Moving Forward Toward a Skateboard Park

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has made its recommendation. Can we continue to move forward together toward a skateboard park?

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.

Moving Forward

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.


Tony Hawk Foundation FAQs

Skate Park Site Selection Criteria (downloaded as a .pdf from the linked site)

Brattleboro Sound Impact Study (archived on Northfield.org)

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Heidi Cole November 19, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Thank you for your opinion, Rob. I beg to differ. Skate board parks ARE inappropriate for residential areas. Your Tony Hawk Quote even cites "a central location NEAR residential areas," NOT IN residential areas (my emphasis). Putting a skate park in a residential area will cause alienation, not community. Neighbors who are ignored, railroaded and finally harmed financially and prevented from quietly enjoying their homes by having a skate park within less than 150 yards will NOT welcome skateboarders. It is naive to think that they would. Putting a skate park in a neighborhood park robs the neighborhood of their park. On the subject of noise, Neil Lutsky was unable to say exactly when he measured his 65 DB, or what sort of activity was going on. He measured it ar ground level, when he should have also measured it at a higher elevation, since sound reflects and travels up. He did not measure it inside the living areas of the residents of the VOC, who lived next to the temporary skate park. Some of these residents have stated that they invited sound measurements in their homes, as they were unable to hear their radios or TV's over the sound of the skateboarders. What an awful prospect for them--to live out their retirement years unable to enjoy their balconies, or even have their windows open because of the noise.
Heidi Cole November 19, 2012 at 01:35 AM
Another point that is not really mentioned about the skate park is that placing it in a residential area disenfranchises all the taxpaying permanent residents of that residential area. There have been many, many protests against locating the skate park in Old Memorial Field or Riverside Park. Nevertheless, this has been railroaded through by at least two members of the PRAB, who have not produced any good reason why the skate park should not be located in Babcock Park. The skateboarders will come and go, some of them going on to college, some of them to a job, and many, I would bet, not staying in Northfield for at least part of their adult lives. Meanwhile, the permanent, taxpaying worker-bee neighborhood residents have to come home from work and listen to skateboard racket in the evening and on the weekend, when they should be able to quietly enjoy their property. In my neighborhood, when the new pool was planned, there were numerous meetings that most of the neighbors attended. We were assured-promised-that the west end of Memorial Park, a neighborhood park, would remain a green space with trees and trails. The park neighbors have invested in caring for the park, watering new trees, and invested in their homes, trusting the City to keep its promise. And now here the rug is being pulled out from under our feet again. Does that mean the the City's representations to us were lies? Should we not have cared for our park? Should we not invest in our property?
Heidi Cole November 19, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Finally, I believe that there is a conflict of interest in determining the recommended site of the skate park. At least two of the PRAB members who were in the small group to look at sites pretty obviously have some motive to keep the skate park out of Babcock Park, even to the point of trying to nail down one of the inappropriate sites, by recommending a large financial appropriation to get the park started, before the City Council has had time to review the recommendations. This brings to mind fresh memories of the big scandal involving our recent (not current) mayor, who had a conflict of interest in determining a new site for the Municipal Liquor Store. It seems that memories are short. People on the PRAB or City Council with a conflict of interest should not be involved in determining the location for the skate park. The YMCA is willing to partner in development of a skate park. However, the report made to the PRAB by the two members who visited with the YMCA leadership disingenuously remarks that the Y doesn't have the space to provide a park like the one in Edina. This strikes me as insincere. How about a discussion of what is possible and what is not? Chris Richardson, the school superintendant, wants nothing to do with the skate park, even though the district has lots of land, personnel for safety supervision and the real fact that most boarders here are school-age children. As far as being part of the community, the boarders would be among their peers.
Corey Butler Jr. November 19, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Jane McWilliams, who lives near where the temporary skatepark was this year, shares her thoughts in this blog on Patch: http://northfield.patch.com/blog_posts/prab-skateboard-park-recommendation-deserves-our-support
Bruce Roberts November 20, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Dear Rob, Your comments paint the objections from the Riverside Park residential community as “problems and inconveniences” and our pleas for understanding as rancorous. Then you ask for solutions and opportunities. Many of us here at the Village on the Cannon have tried to be part of the solution in numerous ways for many years. We have served on community groups looking into uses of our parks and the downtown area; we have offered alternative suggestions to the skateboard coalition that incorporated Riverside Park; we have offered to serve on groups to help raise funds for a new skateboard park; we have visited the youth in the newly occupied KEY; we have commented favorably on the activities of the youth who use Riverside Park; we have worked with the Y to consider options for skateboarding; we have invited representatives from the KEY to the VOC; and we have worked closely with the PRAB this year to assess the use of the temporary park. Yet, because we also wish to be able to be on our porches during good weather you name us as problems, inconveniences and as rancorous. Bruce Roberts
Rob Hardy November 20, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Bruce: I never called you or any residents of the VOC problems or inconveniences. I appreciate the involvement of the VOC in the process, and have nothing but the greatest respect for VOC residents. I have twice taught CVEC classes there, and have many dear friends who live there. Indeed, I have friends at the VOC who support a skatepark at Riverside, but won't speak out for fear of alienating some of their fellow residents (although Jane McWilliams has courageously and eloquently spoken out). Saying "you name us as problems" (which I didn't do) is not constructive, nor is attributing conflict of interest or insincerity to those who, working in the best interests of the community and its youth, make a decision one might disagree with. I would like to move beyond these personal bad feelings. I am always willing to meet and talk, if we can do that amicably and constructively. You and the neighbors of any skatepark are certainly not problems. They are a necessary part of the solution, and an integral part of the vibrant intergenerational community that can form around a skateboard park.
Bruce Roberts November 20, 2012 at 05:09 PM
OK, Rob, This is a very divisive dialogue that you began and seem to want to continue. Neil Lutsky, as the spokesperson for the three-person skateboard subcommittee of the PRAB has been careful to work with us as friends and partners from the start. Bruce
Heidi Cole November 20, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Rob, I take offense at the tone of your reply to my comment, and the way you have personalized and distorted my concerns, representing me as uncaring, unChristian and, in your works, "exclusive," because I don't want a noisy skate facility installed next to my backyard--or ANYONE'S BACKYARD--and be unable to use my neighborhood park, and because I don't want to sustain thousands of dollars of loss of property value. Don't demonize me for wanting to protect my family or property value.1. I live right next to Old Memorial Park and no one has spoken to me or my husband about our desire for a skate park next to our property line. 2. You are incorrect that I refer to Old Memorial Park as "our property." I was referring to the land and house that my husband and I own and pay taxes on. I call Old Memorial Park "our park" because it belongs to us and our neighbors and other citizens of Northfield. By calling Minnesota "my state," does that imply that I am exclusive? Be real. 3. If there is not a conflict of interest, why are certain members of the PRAB so adamant in locating the skate park in a residential area, despite the opposition and pleas of long-standing, respected Northfield residents? Why are they in such a hurry to get this done that the motion was raised and seconded to recommend appropriation of $30,000 to build a cement pad for the skate park in Riverside Park, without allowing for any discussion by any PRAB members who weren't "in the know?"
Rob Hardy November 21, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Heidi and Bruce: I really don't understand the tone of your comments, or your anger at me, how you can distort my words in such ways. My only interest is providing a much needed and long overdue recreational opportunity for Northfield's youth. Happy Thanksgiving.
Heidi Cole November 21, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Rob, I am pleased to explain why I am unhappy with this whole process. First, I would like to say that I have no objection to a skate park per se. In fact, I think that the Skateboard Coalition has worked very hard toward achieving their goal of a permanent skate park, and deserve to have one. But look at it from a location point of view. Imagine that you bought a house, knowing what surrounded your land, both pleasant and unpleasant things. You choose to buy your property knowing what the warts are, so to speak. Imagine that there are covenants or city plans involving some of the surrounding property, so you also know what to expect on property that does not belong to you. Then, imagine that someone comes in, with an entitled attitude, brushing aside all your objections (and those of your neighbors), and painting you with NIMBY paint, and drops a big noisy concrete and metal structure next to your property. The noisy structure prevents you from peacefully enjoying your property, hearing the birds in your own yard, and walking in a public place that was once quiet, but now is not. What really irritates me is that not only am I or other people supposed to sustain a decrease in quality of living, but also to sustain a loss in property value. I am even more irritated that no one seems to listen to or take seriously the objections of those who would be most severely impacted by a residential skate park--the people who live next to the skate park.


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