Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Skate Parks and Third Places


Skateboarding was an integral part of my childhood. 

Though I was never particularly good - with my specialty being the tic tac, a trick that one of those skateboarding pugs could probably do - I enjoyed it thoroughly. 

While skateboarding for me was mostly a solitary activity, I did, on occasion, meet up with friends to ride the metaphorical concrete waves. 

In fact, an old buddy and I used to spend hours on end playing SKATE using silly, made-up tricks. 

Sort of like this (but nowhere as good, obviously). 

Samuel J. Abrams, in an article published earlier this year for AEIdeas, described skate parks as "critically important third places that drastically improve neighborhood social capital and community strength." 

Before I go any further, I want to make sure we're all on the same page about what "third places" are, so I'll let Ray Oldenburg, the man who pioneered the term, explain it himself:

The third place is a generic designation for a great variety of public places that host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.

I frequently use this term in my writing with the assumption that people know what I'm talking about, but I want to avoid speaking in a sort of communitarian jargon. Thus, Oldenburg's definition is instructive. 

Back to skate parks...

Abrams wrote this article in response to Mayor Eric Adam's (and Tony Hawk's) new plan to build a 40,000 square-foot skate park, called the Skate Garden, in Brooklyn's Mount Prospect Park. 

While this park would certainly serve as a much-needed "boon for the community," it has been met with resistance from some local killjoys. One group in particular, Friends of Mount Prospect Park, has been opposed to the Skate Garden from day one. 

This from their petition:

Green space is precious in Brooklyn. Our City needs to be more resilient and green. We should preserve and enhance the green space in Mount Prospect Park – not pour concrete on top of it. The plan to site one of the largest skateboard arenas on the East Coast in this neighborhood park is unacceptable. Especially in a borough full of asphalt, there’s no good reason to give up a well-loved park to build a new skateboard complex.

The Skate Garden, however, would integrate the park's greenspace and would not remove any of the park's amenities. It would serve as a compliment, not a replacement. 

And, moreover, as Abrams notes, "parks need to be more than just green spaces." Adding fun, engaging, and interactive features to preexisting parks, like the Skate Garden, is actually a community-friendly, New Urbanist idea. One, I would argue, that we should embrace. 

But, perhaps this is just more anti-skater prejudice. 

I'm sure you've seen these skate-stoppers around the city:

These prevent skaters from grinding on ledges. But, more importantly, they are emblematic of the city's skate-negative posture. The city is, in effect, saying, "you are not welcome here." 

I hope, for the sake of Brooklyn - young Brooklynites, in particular - that Adams and Hawk are allowed to move ahead with the Garden. 

Mark Judge was the inspiration for this post, and I highly recommend reading his article for Chronicles here


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