Tuesday, November 24, 2009

the case for a downtown skatepark (this time, with numbers) (updated)

UPDATE: The Woodside Civic Association, adjacent to the proposed "skate spot" in Woodside Park, asks Park and Planning to delay construction. It was supposed to open in January. (Thanks to Skateboard Mom for the heads-up.)

east of maui aerial 1998
Many kids who skate on and get chased from Downtown's plazas and pocket parks have no memory of East of Maui, the skatepark on Ellsworth Drive that operated temporarily in the 1990's before giving way to (Silver Plaza). It was a pretty big place, attracting people from across the region. And even though it's been gone for ten years, skating culture's never loosened its grip on Silver Spring.

So it's confusing that the Gazette says a new skate spot in Woodside Park "may clear downtown Silver Spring streets" of kids on four wheels. At 3,000 square feet, the skate spot could fit inside one of the bigger houses behind the park. As I've written before, it's a little out of the way for kids who hang out downtown, not to mention that it might not even accommodate everyone who tried to go there.

Frequent commenter and friend of JUTP Skateboard Mom pointed us to "10 Ways To Make A Great Skatepark," a really awesome presentation from Skaters for Public Skateparks, an organization patterned after Project for Public Spaces. It not only says what makes a great skatepark, but builds a case for them as a public amenity, which is necessary in communities where kids who skate are still considered a nuisance. The ten recommendations it makes are:
I don't know if Montgomery County has a process for determining how much space "Meets the Need" for skateparks. But SPS provides a formula to show how much skatepark a place might require, so I figured it might be worthwhile to do that for below-the-Beltway Silver Spring.
1) Service Area's 5-24 Population

The 2008 American Community Survey (basically a yearly Census) says there are 17,737 "youth" between 5 and 24 in Downtown Silver Spring and immediately surrounding neighborhoods.

2) divided by National Average of Youth That Skate (16%)

That means there are 2,838 potential skaters in the given area.

3) divided by Daily Skaters (33%)

These are kids who would be most likely to use and frequent a skatepark. Our total comes out to 936 people.

4) multiply by Minimum Footage (1500)

1500 square feet is the estimated amount of space a skater would need to do a trick, combined with areas for spectators, circulation, and so on. We're at 1,404,810 square feet. That's roughly the size of Wheaton Plaza. (That's a lot of shoe stores.)

5) divided by Concurrent Users (10)

We'll assume that ten kids are in a given space at any time, each taking turns doing a trick and being watched. That brings the square footage down to 140,481 square feet, about the size of a Target. If it were a square, it would have sides 375 feet long. If it were a block in Downtown Silver Spring, it would be the one bounded by Georgia, Wayne, Dixon and Bonifant.
This may never get built, but it shows one "skate spot" will not even begin to clear skaters from the CBD. You need many places to skate, from neighborhood parks to skateparks that attract people from across the region. Skating is an inherently social sport. You do tricks and spend as much time watching other people try them. That's half the reason why skaters end up in city plazas. And after they're done, they might even grab some food or watch a movie or even buy something from a local business.
Denver Skatepark and Flour Mill Lofts
Give these kids a prominent place in the community and they'll show it respect. Push them aside and they'll act out, as happens at the tucked-under-an-overpass Paranoid Park in the movie of the same name. (Rent it, it's really good.) When I visited Denver last winter I stumbled on the Denver Skatepark, right on the edge of downtown, next to a large riverfront park and some very expensive (by Midwestern standards) condos. Alternative sports are a big deal in Colorado, and it's natural that the city would celebrate them in a central, visible location.

But finding one acre, let alone three for a decent skatepark in Downtown Silver Spring sounds next to impossible. We had that amount of space for a skatepark on Fenton Street, but it's unclear what community support is there for it even after local youth made a documentary about the need for one in 2005.

At the meeting about the new Silver Spring Library two weeks ago, County officials noted that the five-story Wayne Avenue parking garage is never more than 70% full, meaning that at any given time an entire floor is never used. Sounds like that roof might be a nice place for a skatepark.


Skateboard Mom said...

Wow, thanks Dan -- from me and a whole lot of kids in this community.

In a July meeting with DTSS management, I was told that the Silver Spring Advisory Board was looking at converting the property the library is currently on into a skatepark, and that they even had plans for an interim setup (to get skaters something quickly) and for a permanent park later. The DTSS property manager made it sound as if it was almost a done deal. She did an email introduction with an Advisory Board rep and I, and I immediately sent a lengthy email to that rep, but never got a response. I sent several emails, but still no response.

I never heard any more about the library property from DTSS, but I later read on some blog that the space had been promised to a condo developer.

I also had a curious incident one evening when walking into Borders -- this guy was walking out of the store and he asked me if I skate. He told me he's with MCPD but that he was off duty (he showed me his badge), and said that he heard a skatepark was being put in "down there" (pointing down Ellsworth), and he insisted that he was certain he heard that.

We've been hearing a lot of things from a lot of people over the past year, but the Woodside Skate Spot was the first real movement towards a real skating facility. And as I just posted on my blog -- Parks confirmed yesterday that Woodside is now on hold.

Parking garages are beyond perfect for skateparks. The ground is generally as smooth as a skatepark creating a safe riding surface, and kids can even skate when it rains.

And if anyone is wondering about liability, skateboarding actually has one of the lowest rates of injuries among popular sports, and municipal insurance is generally solid enough to protect cities from liability. There isn't a single skatepark that has been successfully sued over skating injuries, and the incidence of serious injuries in skateboarding is drastically reduced in skateparks. The majority of serious injuries involve motor vehicles, and 50% of skateboard-related trauma results from skating on irregular ground, such as broken sidewalks and stairs.

Cilla said...

Great article Dan!

WashingtonGardener said...

>>Promised to a condo developer<< promised by whom? when? and who is thus mysterious developer? If true, sounds like county law violation and some backroom deals being made.

Skateboard Mom said...

WashingtonGardener, regarding the library property being promised to a condo developer...I wish I could even remember which blog I read that on -- it was a brief comment to a blog post and it didn't provide any other details.

Over the course of this past year I've heard many stories about possible skate spots and skateparks, and in each and every instance a representation was made, and I'd walk away feeling convinced that things were looking up for skaters...and in every instance there was no follow up whatsoever. In some instances I followed up...but that gets tiring, and depressing, when you don't see any real movement and when you feel like this is just not a priority.

In that meeting, DTSS management told me about how influential the Citizens Advisory Board is, and that the County Executive listens to them, and they seemed very intent on convincing me that the Advisory Board was very much in favor of putting a skatepark into the property where the library is now. But if I were a little bit less gullible I might have recognized that something was wrong when I was sending these lengthy emails to that Advisory Board rep...and getting not a single response.

Peter said...

I was thrilled to see Skaters for Public Skateparks' material used so effectively. As the co-author, along with Kent Dahlgren and Miki Vuckovich (both of whom are with Tony Hawk Foundation, though Kent was SPS' founding Director) we couldn't be more delighted to see this information being used exactly how we intended.

When we began talking to communities about "skate spots" a few years ago we were concerned that some would see them as the "perfect solution" to their skatepark needs. While the idea of augmenting the neighborhood skateparks with satellite facilities is fundamentally sound, many budget-minded bureaucrats see the skate spot as a "miniature skatepark." They're not. They are meant to extend a skatepark's level of service into isolated or underserved pockets...NOT as a bedrock facility for a whole community.

What may happen is that the skate spot fails due to over-use; a victim of its own success. In their enthusiasm to use the spot, the skaters may spill out to the nearby parking lots or simply move back to those inappropriate spots that are popular now.

That can lead to two public reactions:

1. "Look at all those skaters trashing up the place. They don't deserve a better skatepark."

2. "The skaters are STILL skating on my ledges! That new skatepark apparently doesn't help at all!"

The losers here are the very people the skate spot was meant to benefit. The solution is for the local advocates to continue to push for a long-term plan that acknowledges the community need and sets into motion plans for meeting it. Thankfully you guys have some AWESOME advocates on that task.

Carrespondent said...

How about some combination of support/funding for a skate park and heavy penalties on those who misuse and damage private and public property while skateboarding? Carrot and stick. When they're all over a public space, it keeps those who are there for any other purpose from coming back. At the same time, those who skate have rights, too.

Skateboard Mom said...

Carrespondent, apparently all that's needed is a decent carrot, because as I've been saying on my blog, when skaters even had a half-block's worth of flat pavement (far from ideal for skaters who like to jump obstacles) there was zero damage to Discovery and many other properties that have since been trashed, after we lost lower Ellsworth for skating.

Almost no one skated Discovery or these other properties when we had our own spot. Now if having something so far from ideal can minimze property damage that much, imagine the impact of having what Dan is suggesting -- a real, actual, full-size skatepark. From everything I've learned about skateboarding and skateboarders over the past year, no one will skate spots that are so far from ideal, and where they know they'll get kicked out, if all of their friends are in some amazing, legal skatepark a block away.

Part of the reason for Ellsworth being such a big draw when it was so far from an ideal skate spot, is because teens want to be with each other. The girls who like skater boys would be there every week, showing up even before the skaters, and anyone who was looking for a skater downtown (including moms and dads) knew where to look.

Just last night a skater was complaining to me about how safe he felt downtown when we had Ellsworth, and how unsafe he feels now. And I'm still wondering why the DTSS property manager gets to have any say about the use of a public street (it was they and the Regional Office who decided to stop blocking the street off for skaters.)

jen said...

Thanks Dan (and Skateboard Mom) for making the case for a "real" skatepark that will suit the needs of both the skating community and the larger community.

I too started skating late in life, and my husband and I used to skate in the street near our house until I was "scared straight" when a Silver Spring man was hit by a car and killed a few years ago while skating in the street with his son. In addition to all the other good reasons for building a park, my mind keeps going to back to that tragedy -- if we don't give local kids a decent and safe place to skate, I fear that it's just a matter of time before more skaters are killed in the streets.

Let me know what I (and other like-minded readers) can do to help in the effort.

LPG Status said...

Hey Dan, I'm not home and I'm writing this from my friends computer (but this is my account).

Thanks for trying help us get a skatepark. I'm a 15 year old skater and I've been skating downtown for a couple of years. I want to tell you what happened to a bunch of us in SS tonight. We were skating at a spot called garden gap at the corner of Wayne ave. and Georgia. We got kicked out then we went into Subway to get something to drink. The security guard followed us and said you have to get out of here, and we asked him why cause we were about to buy something. He said you have to leave cause this is private property. He got mad and called me a Chinese MF and said get the F out of here, and he said he'll beat all our a**es if we don't leave. My friend said just forget about it and let's walk away. He followed us across the street and we were waiting for the light to change so we could cross another street, and he said we had to get out of there too, he said get the h*** out of here, and he said "I work here dumb*ss and you have to leave". And then we left.

We were skating in other spots and kept getting kicked out and then got a citation from the police in one of the spots in DTSS. The citation says "is not permitted on the property/premises at 800 and 900 block Ellsworth Drive, 900 block Wayne Ave., 8661 Colesville Road, and 8500 block Fenton Street." I can understand the citation cause we were skating in an illegal spot but I don't understand the citation saying we can't go on public property. Dan do you think this is legal?

Skateboard Mom said...

Jen, thanks so much for sharing that. And that's one of my biggest fears -- seeing these kids skating from one spot to the next, as they're forced to do since they keep getting kicked out, terrifies me. I don't skate in the streets even to cross a street. I don't trust drivers like that, or my ability to skate away safely if a driver is running a red light or just not paying attention when I have the right of way.

You asked what you can do to help, and I would love if you click on my profile and contact me at my email address.

There are so many issues here. We absolutely need a skatepark, but we also have the immediate issue of a very intense anti-skater attitude in downtown. Skaters are not only kicked out from skate spots, but also cursed out and threatened with bodily harm by security guards, and in some cases kids have reported being grabbed, even though security guards are not legally allowed to do that.

There are several businesses downtown that will not even allow you to enter if you're carrying a skateboard. Those businesses tend to have signs posted, but even in the new, crappy Rainbow store in City Place, I, a 48 year old mother, was asked to leave because I was carrying my board -- no sign posted.

For years skaters have been harassed and kicked out on Ellsworth Drive by DTSS security -- even though the Gazette reported that the DTSS property manager stated that Ellsworth is public space. The writer of that article also wrote that an MCPD officer confirmed that. I don't know of any skaters who have any desire to make a street as busy as Ellsworth a major skate spot. But to even skate through that strip while not bothering anyone or doing any tricks, is treated as a crime. So the point is not that we're desperate to skate on Ellsworth...but that the idea of a private company restricting lawful activities on a public street, is all part of the intense negativity that's continually being directed at so many of this community's children. They shouldn't be treated this way. And yet they have been for years...and then people are surprised when they act out. That's not very logical.

And it seems to me that enforcement has become much more aggressive since I recently started blogging about all of this.