Skate park!

Skating: essential to any urban environment

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:

Rendering of Greensboro skate park

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.

Ramps and opera in Oslo

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.

18 responses to “Skate park!

  1. I wish we had something like this – the reluctance to let kids do something like skateboarding reminds me of the movie “Footloose” and I think building a skatepark would be a fantastic sign of forward thinking from Birmingham.

  2. Maybe the skateboarders could make use of some of the space under the expressway or I59-I20. It is far enough removed to not cause noise, and would make good use of land that is not suitable for other structures.

    • Chuck–unfortunately that land is all controlled by the State of Alabama, making it extremely difficult to negotiate a use like this. Which is a shame, because you’re right–it would be great space for a skate park.

  3. Just such unsanctioned use was put to space under the RME in 2008, but it was dismantled by ALDOT.

    There’s been some good discussion here:

  4. Todd "Urbanotter1" Pierce

    My first introduction to skateparks was in the pages of “The Micronauts” comic book, circa 1978.
    The protagonist lived in Daytona Beach, FL, and the eponymous aliens entered our dimension over the park. My cousins living in Florida, New Orleans and California all had skateparks. Needless to say, these things have been around for 32 years, so it’s not like we’re talking about some new-fangled, untried concept.

    My favorite thing about Faith Skate Supply is the energy & vitality it adds to 2nd. At 43 my personal forms of outdoor activity have changed, but it’s encouraging to see young adults outside, away from their isolated entertainment systems, interacting with REAL PEOPLE.

    I’ve noticed a group of skaters down on 1st Ave. South at 15th Street, who’ve commandeered a vacant concrete lot. Perhaps that could be a “micro-skatepark”, while vacant lands further east on 1st Ave. South could be designated a skatepark. The last time I checked, nobody was clamoring to develop the southside of 1st Avenue South between 24th & 27th Streets. Then, there’s that vast stretch of concrete next to the Innovation Depot, up against the railroad tracks, on the northside of city center. I haven’t heard of any municipal proposal to extend the Intermodal Center through that wasteland to 14th Street, so perhaps that could be another place to look at.

    It’s not as if there’s a dearth of vacant property around here, and the last time I checked, the City still had the legal right to use imminent domain for public projects. But, it’s much simpler (and evidently more enjoyable) to incarcerate teens than to prepare them for life, or give them creative outlets, so that’s my two-cents’ worth. “Everybody Cut Footloose”!

  5. Jane Timberlake Cooper

    I agree!! How cool would it be to have something that worked as both a piece of public sculpture and as a skate park- two in one! There could be so much creativity in the design of a skate park. The other thing about skate parks is even if you don’t skate, they are fun to hang out and watch people skate. I hope it happens!!

  6. Thank you for the kind responses!
    Any other good advice or suggestions, please send them our way…

  7. What’s particularly interesting to me is that there are several well-documented sound studies done on and around skateparks. They consistently show that skateparks are not as “loud” as people think they are.

    What I believe is that people who are uncomfortable with having a facility designed to attract urban teenagers into the otherwise bucolic park is what they’re actually reacting to. There’s no evidence that skateboarding is loud. There is ample evidence that skateboarding is, for many people, culturally challenging.

  8. I feel a lot better after reading this. Alabama is tough,you know.I mean it’s football,nascar,hunting,etc. There’s nothing wrong with that stuff,but there is actually a pretty good skate scene that has more history and tradition than some people may know. I am 100% behind any effort’s to build a skatepark in the birmingham area. A little advice from someone who has skated in park’s from Las Angles to Gainsville,Fla. over a period of 25 plus year’s. 1.Avoid skatelite,masonite,wood of any kind,metal,etc….CONCRETE !. 2.Alway’s put function before style. 3.Variety of terrain.No one will drive from another state to skate stuff that is already available to them in the city street’s.If I can ever be of any assistance in any way please let me know. Faster is better…. Mark Eddings

    • Mark, I know this is a very old post, but I’m hoping this reaches you. I’ve talked with Peter Karvonen in the past about developing a downtown skate park. I’d like to make your acquaintance and count you as a resource should an opportunity arise to design a skate park.
      Jason Hebert

  9. Todd "Urbanotter1" Pierce

    The town of Waynesville, NC (2000 population: 9,232) is in the process of holding public hearings regarding the design and implementation of a skatepark there. That’s a community with, what, 0.008% the population of Greater Birmingham? Or, to be fair, 0.04% of Birmingham’s current population.

    re: Peter Whitley- “There is ample evidence that skateboarding is, for many people, culturally challenging”.

    “Culturally challenged”, indeed. Shall we count the ways? >sigh<

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  11. Very late to the party with my comment here, but I have noticed how many skaters are gathering at the makeshift skate park next to the new RR Park and I want to give them their park! I love to see kids out downtown exercising and socializing… it’s good for them to have something to do and some place to go – and it’s fun to watch. Maybe that should be “the next big thing”. (Well, that said, there should be a LOT of next big things – because we need so much to overcome our inferiority complex as a city!) Thanks for this post & your blog… you and our other city bloggers are doing a lot of good just by jumpstarting these conversations!

    • Thanks for commenting–yes since this post came out, the temporary skate park across from RR Park has been quite active, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the City now, for the reasons you state. Whether it’s the “next big thing” or not (and I’m not sure it has broad enough public appeal/political support to be that), I agree 100% that it needs to be one of many “next big things” that the City needs. We appreciate your reading the blog!

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  13. Michael Sznajderman

    I’ve noticed that skaters are now setting up a “park” under the Red Mountain Expressway at Second Avenue, just a couple blocks from Faith Skate.

    • Yes–It’s a default location until something official is created. In one sense it’s nice to see people reclaiming the typical “dead zone” underneath freeway overpasses, where huge swathes of land otherwise lie unused. Thanks.

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