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.

5 Replies to “Skateboards, the process continues”

  1. You’ve done your homework! I wish you lived here in Portland so we could talk this out, but you have you business together!

    I’m the founder of Skaters for Public Skateparks, a founder of the Burnside skatepark in Portland, and currently a board member of the Tony Hawk Foundation. I’ve been doing skatepark advocacy for ove6 25 years, and you have it together. Mad props.

    1. Wonderful to hear from you! Your website has been a huge help to me in sorting out issues and questions so I’m flattered that you think I’ve done my homework.

  2. I’ve love to talk to you about vastly cheaper alternatives to what you may be considering. Those who know me know that I’m about as fiscally conservative as they get, and love figuring out how to get things done for cheap.

    Maybe we can talk a little and I can share some ideas? Long story short: you may not even have to use a traditional skatepark vendor, and could therefore save yourself TONs of money.

    Note that the kids in your town already have a skatepark: problem is, it’s also known as your city, and the kids’ use of the park is initiating what parks and rec people call “multiple use” contention. Further note that most of this “skatepark” was almost certainly NOT built by skateboard park vendors. Food for thought.

    Finally, a comment about this:

    > There has been a slight drop off in skateboard numbers;
    > is this cause for concern about the longevity of the sport?

    I’m an engineer by trade and a bit detailed oriented, particularly as it relates to statistics.

    Most stats are awful. In fact, most skateboard stats are drive by, and relate to, the “skateboard industry.” Note that most of the skateboard industry is fueled through the sales of the only thing that actually earns money: clothing. Boards, and wheels? Mostly considered barely profitable, and only paired with “soft goods” as a carrot propping up the legitimacy of the soft goods vendors’ brand.

    Thus: when you read that skateboard use is down, more often than not you’re reading stats relating to clothing. Be careful where you get your stats.

    The only stats I ultimately trusted came from the American Sports Data Corporation, whose participation survey employs a methodology I consider sound, and soundly disinterested in any one particular recreational activity.

    The ASDC reports steady skateboarding participation since their first year of study, which as I recall is somewhere in the mid 1980’s, Considered by most to be the “dead” years of skateboarding, after the fall of the for-profit skateparks of 1970’s fame, there were still 9 million skaters. 1/3 of them skate every single day, and have reported this kind of participation consistently since.

    I think today we’re at 13 million. Some say there’s 20 million, but I wonder at the methodology behind those stats.

    Anyway, pop me a note and I’d be happy to talk about it. I have tons of ideas.

  3. My specific recommendation is to challenge established metaphors when considering a recreational outlet for this group of kids.

    Close your eyes and visualize a skatepark. Chances are solid it’s a large place, using large parcels of real estate, with tons of attractions, ringed by a fence.

    Consider that the traditional skatepark metaphor was established in the 1970’s by concessionaires leveraging a PT Barnum metaphor with the intent to maximize profits. In other words: it’s a metaphor out of step with skateboarding reality, but as with all such paradigms even those within skateboarding culture are threatened when confronted with a challenge to think outside of the box….even if it means acknowledging what they already know.

    Sit in with your local law enforcement or business owner and ask him or her to give you a tour of your community’s “skatepark.” I’ll bet you it’s a set of stairs, some otherwise nondescript ledge, etc. I’ve surveyed these “skate spots” and most barely exceed 1,500 square feet in size.

    A well-designed “skate spot, such as a set of stairs featuring a couple rails, and maybe a “hubba” capped with granite would cover about 2,000+ square feet, concurrently support 10-15 skateboarders, and would almost certainly rival anything that your town has to offer.

    The best part? All for less than $5,000, and even better: can (and should) be build with participation of your entire community, including the skaters themselves. Jump start their stewardship of this new recreational asset by giving them a sense of ownership earned only through sweat equity.

    Of course, this is not a message most skateboard park vendors are keen to encourage. They are able to maximize profits by working with communities to build vast skateboarding vistas (for them it represents economies of scale).

    Unfortunately, the larger the park, the more money it represents, and the more real estate it requires, thus ensuring that it won’t be built until today’s eighth graders are on their way to college.

    Which is all the more reason to consider the “community involvement DIY” skatepark, which is really a “non-skatepark,” for all intents and purposes. And it’s cheap.

    PS
    Don’t buy portable and/or modular equipment from playground companies. I encourage potential consumers of these products to employ the same fiscal due diligence they use when evaluating any other such product: research true TCO by asking peer communities to quantify their maintenance cost of the equipment 60 months into ownership. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to see who actually uses these parks.

    In our (ample) experience, these modular parks are failures, which goes a long way towards explaining why although concrete custom skateboard park builders are booming, and the number of vendors continues to diversify, the playground companies have mostly failed to grow that business and have dramatically retreated.

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