A skate park? Fine, but not near me.
BOSTON — The decision to build is not the hard part. Where to put a skate park is, say those involved in a wave of municipal construction projects. Many people support the idea of "getting kids off the street," but, please, not in my backyard.
Jim Fitzpatrick, executive director of the International Association of Skateboard Companies, says the ideal place for them is in preexisting recreational facilities, alongside playing fields for other sports.
Some communities have taken to converting underutilized tennis and basketball courts. Meanwhile, in Grand Junction, Colo., a neighborhood that has wanted a city park is using a skate park to get it. The Westlake area agreed to let a $220,000 skate park, unwanted by other neighborhoods, be built, with the understanding that the project would lead to development of a multipurpose, 10-acre park.
Jim Nall, the chairman of the Westlake neighbors' association, says that his fellow residents were initially reluctant about this strategy. "If you could have listed 50 things people wanted for the neighborhood, a skate park would have been 51st," he says.
In going door-to-door, however, Mr. Nall persuaded neighbors that a skate park wouldn't attract "a big criminal element. These are just kids who want to have fun."
On the whole, Nall says the skate park is a success.
Noise, however, can be a problem. The sound of skateboards smacking concrete carries, and loud car stereos sometimes wake the neighbors. Teens cruise by after dark because lights were installed (over the neighbors' objections) and city parks are open late. The plan calls for creating a tree-studded berm that will act as a sound buffer, something residents expected to be done by now. The park opened two years ago. "The city is slow in living up to its commitment," says Nall.
The impact of having skate parks near residences may require time to assess. Besides noise, litter can be a concern, and some parks attract numerous outsiders.
In Columbus, Ohio, Tim Moloney, the director of the skate park in the inner-city Dodge Recreation Center, estimates that 20 percent of park users come from outside the state. "On weekends," he says, "we'll see cars with license plates from seven, eight, nine states."
The Columbus park is at the junction of two interstate highways and word travels fast about good parks. "Once you develop a reputation, skaters will put your park on their summer tours," Mr. Moloney says.
As tempting as it might be to isolate skate parks, Russ Shirley, the co-chairman of a skate park committee in Plymouth, Mass., says that's a formula for failure. "Skateboarding is a peacock sport," he says. "Skaters need a place to go and show their feathers." Plus, with unsupervised skate parks, which many are these days, the police like to be able to drive by and check on what's happening.