Feature Article - October 2015
Find a printable version here

Attracting Teens, Reducing Trouble

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

By Chris Gelbach

Site Selection for Success

The proper choice of site can also make a difference between a skatepark being a source of headaches and it becoming a tangible asset to the community. While many municipalities are tempted to banish skaters to an unobtrusive location, this approach can both put those kids at risk and undermine a skatepark project's success.

"If you take a bunch of teenage boys and you put them in the outskirts of town next to a greenbelt with nothing but forest and land next to it and not visibility, those kids are probably going to get up to no good," Whitley said. "But if you put that skatepark downtown where there's lots of visibility and lots of activity in that area, those kids will end up enhancing that sense of safety and normal human activity."

Since skateboarding is an activity that will attract patrons at all hours—and often their parents, too—a skatepark in a visible location can in some cases even help turn around a troubled park. Dennis saw this at Martinez Park in his hometown of San Antonio.

The park had been frequented by gangs. And when new restrooms and a playground were installed on the site, they were burned down. But then the skatepark was introduced. It included a design that was completely open to ensure high visibility, allowing anyone driving by to see right into it. Lights were also installed that kept the skatepark bright all night long.

"The element that had been hanging out there before was a bad element," Dennis said. "But when the skatepark opened, it brought in kids. It brought in parents. It brought in a new playground that didn't get burned down. And now it's this beautiful park. Just putting a skatepark there revitalized the park and brought it back to life."

The Tony Hawk Foundation offers a complete guide to site selection and other skatepark development concerns at publicskateparkguide.org.

Nature Amid the Concrete

While older skateparks may often have contributed to the look and feel of a concrete jungle, today's parks are also often designed to enhance their environments. Elements such as natural features and concrete dyes are being increasingly employed to make the parks a source of visual appeal both for skaters and the general public.

"We're seeing skateparks that have trees and rocks and cool visual treatments and skatable art right in the skatepark, and the fences are coming down," Whitley said. "And it feels less like an exercise yard and more like an architectural wonderland for kids to play in and interact with. And that's exactly what we're striving for."

This can include more sustainable elements, such as those seen in Ed Benedict Skate Park in Portland, which was billed as the first environmentally sensitive skate plaza upon its 2009 debut. It incorporates custom sculptural elements, recycled materials, green channels and two bioswales.

The recently-opened Lanark Skate Plaza in Canoga Park, Calif., also takes a natural approach, curving among old-growth trees. "It is designed to snake around the drip lines of the trees so it doesn't disrupt any water that gets to the trees, and it all sheet drains," said Whitley.

Communities are also increasingly opting to add local character to their skateparks through the use of signature elements. One notable example is the skatepark being developed in Fallbrook, Calif., that will feature a green Avocado Bowl design in a nod to the community's status as the "Avocado Capital of the World."