I argued for the Council voting on the Park and Recreation Advisory Board recommendation (the second one) to locate the skatepark in Ames Park at our June 1 meeting. I see the Council’s action – whatever it is – as the beginning, not the end of the road.
Yes, I’ll be supporting Ames Park as the location for the development of the skatepark. Here’s why:
DOWNTOWN: The Comprehensive Plan is clear that downtown is the center of Northfield and we need to ensure that it remains vital and busy. I interpret this broadly to mean that we need to intensify land use downtown both on Division Street and in the downtown parks. Skateboards, festivals, concerts, art shows, shoppers, library patrons – I want them all downtown to meet, play and spend money.
SKATING IS URBAN: Skateboards do not function well on grass, they require pavement. Locating an essentially urban sport in our most urbanized area makes sense.
SKATEPARK EXPERTS say successful skateparks have access, visibility, comfort and diversity. A central location like Ames Park combined with good pedestrian planning, links to the “bike” (but really multi-purpose) trail, improved transit, and in downtown has great access. Ames Park has the best visibility of any park in Northfield. Comfort – like places to rest, water fountains and restrooms – would have to be part of the design, though the proximity to downtown means there are many places to go to buy refreshments (spending money in downtown), The Key, and more. Diversity means there’s other stuff to do besides skating. Improving Ames Park would provide more reason for other people to visit the park. Cyclists, skaters and walkers can come and go via the trail system. Adults dropping off skaters could visit downtown businesses, the library, and more.
SUPERVISION: Ames Park’s highly visible location ensures informal supervision for the skatepark from the many eyes of casual observers to local business owners to deliberate spectators.
HIGH EXPECTATIONS: So far, I’ve only heard about the low expectations for safety and skaters. We expect safety to be a problem rather than how Ames Park, as an intensely used park, can help Northfield bridge the Highway 3 canyon and improve pedestrian safety in and through downtown. We expect skaters to be inconsiderate thugs-in-training rather than young people who deserve our support and our mentoring who could rise to meet our expectations. Why would any kid, with or without a skateboard, want to be a good citizen when it’s so clear that public opinion considers them a bad influence?
BIG IDEAS FOR THE FUTURE: If we develop a skatepark in Ames Park, there are really cool ways it could be enhanced and expanded in a linear fashion through our downtown chain of parks. How about Skateable Art (think about this in conjunction with the multiuse trail)?
ANTICIPATING A FEW OBJECTIONS:
BEHAVIOR: It should be obvious that young people are YOUNG and less experienced. I remember being young. In addition to being less creaky in the joints, I remember (1) desperately wanting adult approval AND (2) craving peer acceptance AND (3) wanting to test things out for myself to see where the limits were (and sometimes I wanted all these things at once). I don’t think that good behavior by young people will come from law enforcement or government, but by all adults who interact with young people acting as good role models, talking to young people seriously and respectfully, and setting and enforcing reasonable limits. I want to see skaters having fun downtown and I believe they can LEARN to act appropriately if we teach them.
SAFETY: I believe this is a red herring. Streets, cars, skateboards, bicycles and living itself all come with risks. The safety issues can be addressed through a combination of improving pedestrian access to the park from downtown and across Highway 3 and by teaching our children about safety (continually).
AESTHETICS: A skatepark just won’t look right in Ames Park which provides the lovely frame for downtown as one drives in from Highway 19. OK, I’ll concede that the park will look different and would not the same sort of vista. However, the Northfield skyline with the Central Block, Ames Mill, UCC Church will all still dominate. The view FROM downtown will be much enhanced with a skatepark, I think. I want to see the space used and used heavily by more than Canada geese and the DJJD carnival.
or at least it shouldn’t be.