Typically, when the word “skatepark” is mentioned, “environmentally responsible” is not the first phrase that comes to mind. But in this eco-conscious age, sustainability is one of the most important factors in any municipal construction project. Even though concrete isn’t the “greenest” material, with proper foresight and planning, communities are finding ways to make skateparks more compatible with the surrounding environment.
1. Do it right the first time. The environmentally sensible way to approach a project is to do it once, and do it right. Consider working with a skatepark construction and design firm to help guide you through the process. Also, speak with local skaters to find out what skate elements they want to see. There are countless cities around the country that have installed steel-ramp parks, only to be forced to tear them down due to noise complaints and low usage. Listening to skaters and building a park they love helps avoid doubling the environmental impact of hauling away scrap metal when the park doesn’t work out.
2. Leave a small construction footprint. It is important to remember the goal is to disturb the surrounding environment as little as possible. In skatepark construction, the best eco-friendly solution is to use a combination of poured-in-place concrete and pre-cast concrete. Pre-cast concrete pieces are prepared in an off-site factory, which requires less earthwork and excavation than creating the complex forms on-site. And in the controlled environment of a pre-cast factory, concrete waste is cut by 66 percent. For example, extra-large pieces like a dock drop usually require large amounts of lumber to build forming structures with poured-in-place concrete, but with pre-cast, the same forms are used again and again.
3. Design with sustainability in mind. For a skatepark to be truly green, environmental responsibility cannot be an afterthought. Sustainability has to be incorporated directly into the initial planning and design phases of a project; otherwise, it will most likely be left out. With the environment’s well-being in mind, plan how to capitalize on the site’s advantages and mitigate its weaknesses. This includes using natural slopes to create elevation changes rather than importing backfill, and staying above grade in areas with rock formations or troublesome soil conditions. By planning ahead, you can also positively influence how the skatepark affects the environment and vice-versa.
4. Incorporate local and recycled materials. At the Green Skate Laboratory in Washington. D.C., volunteers constructed the first green skatepark using recycled materials, such as used tires and construction debris from cleanups around the city. Using local materials such as native plants also helps create a skatepark that can flourish and is respectful of the environment. Trees and plants can also visually break up the monotony of the concrete obstacles, and provide shaded areas.
5. Transform existing concrete slabs into modern street plazas. For communities with smaller budgets, transform an existing concrete slab–such as a tennis court–into an amazing skatepark. If a slab already exists, the greenest choice is to re-use it. The L.A. Skate Plaza is a great example of how a dilapidated ramp park was turned into one of the must-see skateboarding destinations in the U.S.
6. Plan for water efficiency. In rainy climates such as the Pacific Northwest, consistent showers mean that skateparks must be equipped to efficiently handle the flow of water back into the ground. A great way to manage storm-water runoff is to incorporate bio-filtration islands into the park’s design. Utilizing trees and plants can also help filter water into the ground. Even in areas that see little rainfall, planning for water efficiency is still an important way to ensure a proper balance between the skatepark and the environment.
7. Encourage sustainable actions by skaters. Studies show that when teens are given the opportunity to be environmentally responsible, they will gladly do so. By equipping a skatepark with basic site amenities, you can tap into this desire and naturally maintain the cleanliness of the skatepark. Provide a water fountain to hydrate skaters, and reduce the waste caused by empty water and soda bottles. Creating separate bins for trash and recyclables also encourages recycling at the park.
Taking steps toward creating a green skatepark not only saves time and money on maintenance, but also displays a respect for our planet.
Aaron Spohn is the founder and president of Spohn Ranch Skateparks. For more information, visit www.spohnranch.com.