At its meeting of November 15, 2012, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) brought the youth of Northfield one important step closer to realizing their dream of a permanent skateboard park. The board sent a recommendation to the city council ranking their preferences for the location of a permanent park, with Riverside Park as the first choice and Old Memorial Park as second choice. The board also recommended an allocation of park funds to begin construction of the park. The recommendations now go to the city council for action.
The board’s recommendations came after six years of discussions that resulted in little real progress toward building a permanent skateboard park, and after another six months in which a committee of the PRAB carefully considered possible sites for the park. The committee met with neighbors and skateboarders, considered impacts of a skateboard park, toured possible park locations, and did thorough research into the issue. The PRAB receives no funding and has no city staff at its immediate disposal, and all of these time-consuming efforts were untaken out of a conscientious and public-spirited concern for the interests of the Northfield community as a whole, and of its youth in particular. I, for one, am grateful for the service that the members of the PRAB perform, as volunteers, to the community.
The recommendation of the PRAB was not, of course, without opposition. Numerous neighbors of both Riverside and Old Memorial Parks were present at the November 15 meeting to speak against the recommendation. The recommendation was also opposed by PRAB member Grace Clark, who as a member of the site committee wrote an separate report recommending Babcock Park as the best location for the skateboard park. Generally, opponents of the successful recommendation had concerns about noise and safety, and opposed siting a skateboard park in a residential neighborhood.
There is a widespread misconception that skateboard parks are inappropriate for residential neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are precisely where skateparks should be located. According to the Tony Hawk Foundation, skateparks “should be in a central location near residential areas” where they will be easily accessible and feel integrated into the community rather than marginalized.
“Skateparks should be located where the general public is likely to walk by,” the Foundation recommends. “This helps curb inappropriate behavior but also allows the community to see and understand the healthy activity and positive environment.”
“Acess” and “sociability” are among the criteria used by cities like New Orleans for choosing a site for a skatepark. New Orleans looks for sites that are “accessible to the broader community and in a central location near residential areas.” Equally important in the site selection process is the sense of community inclusion that a site offers:
Skateboarders are passionate and committed individuals. Like most people, skaters would rather recreate with other people around than alone. Non-skaters who happen to be nearby can add to the overall sense of community inclusion at the skatepark; the facility should be designed for lots of community mixing. Healthy skate parks incubate a community of park regulars who greet each other and contribute to an overall sense of belonging.
A skatepark can and should be an opportunity to build community, to increase intergenerational understanding, and give the youth of Northfield a sense of empowerment. Despite the rancor that some of the adults displayed at the November PRAB meeting, the youth came out of the meeting with a sense of pride and accomplishment, and a renewed sense that their community valued and supported them.
At the meeting, PRAB member Neil Lutsky reported that sound testing at the site of the temporary skatepark in the summer of 2012 revealed sound levels of 65 decibels. This is roughly the volume of normal conversation.
It is true that the current steel equipment, which was used in the temporary park, is noiser than concrete skatepark elements with a surface of layered plastic and Skatelite, and the skateboard coalition intends to raise funds to construct concrete elements as soon as possible to mitigate the noise from the skatepark. Careful landscaping, including the buiding of berms and the planting of trees, can also mitigate the sound impact of a skatepark.
In 2011, the city of Brattleboro, Vermont, did a study of skatepark noise levels and determined that a proposed concrete skatepark located near a busy street would not add significantly to noise levels. “This is not to suggest,” the report states, “that skatepark activity will not be detected by the human ear—it will; but it will be below existing sound threshholds.” The proposed location of the skatepark in Riverside Park, on the west side of the park near Highway 3, will likely present a similar situation, in which the sound of skateboarding (measured at 60-65 decibels in the study) would be absorbed in the sounds of traffic (measured at 70-75 decibels in the study).
Even in second-choice Old Memorial Park, where there is no highway traffic noise, the sounds of the skatepark would likely not be greater than the sounds from the existing city pool, and the pool and the skateboard park together would create a desirable mix of activities and a greater sense of community.
Noise is clearly a real issue that needs to be addressed, and I don’t mean to dismiss the real concerns of neighbors, but we should be able to work together to find a solution that’s constructive rather than obstructive.
Now that the PRAB recommendation has been passed on to the city council, I think it’s time for the Northfield community to stop focusing on the problems and inconveniences of a skateboard park, and start focusing on the solutions and opportunities. Let’s show the youth of Northfield that we can work with them, and together, create something that will be good for all of us.
In the words of the Tony Hawk Foundation:
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....It’s a transformational process for these young people.
Working with the skateboard coaltion for the past six months, I've seen that transformation at work. As a community, we all have a unique opportunity to a part of a process that can transform all of us for the better.
Skate Park Site Selection Criteria (downloaded as a .pdf from the linked site)
Brattleboro Sound Impact Study (archived on Northfield.org)