Skateboards, the process continues

No rehash of Council discussion here (Read and listen to the coverage of the Council discussion over on Locally Grown here and here); instead I’ve tried to gather facts and questions about skateboards, skateparks and skaters to help those of us on the Council who aren’t skaters (that would be all of us) consider the issue thoroughly and thoughtfully.

Skateboard industry statistics: So, how many skaters are there and what other quantitative information is there about skaters, skateparks and skateboards?

From Skaters for Public Skateparks Skater Census:

In any given community, roughly 4.6% [of the population] will be casual skateboarders and half of those will be weekly skaters.

From the International Association of Skateboard Companies Nov/Dec 2008 newsletter:

The NSGA [National Sporting Goods Association] 2007 Sports & Fitness Participation Report shows skateboarding participation increased by 5.2% from 2005-2006. In 2006 there were 11.1 Million Total Skateboarders compared to 10.5 Million in 2005.

From Shop Eat Surf:

Skateboarding has 11.08 million participants and is a $4.8 billion market. The size of market has declined 2 percent since 2007.  The market is aging, with fewer skateboarders saying they skate everyday. In 2008, 71 percent of participants were 12 to 17 years old. In 2006, 45 percent fit that age range…The current decrease in key 10 to 14 year old demographic is impacting the primary skateboard audience…The growth in the 5-to-9 year old age segment since 2002 may cause another surge in board sports participation by 2010.

Assuming the Skater Census [from 2007] is reliable, 4.6% of 20,000 people would be 920 skaters; 4.6% of 15,000 would be 690 skaters. Compare: the Northfield Soccer Association has between 600 and 700 players (from age 4 through 17) registered in its programs in 2009 (down by about 100 players from 2008) and has an arrangement with the City for scheduling and maintaining the soccer fields on City owned land at Spring Creek Soccer Complex. With the decline noted above, would numbers in this range be sufficient to consider moving ahead with a skatepark?

What do skatepark advocates say? They say quite a lot…  Skaters for Public Skateparks is a non-profit skatepark advocacy organization “dedicated to providing the informatioin necessary to ensure safe, rewarding, freely-accessible skateparks are available to all skateboarders”  which also has a step by step guide to public skatepark development.  Take a look.

Are we asking the right questions? So far, we’ve heard about perceived problems with skater behavior, questions about noise, speculation about safety, and statements about why one park or another is the wrong place, but I’m just not convinced we’ve asked some of the relevant questions and even though it’s pretty late in the game to be asking them now, here are some questions and some possible considerations pro and con but not necessarily coming out with a recommendation at the end.

1.   Should Northfield support development of a skatepark at this time and why? A pretty basic question and we’ve been presuming the answer is yes, but the “why” part has been a bit elusive.

Skaters would like a place to skate which is fun (and legal) and/or we’d like to get skaters off the street

  • Skating is big business; there are economic development possibilities for a skatepark
  • There has been a slight drop off in skateboard numbers; is this cause for concern about the longevity of the sport?
  • A skateplaza, by providing a good place to skate, could be a community builder for the youth who skate there
  • Would a skateplaza solve the problem or perceived problem of youth, skateboards and poor behavior?  Would skaters use it?

Northfield provides support for facilities for “organized” sports of hockey, soccer, baseball.

  • Skating, viewed as a sport, should receive equitable treatment.
  • Skating is different from other youth sports in that it does not have an official season, a managing organization which collects fees, oversees operations, etc.

Northfield should support its youth

  • Northfield city government is not the entity centrally responsible for youth sports/recreation programs in the city; private groups (sports associations,YMCA) and school district/community education missions are more narrowly targeted for these facilities and services.
  • For those sports and other activities which the city does support in its parks and facilities, there are also agreements with private entities for maintenance and upkeep
  • Supporting youth may mean offering technical assistance, leading collaborative efforts, and other actions which do not entail dedicating public land or ongoing financial support to a skateplaza
  • Supporting youth may also mean thinking more broadly about youth in Northfield rather than expending many resources for one group
  • Are we moving ahead with the skateplaza because we didn’t know how to say “no” to youth earlier in the process.

Northfield city government must make wise financial decisions for the short and long term

  • What resources (land, staff resources, and dollars) should city government responsibility allocate for this activity?
  • What’s the best projection of costs for development and maintenance?
  • Are there examples of other skateparks which could guide our cost/benefit planning?

2.   Is a single location skateplaza the best way to provide space to skate?

  • Concentration of benefits? A skatepark provides one place for skaters to meet, skate together and socialize.  As a single facility, it could be a destination for skaters in the region as well as the city.  The skatepark would have symbolic value showing support for youth, non-traditional sports, and an achievement by the Skateboard Coalition in advocating for, developing and helping fund the facility.
  • Concentration of problems? One location also forces issues of safety for many skaters, parking, restrooms, trash, maintenance, concerns about noise, trash, behavior (real or perceived) etc. connected with a facility.
  • What’s the best analogy? Is a skateplaza more like the pool or ice arena (limited access, supervised, possible to impose membership requirements and fees, etc.), soccer or baseball fields (scheduled and maintained by an association, but still available for pick up games and informal play when not in use by the official group), or a playground (has equipment for play whenever someone wants to play, supervision, if provided, is by parents, friends, neighbors or passersby).  Is skating a sport which needs a single facility?
  • What would happen if Northfield became a more skateable city, rather than building a single skateplaza? What would happen if we had skateable “equipment” in multiple parks and along trails?  What if skateable elements were a part of park development more generally in the same way we consider playground equipment and benches?  This model would make skateboard facilities expandable and would make smaller incremental investment possible.  There’s the danger that after the first investment, no more would be made.

Did you want a conclusion down here at the bottom? Still thinking about both outcome and strategy, time and money.