Editorial Feature

The Case for Skate Parks: Essential Elements of Urban Environments?

Over the years, skateboarding has moved from the fringe to the mainstream. Skateparks themselves have had a storied history, viewed as essential urban elements by some, and as eyesores by others. This article will discuss the importance of skateparks in cities and towns across the world.

Image Credit: Fominayaphoto/Shutterstock.com

The History of Skateparks

Invented in the 1950s by surfboarders, skateboarding quickly became synonymous with the growth of urban landscapes in the postwar era. Skateboarding’s popularity has grown to the level of an Olympic sport, featuring for the first time at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Skateparks are not just used by skateboarders, however: BMX riders, roller skaters, and rollerbladers also utilize these urban spaces.

The first skatepark, Surf City, opened in 1965 in Tucson, Arizona. This skatepark had concrete ramps. In 1966, a plywood skatepark that could be used at night was opened in the state of Washington. Many skateparks would follow over the next decade, both outdoors and indoors. However, by the end of the 1970s, skateboarding’s popularity as a sport had waned. Litigation costs and the influence of city authorities caused the first generation of skateparks to close. Very few private parks of the era still exist.

The first “modern” skatepark was built by skaters in Portland, Oregon under the Burnside Bridge. Unlike the previous commercial efforts, this skatepark was free to use for everyone but still incorporated design elements from the first generation of parks. Many skateparks today have been inspired by the Burnside Bridge design.

Today, skateparks can be found in many major cities across the world, both private and public. They are built from a variety of materials such as concrete, wood, and metal. Various elements such as half-pipes, quarter pipes, ramps, vert walls, kickers, funboxes, spines, and decks are used in their design.

Types of Skatepark

There is no set design template or rules for designing a skatepark. A common characteristic of skatepark design is the design/build method, where one section is built at a time, ensuring a harmonious and rideable experience. The three types of skateparks are bowl, street plaza, and flow parks.

A bowl park is based upon the principle of a pool and improves upon the experience. A street plaza is designed to emulate street skating, with elements designed to look like street terrain. A flow park combines elements of both bowls and street plazas. Skateparks can be privately or publicly owned. Skateparks can be constructed from custom-built concrete or prefabricated. Prefabricated construction utilizes materials such as wood, plastic, concrete, and sheet metal.

Many city planners have now started to incorporate public skating areas, attesting to the popularity of the sport and its perceived cultural importance in urban areas, as well as a desire to clamp down on illegal street skating whilst making room for the needs of skaters. There is also a growing movement to make street art and sculpture skateable, providing new opportunities for skateable design elements and aesthetic experimentation in the modern city.

Understanding Skateparks as Hybrid Urban Elements

There is an interplay between skateparks and the city that surrounds them. Many skateparks around the world incorporate design elements of the city, whilst city planners still construct infrastructure and urban elements that are hostile to the needs of skateboarders. These hostile elements seek to exclude skaters from spaces for a variety of reasons. It can be argued that skateparks are evolving, hybrid elements of the modern urban environment and understanding this hybridity is key to understanding them.

Unlike other city zones, skateparks are designed by subcultures, heavily populated by urban youth. Skateparks, whether they are official or DIY designs, creatively reimagine urban elements that are traditionally used for other purposes. Aside from the reimagining of physical elements, skateparks are a haven for street art and cultural expression that provide a different view of the functionality and aesthetic value of urban spaces.

Examples of Skateparks Across the World

There are multiple examples of skateparks in nearly every urban area globally. Whilst the number of skateparks, whether officially sanctioned or DIY efforts, is too vast to count, there are some notable examples that have become famous in skateboarding culture and media (the Burnside Bridge Park was featured in the films Free Willy and Paranoid Park.) In 1980, there were less than 100 skateparks in the UK. Today there are over 2,000. Skateparks are more than sporting facilities: they are spaces that connect communities.

The Rom Skatepark in Hornchurch in the UK is a rare survivor from the 1970s. Built in 1978, this commercial, concrete skatepark has original features and is Grade II listed. The FDR Skatepark in Philadelphia is a gritty DIY effort that followed the example of Burnside Bridge in Portland. Built on appropriated waste ground, it is a collaborative effort by skaters.

In Malmö, Sweden, Stapelbäddsparken is a 3,000 square meter skatepark featuring a moon-like landscape with multiple flowing lines and features. Similarly, the largest skatepark in the USA is in Houston, Texas, featuring a multitude of features and flows for skaters at all levels of competence.

The Future

Whilst the examples above are but a snapshot of skateboarding spaces, skateparks can be found across the world, ranging from the serene to the extreme. They provide a multitude of possibilities for skaters and have strong connections with urban art, music, design, and street culture. The skatepark is a design and cultural phenomenon that has a long and storied history, intimately linked with the growth of urban spaces and a desire to use them in a different manner than city planners intended.

From grassroots DIY social enterprises to collaborative art efforts such as the Block Cubes designed by Yinka Ilori, to commercial efforts that blur the line between mainstream and alternative culture (as exemplified by the Selfridges Bowl in London) skateparks are intrinsically linked with the identity of modern cities. The future of skateparks is likely to be as multifaceted as their past.

Further Reading and More Information

Glenny, B & O’Connor, P (2019) Skateparks as hybrid elements of the city [online] J Urban Des (Abingdon) 24(6) pp. 840-855 | researchgate.net. Available at:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330903589_Skateparks_as_hybrid_elements_of_the_city

Ravenscroft, T (2019) Eleven skateparks that tell the story of skateboarding culture [online] dezeen.com. Available at:

https://www.dezeen.com/2019/02/21/11-skatepark-architecture-skateboarding-culture/

Yinka  Ilori (2021) Block Cubes [online] yinkailori.com. Available at:

https://yinkailori.com/work/block-cubes-1

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Reginald Davey

Written by

Reginald Davey

Reg Davey is a freelance copywriter and editor based in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Writing for AZoNetwork represents the coming together of various interests and fields he has been interested and involved in over the years, including Microbiology, Biomedical Sciences, and Environmental Science.

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