Guest Column - January 2012
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The Evolution of Public Skateparks

By Ben Wixon

In the second decade of the new millennia public skateparks have become a common sight in cities around the world. It is estimated that in the United States alone there are as many as 3,500 skateparks serving communities of all sizes and demographics. Skateparks can be found in master plans for suburban housing developments, or introduced into older urban areas as part of initiatives to revitalize the quality of life and utilize spaces deemed unsuitable for commercial or residential use. While new concepts for skatepark design and innovations in construction techniques continue, and the demand for public skateparks persists, it is inevitable that constrained budgets will have an influence on their development, design and management plans.

Although economic factors can make creating positive public spaces for skateboarding more challenging, communities recognize the need for skateparks and continue to develop public spaces for skaters to practice their craft. As with many other public projects, municipalities commonly look to foundations and sponsors to help underwrite skatepark costs. Other factors influencing the design and development of these skateparks include skateboarding trends in general, aesthetic appeal, management approaches, and the evolution of construction techniques and materials.

One design trend can be seen simply in the size and shape of many new skateparks being built today. As skatepark planners and designers look for creative ways to include skateparks in public areas, modern skatepark design challenges assumptions of what a skatepark actually looks like. Traditionally skateparks have had a conventional or "squared" footprint that can range anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 square feet in size. The perimeter is typically square or rectangular in shape with different designs and features laid out in an endless amount of variations. Today, modern skateparks may be linear in shape, or integrated into pre-existing public spaces. Rather than attempting to "skate-proof" or mitigate skateboarding in undesignated areas, many cities are now planning multi-use areas that include skateboarding as one of the intended uses of the public space. This solution helps reduce the impact of skateboarding on areas where it's not appropriate without dramatically increasing the capital improvement budget.

Influencing concepts for many of these more modern parks is the surrounding environment itself, as well as innovations in construction and design. Green building techniques like rain gardens and green channels included in skatepark designs add visual appeal as they help manage stormwater runoff and the excessive amounts of heat that can be absorbed by skateparks. Most skate "plazas" mimic street elements or different features of urban architecture, and including trees and shrubs makes the skatepark experience more enjoyable for the skaters.

In addition to green building techniques, detailing skateparks has become quite common and can be seen in the use of integral color, concrete stain and stamping for concrete, cantilevered quarter pipes, granite features, steel/concrete hybrid elements and obstacles, and the use of skateable works of art. Skatepark designers will also look to use materials found on site or locally like rocks/boulders, fill dirt, and recycled concrete or asphalt to use as base rock for new concrete.

New construction materials are also changing the way many skateparks are being built. Innovative materials like high-density foam blocks placed under poured concrete surfaces help to simplify the grading and excavation process and can lower overall weight making it possible to build concrete skateparks in places not possible before. These foam blocks can also make renovations for older skateparks more practical and realistic. One example of this can be seen in a recent renovation of the 14-year-old Desert West Skatepark in Phoenix. In preparation for the annual "Phoenix Am" contest, new features and obstacles were constructed in the older park to add variety for the competition and long-term improvements for local skaters. These renovations were made possible by a public/private partnership between the city, a local skate retailer, a large corporate sponsor and a skatepark designer/builder.