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.
“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.
“Remember these are probably $3.5 to $5.5 million types of facilities if we’re talking about the five facilities that we operate,” 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.