When we developed 2nd Row here on 2nd Avenue North, we were delighted to bring Faith Skate Supply and its owner Peter Karvonen into the neighborhood. Skating has become ubiquitous in urban America, and your city lacks edge if it lacks a decent skate scene. Unfortunately, unlike Nashville and Chattanooga, Birmingham does not have a central skate park that’s fun, safe, and available to all. (thanks to mississaugamuse for the pic of the boy safely skating in a purpose-built park).
Skating, according to a Memphis site devoted to a similar deficiency in that city, “is a positive physical outlet needed for our youth and it’s an activity that naturally forms friendships among participants coming from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds.” Peter is particularly interested in how younger kids, those with autism, and kids prone to obesity can benefit from the exercise provided by skating. To that end, he’s helped organize an art auction to help raise money for the Magic City skatepark effort this Friday at Urban Standard at 6:30 PM (this interview from Transworld Business helps explain the intersection of autism and skating).
As Peter points out, it is often more difficult to build a skate park in a large city than a small one, due to the more complex land uses, zoning rules, and ownerships involved. He has been working with the City of Birmingham for the last number of years trying to identify a piece of City property appropriate for a park. The City would donate the land, and at this point the construction funding would come from elsewhere. Peter knows one thing–any park will have a special section set aside for younger kids and those with autism.
One really interesting example of how a smaller city saw the positive urban value of a skate park can be found in Greensboro, AL where Auburn University architecture students have designed a compelling and economical place for skaters:
Here the park nestles into the landscape: a sculptural element that’s visually appealing as well as functional. Thanks to the Auburn Rural Studio for the rendering.
One of the reasons why the smaller skate park (ideally it needs 30-40,000 square feet of area) closed in Homewood Central Park was due to complaints from neighboring residents in new, high-priced condos. It seems (surprise surprise) that the often loud rattling and thumping of skateboards do not mesh with condo quiet-time. While the Birmingham City Council, Mayor’s office, and various community leaders all support the idea in theory, a sort of NIMBY-esque excuse is found for just about any desirable location (i.e. “we love the idea for the city, but it just wouldn’t work with the sort of people/businesses/investment we are trying to bring to our proposed park/development.”)
A completely different, inclusive take on skateboarding: Peter sent me an article about architects designing skate-friendly buildings: this pic (courtesy quon) illustrates how the new Olso Opera House designed by the Norwegian firm Snohetta is essentially a series of ramping surfaces anchoring the structure into the land, dissolving it into the sea, and–in theory–providing plenty of fun for skateboarders.
There are plenty of stereotypes out there about skateboarding. In reality, kids (and adults) are getting exercise, staying out of trouble, and making new friends in (ideally) a safe, purpose-built environment. I strongly support the construction of a super-cool skate park in a central location in the City. The sooner this happens, the happier Peter–and his legions of local skating followers–will be.