Feature Article - October 2015
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Attracting Teens, Reducing Trouble

Skateparks & Bike Parks Engage Hard-to-Reach Demographics & Improve Communities

By Chris Gelbach

As park departments struggle to attract the teen and tween demographics, they're also seeking ways to revive underused and troubled parks. In a growing number of communities, public skateparks and bike parks are providing a successful solution to both challenges.

When these projects are successful, their initial momentum typically emerges at the grassroots level from a strong local community of bike or skateboard enthusiasts.

"I've helped build public skateparks around the world, and every time there's been some kind of advocacy behind it, whether it was a group of skateboarders who have gotten organized or a group of parents who have gotten organized," said Carter Dennis, executive director of Skaters for Public Skateparks, a nonprofit skatepark advocacy organization. "There has to be some kind of advocacy behind it. There has to be some kind of communication there. That's really where I think the spark starts."

Built to Last

In addition to community support, simply choosing the right construction material can be integral to a skatepark's success. Both Skaters for Public Skateparks and the Tony Hawk Foundation strongly recommend concrete, and the latter has made concrete construction an eligibility requirement for the grants it offers to help build public skateparks.

According to Peter Whitley, programs director for the Tony Hawk Foundation, other solutions such as modular ramps that can go over a derelict tennis court often seem appealing to planners on a limited budget. But once installed, they tend to weather or rust quickly, and their maintenance costs quickly eclipse their benefits. The structures also tend to be less interesting for the kids using the park.

"Largely, they will tend to not meet the need of the skaters, who then return to the streets and compound the problem and the frustration that the community may have felt before they got the skatepark built," Whitley said. "And now you have a situation where a proper skatepark is an even more remote possibility than it was before, because a skatepark already exists."

When these projects are successful, their initial momentum typically emerges at the grassroots level.

While skateboard and BMX wheels are relatively soft, other bike and skateboard parts aren't, so the structure needs to be able to withstand that beating. "When you look at concrete skateparks, here you're designing a facility out of the same stuff that freeways are made of," Whitley said. "And for the hundreds of visits a skatepark can have in a day, and virtually no maintenance, concrete is really your only option." Whitley has seen heavily-used concrete skateparks that are now 15 years old and still doing fine with virtually no maintenance.

Both Whitley and Dennis also recommend working with a professional skatepark builder on any project. A contractor with experience building world-class skatepark facilities will have the technical ability to deftly handle concrete bowl and multilevel amenities. They'll also understand how to create the proper park flow to successfully accommodate key user groups, which may include young kids on scooters and BMX riders in addition to skateboarders.