The Evolution of Parks

Parks along with skate culture can work together to create a goal oriented individual. To understand how this works, let’s look at a brief history of parks in general.

To begin with, people in the US saw parks as a way of bringing the country into the city. Robin F. Bachin shows that early Americans linked the rural landscape with republican ideals and democracy. This bled through into the design of parks, making them simple, grassy knolls to relax and reflect in.

As time went on, parks began to take on functions in society. There was a need to alleviate the ills of city life. Simple relaxation and reflection would no longer do the trick. Parks began to become the centers of active recreation and even civic identity. For some parks the concept of creating a civic or community oriented identity was more challenging than others. Hal K. Rothman talks about the controversial political and social changes in the Bay Area between the 1960s and 1980s that made finding an identity for the Golden Gate Park very difficult.

Changing ideas about people and nature were being reflected in the parks. Rural life was no longer as romanticized as it once was. People were looking into different ways to express themselves through the landscape. This led to landscape designing in parks.

Landscape design allowed people to create beauty and control the natural landscape within the confines of the urban environment.

From here people began to realize the need for parks to fulfill a utilitarian role. Not only could parks provide an escape from the stresses of urban life, but they could also offer a place for active participation in recreation. Playgrounds for children as well as basketball and tennis courts and other activities for adolescents and adults started to become part of the structure for many parks. Picnic tables became just as common as benches, encouraging people to bring their meals and enjoy them in the park. These tables offered a forum for chess players and social discourse as well.

The designs and utility of parks did not start to cater to skateboarders until the mid 1970s. According to James Davis, those first parks in Daytona, Florida and Carlsbad, California were designed poorly and neglected the needs and desires of many skaters. A couple of years later a new set of parks were built with better designs to accommodate a wider range of skaters. A new concept in skateparks came about in 2005: the Skate Plaza. It is a skatepark designed to resemble a town plaza, created by Rob Dyrdek and opened June 5th of that year in Kettering, Ohio.

According to local skaters, similar concepts have come about locally in Richmond and East Oakland. I was told that these are good parks, but their locations are poor. Since they are remote, especially Richmond, it is difficult for many skaters to frequent them.

Most skaters that frequent these parks tend to be teenagers. According to Marcel Danesi teenagerhood is a social construct here in America, something that has only existed since roughly the 1950s. He depicts the average teenager as someone who has his / her own moral outlook on life and is disillusioned by the rest of the world’s hypocritical way of living, therefore this person rebels against the status quo. Danesi makes a point of including music as an important part of teenage identity. James Davis goes deeper to define skater culture in particular. The first thing that Davis mentions is music. He describes the evolution of skate preference from a more heavy metal style of music into dance rhythms and finally into rap. I find it very interesting that Davis titled a section of his book “The (Un)Importance of Fashion,” then went on about skaters feelings toward it. His thesis is that skaters do not care about fashion, as long as their fashion is not mainstream. He goes so far as to say that if their fashions DO become mainstream, they will forcefully and deliberately refuse to wear those fashions. To me, that seems as if fashion is very important to them, just not in the same way it is to many other people. From the impression I get from Davis, skaters pride themselves on being outside social norms. That is not to say they flaunt or break the law, they simply like to be different from everyone else.

The history of parks and skate culture are most definitely intertwined. Recreation and utility come together to produce places where kids can use parks to create a specific form of recreation that only a few talented people can produce. Certain parks offer the facilities to allow these kids to hone their skills. Their independence and individuality is also honed through the individualistic nature of the skate culture as well as their own sense of achievement at accomplishing the goals they set for themselves.

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Getting to the Grind

I’ve been digging through the internet for primary sources and have come across some interesting things. To begin with, while browsing, I came across a profile for Professor Gregory Snyder who is working on a book about skateboarding culture. I called him and asked him what I should focus on in the Bay Area. I had browsed through some of the skate magazines, but I didn’t know that one of them, Thrasher, was from the Bay Area. He also told about some other books to look into and emailed me a copy of an article he had written.

The internet seems to be revealing a pretty strong contradiction concerning skateboarding. Communities are taking away the skateboarder’s legitimate places to skate, then blaming them when something tragic happens when they skate elsewhere. In my opinion, the legitimate skateparks should stay in place, then the skateboarders would have no need to skate elsewhere.

Bayskate.com tells how Caltrans is destroying skater made parks. These parks didn’t cost tax payers anything. The skaters themselves created them out of dirt mounds and concrete under the highway overpasses. These places are safe from injuring innocent bystanders and keep the skaters out of the public eye, yet they are being destroyed. East Bay Express elaborates on this story. They inform us that one of the parks Bayskate was referring to had already been shut down and the other one the other one is going to be, informing the readers that skaters had “lost to the man.”

With such limited legitimate options for skateboarding, what are skaters to do? One option is to simply skate on the street. Unfortunately, that can have some serious consequences.

When a skater accidentally kills a woman, the issues become complicated. It is obvious that the young man did not purposely plow into an old woman at 15 mph on his skateboard. He even stayed with her afterward trying to help her. This begs the question, if he hasn’t got somewhere to skate, what is he supposed to do?

This seems to also lead into other issues. Students I’ve spoken to at East Bay as well as other schools say they rely on their skateboards as transportation. If tragedies such as this one paint skateboards as a liability to the public, then schools are apt to place higher restrictions on the use of skateboards as transportation. San Francisco State has some pretty strict rules about skateboards. They don’t allow them to be ridden on campus at all. Students must carry or walk with them at all times. These kinds of rules seem very alien to me. I come from a college that caters to a lot of international as well as domestic students, so the campus is very diverse. Most people use bicycles or skateboards for transportation, so these kinds of regulations would not happen at the University of Oklahoma.

There seems to be a self-perpetuating cycle going on. There are not enough places for skaters to go to skate, so they create them. Government and business destroy these places, so the skaters are forced to skate in places that put themselves and others in danger. When something tragic happens, the skaters are blamed and it generates public fear and loathing of the sport, marginalizing the skaters even more, making it even harder for them to find and build legitimate places to skate. It seems to me, if more parks and legitimate places to skate were built, this cycle could be broken.