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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