Defining Skatepark Success

Lakeside, California’s skatepark is located in the town’s central park and along the lakefront walking path. The entire community can enjoy the skating and other skatepark activities.

There’s no question that people love skateparks. Any warm, dry day and you’ll see a busy park—skateboarders, BMX riders, and scooters all sharing the space. You’ll often see people sitting nearby, either taking a break from the action or simply watching the action.

Skateparks are community gathering spaces. The benefits of a skatepark are complex; there is the undeniable physical activity, and also the social interactions between people of different backgrounds and neighborhoods. There’s a social capital in effect at well-used skateparks that bestows certain benefits to those people that visit that facility often. The frequency that a skatepark is used, and by how large and diverse a population, can all amplify its benefits to the community in ways that are difficult to measure. These difficulties introduce a peculiar kind of challenge to an organization like the Tony Hawk Foundation because we rely so heavily on the popular definition of skateparks. We would invite you to ponder: What does success mean for skateparks?

At the Tony Hawk Foundation, we rely on ten critical factors to evaluate a skatepark’s success and, more importantly, plan for a skatepark’s functional priorities. The clearest measure available is visitation, and so THF has built its grant eligibility around participation factors; those planning decisions that can impact the size and character of its body of users.

Ten Critical Factors of Skatepark Success:

10. Diverse
The design of the park should strive to meet the aggregate needs of the area’s skateboarding, BMX, and scooter community, possessing a wide range of experience and interests. A skatepark that sparks curiosity and delight across the town is within any community’s grasp.

Additional attractions adjacent to the park will benefit the skatepark users, too. The skatepark location should already be active and diverse with different kinds of public activities occurring there.

9. Appropriate Size
The scale of the attraction should be large enough to reasonably meet the local need. Design can only provide limited influence on capacity; scale should be appropriate for the number of skateparks available in the region. A “crowded” park doesn’t always equate to a “successful” park.

THF recommends 10,000 square feet for every neighborhood (approximately 50,000 residents).

8. Inclusive
The skatepark should allow for all non-motorized scooter, wheelchair motocross, and BMX access without schedules or complicated exceptions. The skatepark should not require any kind of waiver, registration, or proof of residency. Inclusivity also means recognizing and, to whatever extent is reasonable, affording different needs and priorities. Few people feel comfortable visiting a dirty facility, for example.

7. Unique
The skatepark should strive to include a rare or prototypical element to encourage innovation, progression, and a unique sense of place. The unique skatepark bestows community pride and interest from the regional context; just as your community is informed by your neighbors, so too is your skatepark.

6. Public
The facility should be owned and managed by a publicly accountable institution. There should be a public path for reviewing and remediating design and policy decisions. More importantly, the space should feel open to the public (and not just its intended users). Public facilities will promise a longevity that private ventures cannot match and are more likely to support habitual exercise among youth.

5. Engaged
Local users should be involved with the planning of the park at multiple points, and particularly during the advocacy, fundraising, and design stages. These engagements build investment in the facility and yield lasting dividends in stewardship and community pride.

Engaged skateparks are exemplified by programmatic support, such as lessons, community jams, and drop-in workshops. Skateparks can periodically serve as venues for demos and commercialized events, but the community engagement that comes from having a regular, comfortable, and friendly place to gather is paramount.

4. Professional
The park should be designed and built by experience skatepark specialists. Professional skatepark builders bring a wealth of specialized knowledge and techniques that cannot be easily taught. Your skatepark should never be trusted to inexperienced landscape architecture firms. Favor the companies that have a catalog of successes in their portfolios; your community is worth the effort to do this right.

3. Accessible
The park should be located near the geographic and walkable center of the community that it is intended to serve. Young people should feel comfortable walking (or riding) to their local skatepark. Proximity is the most critical factor in skatepark usability; people will not use any facility that they cannot reach. Skateparks work best when they are conveniently located.

2. Concrete
The facility should be built in concrete. Concrete offers the most design flexibility and durability, minimizing long-term structural maintenance expenses.

1. Free
The skatepark should provide unrestricted public access during park hours without entry cost or check-in process. The skatepark should be provided as an unsupervised, “use at your own risk” facility where users are free to come and go as they please.

The Tony Hawk Foundation introduces a final criteria based on area income so that only low-income neighborhoods are considered for construction grants. Communities across the U.S., regardless of income, are eligible for THF’s free technical-assistance services.

We have seen that these 10 factors are the most critical in establishing a skatepark that provides years of value, the basis for healthy recreational habits, and positive interactions and experiences that inform a lifetime of personal and social health.

To learn more about Tony Hawk Foundation’s support of public skateparks in communities near you, please visit www.tonyhawkfoundation.org/public-skateparks or connect with us here: https://tonyhawkfoundation.org/connect/.

We’d love to hear from you!

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Tony Hawk Foundation
A charitable, non-profit organization, the Tony Hawk Foundation was established in 2002 by its namesake, professional skateboarder Tony Hawk. THF promotes and provides advocacy training and funds for high-quality public skateparks in low-income areas throughout the United States that promote healthy, active lifestyles, and to International programs that enrich the lives of youth through skateboarding.

Domestically, the Foundation’s Skatepark Grant programs have awarded over $9-million to 623 communities in all 50 States, including $3-million through its Built to Play Skatepark Program in partnership with the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. THF focuses on working with local officials and grassroots, community-based organizations that plan to hire designers and contractors with strong experience designing and building skateparks.

The Foundation’s International Program has provided technical support to skatepark projects on every continent and awarded $150,000 to assist youth through the Skateistan educational programs in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa (www.skateistan.org).

The Tony Hawk Foundation was established by a gift from Tony Hawk. Its directors raise additional funds through events, donations, and continuing contributions from Tony and other entities. For more information, visit the Foundation’s Web site at www.tonyhawkfoundation.org. You can also visit THF on facebook and Instagram @tonyhawkfoundation, and on Twitter @THF.