Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Woodside Skate Spot Project Delayed

Yesterday I got confirmation from Park & Planning that construction on the Woodside Skate Spot project has been delayed. In a November 9th letter to Parks, sent as a follow-up after the meeting on November 4th, the Woodside Civic Association asked for the delay. I asked how long it's been delayed, but did not get a response.

In the email response to my question about the status of the skate spot, I also got this question and comment:
"Did you write the postings from a skateboard Mom? I don’t believe they are helping support a skatespot."
I replied saying that if any information on this blog is factually incorrect, to please let me know and I'll be happy to correct it.

But let's not change the subject here — I along with the rest of the Silver Spring skateboarding community were in no way involved with planning or designing this project. We found out about it completely by accident, when a former Silver Spring skater who now lives in West Virginia sent us a link to Park & Planning's web site. At that point I and several other skaters contacted Park & Planning, and I was asked to help to drum up support for the skate spot. But we had zero input on any decisions that were made.

I've been advocating for Silver Spring skaters for a year now, telling anyone who would listen that these kids need a legal place to skate. I contacted many people and organizations, telling them about how important skating is to these kids — how passionate they are about it, and about how strongly many of them feel about the positive impact its had on their lives. And I've also been talking about how unsafe it is for skaters to not have a legal and safe place to skate.

After all of these efforts, I was very surprised to find out that an actual skate spot was being planned in Woodside Park. And I was more than happy to do everything I could to support it.

I want so much for Silver Spring's skaters to have a legitimate skating facility. But the more I looked at the details, the more I questioned whether this particular project could resolve many of our issues — the idea of intentionally building the smallest skate spot possible in a skating community as huge as Silver Spring's, is in itself problematic.

And what I won't do, is stop posting facts and data that are completely relevant to this project, in order to further a scenario that could result in the following:
  • We get a skate spot that that allows very few skaters to skate, and then face even more aggressive enforcement of skating prohibitions elsewhere in downtown
  • We get a skate spot so tiny, and supporting so few of our skaters, that it results in intense competition over who's going to get to skate there, potentially causing fights and division in what is now a very peaceful, cohesive community
  • We get an "interim" skating facility (as Woodside Skate Spot is intended to be) only to have it snatched back from the kids if things don't work out perfectly
  • We get a skate spot with very little chance of succeeding because of issues like lack of a porta-potty (skaters tend to skate for hours and drink lots of liquids — where would they relieve themselves?)
  • We get a skate spot that becomes way to crowded to be safe, particularly for younger skaters
When someone forwarded me the letter that Woodside Civic Association sent to Parks, my initial reaction was pretty bad. My feeling was that Park & Planning couldn't possibly provide the level of details they were asking for — such as any kind of accurate projection of potential users.

But after doing some research I discovered that a number of WCA's questions actually could be answered. For instance, the question they asked about how many skaters would be able to use this skate spot — Skaters for Public Skateparks uses a very logical formula for determining how much space a single skater needs to do a number of tricks (1,500 square feet), and then they look at how many skaters can use that same space concurrently (10 skaters).

Based on that SPS formula, the 3,000 square foot Woodside Skate Spot would only support 20 skaters. And the Silver Spring skateboarding community is huge.

There are critical issues to look at when considering the amount of space required to build a successful skatepark. Many tricks that skaters do require a lot of run-up space — and many other tricks require a lot of landing space. When jumping stairs, for instance, a skater is propelled forward with so much force that it's pretty much impossible to just stop cold when landing. You need space to ride after landing. There's one skatepark that has a trash can very close to the bottom of a set of stairs, and skaters have to be very careful to not crash into that. Things like that can cause serious safety issues.

It's because of issues like these that SPS highly recommends that skaters themselves be involved with the process of planning and designing skateparks. Park & Planning is responsible for facilities for many different sports, and they can't be expected to be experts on all of them. And skateboarding is fairly new and has undergone drastic changes in the past 5 years or so. Not many people outside of skateboarding are aware of those changes, or how they've impacted skaters and skatepark design. The simple answer is to just talk to skaters.

The overarching issue here is that we need to begin to engage young people in the process of community building. It's through engagement that we can begin to find out what they really need, rather than making assumptions about what we think they need. And it's through engagement alone that we can have a positive influence, and that they begin to feel like valued members of our community.

For a very long time now, skateboarders in Silver Spring have felt marginalized, which creates alienation — and nothing good ever comes from that.

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