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The Skatepark BOOM

Good News for Skateboarders and LAs

by John Nessen


According to a recent survey conducted by Landscape Structures Inc., more than 40 percent of the nation’s park directors say they will add at least one new skatepark in their district sometime in the next 24 months. Naturally, America’s skateboarders and in-line skaters are thrilled. But there is at least one other group who should be just as ecstatic: Landscape Architects.

For years LAs watched as their beautifully designed public spaces and retail environments were used as skateparks by boarders and bladers who had nowhere else to go. The elegant planters that lined the entrance to the city park served as perfect launch boxes for busting aerials. The gleaming handrails that swept up the steps of city hall were ground down to bare metal by legions of in-line daredevils. In fact, thousands of kids now view many elements of the architectural landscape as obstacles to be conquered.

But protection of the environments they create is only part of the reason that Landscape Architects should be jubilant about the boom in skateparks. Skateparks can also mean more business.

Park directors have known for years that playstructures, tennis courts and bike trails aren’t enough to keep teenagers at play in the park. In skateparks, they have found a way to engage a broad group of teenagers that, by many accounts, has been disenfranchised not only from many park environments but from traditional athletics as well. The challenge now is to give skateboarders and in-line skaters what they need while serving the community’s residents, businesses and traditional park-going public.

And that’s where the Landscape Architect comes in...

The Most Important Decision: Location

The Not-In-My-Back-Yard crowd will always turn out for skatepark discussions, and many of their concerns are valid. Skateparks are busy places, particularly if they are the only skating venue in a community. Not only do they attract many skateboarders, but they are very popular with spectators as well. Traffic and parking considerations must be included in any location decision.

Since most skateboarders are between the ages of 8 and 18, logic suggests the skatepark be close to where they live. They can then walk, skate or ride their bikes to the park rather than rely on a car. However, the closer the park is to a residential area, the more concerns neighbors may express about noise, safety and congestion. A balance must be struck between convenience and consideration, access and excess.

"There is an urban flavor to skateboarding, but that does not mean you have to sandwich the skatepark between warehouses," said Landscape Architect Steve King, chairman of Landscape Structures.

" The ideal site for a skatepark may be in a very traditional park setting, where mature trees can provide shade, buffer noise and provide a beautiful backdrop for these athletes."

Although close proximity to residences is something to be avoided, there are a few things that you do want nearby. First and foremost are food and beverages. Skateboarders fuel up at frequent intervals, and they will quickly become the new best customers of any nearby vending machines. Many skateparks partially fund the maintenance and upkeep of their skateparks with vending machine revenues.

Construction Alternatives

There are 3 primary materials commonly used to construct skateparks: concrete, steel and wood. What you choose to use in designing and constructing your skatepark will be determined by several key factors, including the size and topography of your site, your budget, the projected number of skaters, and the desired level of flexibility.

1) Concrete

Concrete design and construction are best suited to larger venues where high fixed costs can be amortized over a larger area. If you have less than 30,000 square feet of space available for the skating surface, you will almost certainly choose instead to use steel or wood. Costs per square foot for a concrete skatepark typically range from $15 to $20 or more. Concrete is also best suited to sites with excellent drainage and a relatively flat topography. A concrete skatepark will have much of its skating surface below ground level making routine removal of rain and snow an important concern.

Concrete skateparks are also best suited for large venues of 50,000+ square feet that will serve 250 or more skateboarders at a time. Concrete allows for a rambling, free-flowing design that can be an excellent test for more accomplished boarders and bladers. Concrete is also very durable, offering the longest projected useful life of any skatepark material. That characteristic can also have negative consequences, however. Design flaws that become apparent once the skating has begun are nearly impossible (and very costly) to correct in a concrete skatepark. Reconfiguring the skating obstacles from time to time to give skaters a new experience is also not practical with concrete.

2) Steel

Modular steel skateparks are the ideal choice for skateparks of 5,000 to 30,000 square feet that will cater to a mix of skating abilities. The modular aspect of steel skateparks allows park managers to change the "flow" of their skatepark as often as they wish. This keeps the skateboarding experience fresh and can be used to raise or lower the challenges in any area of the skatepark. It also allows existing underutilized spaces such as tennis courts to be converted to high-use skateparks in short order. Steel is much less expensive than concrete – usually $8 to $11 per square foot -- and only slightly more expensive than wood. In terms of durability steel far outshines wood, particularly in regions with high humidity, rainfall or snow.

3) Wood

Over the past decade many smaller, low-traffic parks have been constructed from wood because it’s initial low cost let communities sample the evolving skatepark scene before they committed to larger, longer-term facilities. Maintenance costs are the biggest negative of wood-based skateparks. Just as with wood playstructures, which were common in the 70s, wood skateparks require vigilant maintenance programs to prevent the wood from degrading and the connections from loosening due to the expansion and contraction of the wood itself. For these reasons, warranties on wood products are typically under five years, compared with 10 years for steel.

Design: Going with the Flow

Once you have selected a site and specified a material for your skatepark, it’s time to design your park. Your skatepark layout should include not only the correct variety and number of obstacles, but these obstacles must also be properly arranged to provide a good "flow."

There are thousands of skateboarders and in-line skaters in every major municipality and they are the true experts when it comes to skateparks. Here are 10 ways that you can involve the kids in your skatepark project and not only make it the best facility possible, but also build a lasting trust with its most frequent visitors:

• Before you are awarded the project, interview the kids and

bring them to your presentations. Your credibility will be

enhanced and you will demonstrate that you are in touch

with the kids who will use the park.

• When you do get the project, form a Skateboarder Advisory

Group to help throughout the design and construction phases.

• Invite them to your planning meetings.

• Take them along on visits to other skateparks in your area and

ask them what they like and dislike about each one.

• Give them design aids such as SkateWave’s RampItUp Kit and

let them choose the obstacles and create the flow for their park.

• Ask them to prioritize the amenities they would like at

their skatepark.

• Involve them in drafting the rules for their park.

• Hire them to assist with construction. The kids will be exposed

to a trade and build confidence.

• Ask them to help in planning the ribbon-cutting and

opening day festivities.

• Create an ongoing dialogue. Even after the skatepark is done,

keep in touch with the kids to find out what’s going smoothly

and what’s not. With all the skatepark work to be done, your

next skatepark should benefit from understanding the

successes and missteps of the previous ones.

Skateparks are often the most popular facilities in any park. At any given time there will be dozens of kids skateboarding and in-line skating, and dozens more watching and learning. All of this activity creates special demands for amenities.


The need for lighting is of course dependent upon your planned hours of operation. And this, in turn, is often dictated by location. Smaller skateparks located in neighborhood settings are often closed to skaters at dusk, and therefore require no lighting. Larger skateparks with evening hours will require lighting of both the skating area and surrounding parking and spectator areas. Adequate lighting is critical to promoting skater safety and providing an easily-monitored environment for police and park patrols.

Viewing area for spectators

Larger skateparks accommodate spectators with bleachers, but your solution can be as simple as sets of benches, picnic tables or simply elevated landscaping on which boarders and their fans may watch the action. Placing these areas in the shade of larger trees will be welcomed by spectators and skaters alike. Be certain to provide adequate trash containers for these areas so all those candy wrappers and soda cans are put in their proper place. Keep all seating back from the skating surface to avoid collisions with skaters or skateboards. In some cases your municipality’s insurance carrier may have fencing requirements for skateparks so be sure to check with them.

Rules & Signage

Every skatepark should have signage clearly stating that protective skating gear is required. This gear most often includes helmets, but may also be extended to kneepads or wrist guards. If BMX bicycles are permitted on your park rules signage should also specify when such use is permitted. BMX bicycles are very popular, but they should be allowed on the skatepark surface only at specific times when they have exclusive use of the facility. Other common rules include the following:

• park hours

• no smoking or alcoholic beverages

• skate at your own risk

Many parks also provide police and emergency numbers on signage and clearly mark nearby pay phones.

According to a 2001 survey by Landscape Structures fewer than 20 percent of Landscape Architects have any experience with skatepark projects. Those who are already experienced should enjoy a substantial increase in demand for their services. However, that same level of demand should encourage the other 80 percent to join in the fun.

Skatepark construction is expected to grow at a 20 to 30 percent annual rate for the foreseeable future, providing plenty of opportunities for Landscape Architects to help create the most vibrant new destinations in our nation’s parks.

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October 13, 2019, 6:58 pm PDT

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