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

Trend: Plaza-Style, Streetscape Design

A decade ago, skateparks were concrete or modular facilities contained in a defined environment singularly aimed at hosting skaters. No longer.

As skaters have clamored for banks, ledges and lower transitions, and local residents have voiced their desire for multi-function park spaces that offer non-skateboarder amenities, such as picnic benches or even bird-watching stations, the plaza layout has emerged a dominant trend.

"By and large, locals want to feel that the park has more use than a skatepark. They want to feel that the park has a role in the urban landscape," Nims said.

In St. Cloud, the skate plaza boasts an artistic flair as much as compelling rider elements. The design includes access to the park from pedestrian walkways and spectator seating zones, as well as the use of recycled local granite and drainage swales incorporated into the park's skate features and obstacles. The drainage collection of water is then directed into three separate rain gardens located on the park's interior. Diverse colored circulation lanes, stamped brick and real granite ledges with a wide array of floating ledges and rails complete the compelling and functional look.

"The future is not in the vertical but the horizontal," Zlotnik said. "It's been a change in thinking, but one we feel benefits skaters and non-skaters alike."

Across Minnesota in the City of Bemidji, another streetscape style skate plaza, opened in November 2010. Resembling a downtown square, the Bemidji Skate Park shares an inviting, welcoming aesthetic with multiple entry points and, most tellingly, no fences. While the 16,000-square-foot park hosts inviting skater features, including street elements such as a skateable planter and handrail, the plaza style transforms the park into a multi-user space.

"Our whole thought was: This is a public park, not some skating park that was an afterthought," City of Bemidji Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson said. "We wanted a free public space and wanted it integrated into the larger park, so that everything fits into one greater design.

"Not even the cold is keeping people away," she added.

Though BMX parks are sometimes designed with many of the same user elements as a skatepark, the facilities differ in scale. While this reality is likely to challenge BMX park design from entering the plaza-like setting, some designers see promise in merging the streetscape design with BMX elements as has easily been accomplished with skateboarding.