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City Heights Looks For A Place To Skate

Aired 9/10/12 on KPBS News.

Neighborhood eyes the obstacles to getting skaters off the street and into the skatepark of their dreams.

— There's a broad cement path just outside the fence that surrounds Rosa Parks School in City Heights. About eight teenage skateboarders are doing tricks. One leaps skyward and remounts his board after it flips on the pavement below. This is where you come if you don't have a skatepark, which Oliver George would much rather have.

Skateboarders in City Heights skate wherever they can, in hopes that a skatepark will someday be built in theirneighborhood.
Enlarge this image

Above: Skateboarders in City Heights skate wherever they can, in hopes that a skatepark will someday be built in theirneighborhood.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

"If we had a skatepark it would be, like, love to us!” he said. “Because it's boring doing flatland tricks and stuff. If we had more obstacles we could learn more. You know?"

A lot of kids in City Heights ride skateboards, but there is no skatepark. Now, a community movement has come about to find a home for serious practitioners of the sport. Some adults, and kids, have formed a group called the Mid-City Skatepark Advocacy Group. One of its core members is Nick Ferracone. He says City Heights, where half the population is under 30, needs a skatepark.

"It's hard for me to picture or come up with a place that needs one more. It's an incredibly young and under-served community. And I think that combination speaks volumes," he said.

Ferracone grew up skateboarding. He became an urban planner. And he was part of a landscape architecture firm that helped design skateparks in several northern California towns. He says skateparks are cement urban oases that have a few things in common.

"They'll consist of bowls, or other rounded-type ramps that have edges and ledges and rails that kids can attack,” said Ferracone. “They learn how to deal with speed and really develop their athleticism as it relates to skateboarding."

City Heights is an older urban neighborhood that was never planned to make room for parks. City guidelines for usable park space show City Heights is 100 acres short. The problem with creating a skatepark is finding the right location and, above all, finding the money.

Nick Ferracone, a member of the Mid-City Skatepark Advocacy Group, said he can't think of a place that needs a skatepark more than City Heights.
Enlarge this image

Above: Nick Ferracone, a member of the Mid-City Skatepark Advocacy Group, said he can't think of a place that needs a skatepark more than City Heights.

"Remember these are probably $3.5 to $5.5 million types of facilities if we're talking about the five facilities we operate currently,” said Scott Reese, assistant director of parks and recreation for the City of San Diego. “So they’re very expensive.”

But where else are serious skateboarders going to do their thing? The quick answer to that is… on the street.

"It used to be called sidewalk surfing,” said Ferracone. “The skateboard is a response to the built environment. It's a way that kids have found to meet their own athletic and recreational needs."

And what does the rest of the world think of skateboarders using the built environment? Back in City Heights, skateboarder George Robles said some local businesses get kind of upset when skateboarders come around.

"Yea. A bit. At McDonald's they do. Especially at Starbucks!" he said.

Here's the problem. Serious skateboarding involves activities like grinding. That's when you get up to a good speed, jump and grind your board along a bench, a railing or some other hardscape edge.

The damage has forced parks and malls to put metal fasteners all over their outdoor cement fixtures to prevent grinding. Ferracone says that ultimately means that skateboarders need a facility that meets their needs.

"We wouldn't want kids playing two-hand touch football in a CVS parking lot,” he said. “You know, we don't want kids playing tennis in a CVS parking lot. Kids need a place to skate."

So far, the move to create a skate park in City Heights has identified two possible locations within existing parks. Funding is a huge question mark. But skatepark advocates say if the city can agree on a site, that would open the door to the cultivation of grant funding.

One thing that skateparks may never change is the rebellious nature of the sport.

Last month, I lead a discussion for Speak City Heights on building a skatepark in the neighborhood. As I was walked to my car, I saw a kid with a mop of black hair riding his skateboard across a four-lane road.

He hit the break in the traffic just right, sped over two lanes, hopped onto the median, and back down to the opposite lanes before he disappeared into some side street. It was dangerous and probably illegal.

But it looked amazing, and I couldn't help but think it was what skateboarding is all about.

Maureen Cavanaugh contributed to this story.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Nick_Ferracone'

Nick_Ferracone | September 10, 2012 at 8:14 a.m. ― 2 years, 2 months ago

Thanks very much for helping to get this story out. Our group is growing and gaining momentum. Anyone who may be interested in this effort can connect with us at midcityskatepark.org or on facebook, by searching for Mid-City Skatepark Advocacy Group.

Respectfully, I must say that the figures Mr. Reese uses here are very, VERY high. So much so that I can't figure where they may have come from, unless he is calculating land acquisition as part of the cost. This has never been a part of our strategy.

Mr. Reese, if we could have a meeting with you I can certainly explain our vision and strategy, and why our estimates are somewhere around 20% of yours.

We know that it's harder than ever for public agencies and service providers to meet the growing needs of their constituents. We really do. But we have strategies, and we believe the social and political will to get this done.

Again, come connect with us @ midcityskatepark.org

And thanks again KPBS for this story.

N.

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Avatar for user 'MTran'

MTran | September 10, 2012 at 12:02 p.m. ― 2 years, 2 months ago

Hi Nick,

Just got a chance to listen to the audio interview piece. What Mr. Reese refers to is the 5 current skateparks that are owned and operated by the City of San Diego. Carmel Valley, Rancho Penasquitos, Memorial, Ocean Beach (Robb Field), and Paradise Hills. What Mr. Reese is referring to is the OVERALL costs of those 5 parks combined. But again, $3.5 million to $5.5 million is such a huge gap, $2.0 million dollars. That a break-down of $700,000.00 on the lower-end to $1,100,000.00 on the high end for a skatepark here in San Diego.

Great job with the article piece Tom. Keep up the great work!

Best,

Mark

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | September 11, 2012 at 10:16 a.m. ― 2 years, 2 months ago

Mark,

Thanks for the note, but I have to correct you on one point. When Mr. Reese talks about $3.5 to $5.5 million for these "types of facilities" he is talking about the cost of building one skatepark, not five. So yes, it is expensive to build an elaborate skatepark with more than one bowl, etc. that would be very attractive to serious skateboarders. Reese does also point out that it is more expensive, generally, for the city to build these things, due to laws they have to follow, "fair wages" they have to pay and stuff like that. So it may be cheaper for a private developer to build one. But... unfortunately for City Heights... he was talking about the cost of just one park.

TomF

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Avatar for user 'adamward'

adamward | September 13, 2012 at 5:01 p.m. ― 2 years, 2 months ago

I talked to Scott Reese, assistant director of parks and recreation for the City of San Diego, on Tuesday morning. He clarified that $5.5 million was for large-scale projects that include things like buildings for staff and large-scale restroom facilities. He said small skate plazas start at $250,000. That's much more in line with the figures the City Council, Mid-City CAN Youth Council and the Mid-City Skatepark Advocacy Group have talked about. -Adam

Keep up to date on the skatepark and all of Mid-City CAN's activities:
http://midcitycan.org/mid-city-can-blog
http://midcitycan.org/join-our-email-list
facebook.com/MidCityCAN
@midcitycan

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Avatar for user 'PeterWhitley'

PeterWhitley | September 17, 2012 at 10:03 a.m. ― 2 years, 2 months ago

On average, skateparks cost about $40 per square foot to design and build. This figure can fluctuate quite a bit depending on regional and project characteristics. Prevailing wage, design-build allowance, site conditions, scale, and terrain design are a few of the major cost factors.

With nearly a decade of experience studying skatepark development, I have never heard of a skatepark costing more than 5-million dollars.

My fear is that Scott Reese's comment is establishing a position of resistance before fully exploring the need and the opportunities. A skatepark in Mid-City IS important and deserves a full investigation. Exaggerating the obstacles—whether by design or accident—is a grave disservice to the community's youth.

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Avatar for user 'MTran'

MTran | September 19, 2012 at 10:51 a.m. ― 2 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for the clarification Peter!

Maureen's follow-up to this great piece by Tom should be checked out.

Best,

Mark

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