Why are skateparks beneficial to communities?
There are many benefits to skateparks. They provide community value in five significant ways.
Skateparks provide a place for kids who aren’t attracted to traditional team sports a place to go and express themselves in an individual and athletic manner. Getting kids, particularly at-risk kids, involved in a personal and esteem-building activity like skateboarding helps them build the confidence to do well in other aspects of their lives.
Skateparks provide a place for local youth to meet, socialize, and develop friendships based on a common, healthy interest. The bonds of friendship based on a mutual interest in skating often last a lifetime.
Health and Developmental Benefits
Providing recreational opportunities to young children helps them develop healthy, active lifestyles, and the growing popularity of skateboarding is encouraging more and more people to go outside and roll. On average skaters are between 12 and 17 years old. These are formative years in a youth’s life and developing a habitual desire for physical recreation is essential to a healthy future.
Skateboarding is physically active and requires, at times, great concentration. It encourages children to spend time outdoors, tests their endurance, sharpens their senses, and develops their creativity. Skateboarding requires no coaches and suggests no standardized approach to riding a skatepark. Skaters are free to ride in their own way, to their own abilities, and encouraged to pursue their own style of skating. Many people who started in their teens still enjoy skateboarding well into their 50s.
Youth in low-income areas are particularly prone to health issues related to lack of exercise due to the expense of equipment and travel, or lack of leisure time. For these communities a local skatepark becomes an effective tool that teaches healthy, athletic living at an impressionable age.
Public Comfort and Safety Benefits
The 9.3-million skateboarders in America only have about 3,000 skateparks nationwide. That means the vast majority of them are skating in the streets. Over 90% of deaths involving skateboards in the U.S. occur outside of skateparks. Most of these tragedies also involve a motor vehicle. Skateparks, even the more challenging ones, are far safer than kids rolling through busy streets.
Skateparks provide a place for local youth to practice their tricks. This means that they’re not skating downtown or in areas where they are seen as a nuisance, a menace, or causing damage to structures. Skateboarding ordinances and other deterrents generally fail to significantly mitigate skating in inappropriate areas. Drawing the activity to appropriate areas allow other preventative measures to be more effective.
In addition to the direct health benefits, research even suggests that skateboarding can help keep teens out of trouble. A 2006 study found that skateboarders are less likely to smoke cigarettes, have sex, and skip school. (“Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Patterns are Associated with Selected Adolescent Health Risk Behaviors,” PEDIATRICS, Vol. 117 No. 4, April 2006)
We do not have any specific studies on the economic impact of skateparks on communities. But from the feedback we receive from municipal skatepark managers, skateparks do seem to have a positive effect on businesses in the surrounding area. When a skatepark opens, it tends to draw folks from the outlying communities to come bring their kids to the skatepark, do some shopping, maybe have lunch, buy some gas, etc. The further away the nearest skatepark is, the further people travel to visit the new park. Skateparks attract patrons to local businesses who might not otherwise be in the area.
Skateboarders are tenacious and will go wherever the compelling terrain is. While skateparks with high visibility and ample community interaction are healthier environments, skateparks in challenging locations can often serve to activate an otherwise underutilized space. Their presence displaces less desirable elements that require privacy and can be a steady presence for other visitors that may be reluctant to visit a desolate area.
Community Development Benefits
When parks are built right--with local skater input and involvement throughout the process--those youth develop a sense of ownership, pride, and community engagement. The very existence of the park is the result of their hard work and interaction with the broader community. They worked with civic and local business leaders, with each other on design elements, and with the community to find a suitable location. These previously disenfranchised skaters, who once ran from the police, find themselves working with the police, the city, and the community as a whole. It’s a transformational process for these young people.
Skateparks allow the broader community to see the skateboarding youth for what they truly are: Passionate, dedicated athletes that voluntarily seek out physical recreation. Most communities with new skateparks are surprised to see how popular and positive the facility is and regret not making it larger.
Without skateparks, skateboarders are often treated as pariahs and repeatedly told to leave the area. In some areas they must deal with law enforcement for doing something that they feel is essentially harmless. The cumulative effects of this treatment instill a sense of disconnection to their community. This regrettable cycle creates at-risk youth and is easily preventable through the creation of a local skatepark. When the youth are treated as criminals, they often become criminals.