted a master plan for the City of Brotherly Love's west side that will include the addition of 80,000 square feet of skatepark land.

"Skateboarding is one of the nation's highest participation sports, but there are simply not enough facilities across the country," Franklin's Paine board president Joshua Nims said.

The clear inequity is what led Nims and others in 2000 to establish Franklin's Paine, an organization inspired by the grassroots upswell in other American cities, namely Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Largely a result of a negative stigma attached to the sport, the 1990s saw local governments and municipalities enforce a reactive approach to skateboarders with the posting of no skateboarding signs alongside threats of fines or prosecution.

In contrast, Franklin's Paine touted a proactive philosophy that many civic parks and recreation departments now share: If you don't have a skatepark, then your city becomes one. The same philosophy holds true for areas with heavy BMX ridership as well.

"It can be difficult to get the taxpayers to see this," confessed St. Cloud's Zlotnik, "but having a defined place for skaters is the right thing to do. If we don't provide the skate plaza, then the city becomes the skate plaza."

Hiram Hubert, a county commissioner with the City of Andrews, Texas, a 15,000-resident town that hosts both a skate and bike park, added, "We had a desire to get our skaters and bikers off the street and wanted to be proactive. It's as much about liability as anything."

Yet, tossing up a fence and planting ramps in a haphazard, uneducated way merely to remove skaters and riders from the streets is no recipe for success. A number of trends are pushing skateboarding and BMX parks into a heartier era and, in the process, defining a new type of action sports park planning and design process that transcends once-accepted norms.