Still Only a Halfpipe Dream – Skate Parks for City Heights

“I am here to reiterate to you the importance of investing in our youth, who are our future. Youth in the Mid-City area face many challenges of public safety, broken infrastructure, and inadequate services. They should not have to deal with cars, pedestrians, and cyclists when they are out skateboarding. They should be provided with a skate park to be active freely and safely. This is a commitment to them as individuals and citizens of our fair city. Recreation facilities and services need to be a priority and skate parks need to be made a reality for our communities…”  Mark Tran, Mid-City CAN Youth Council, addressing the City City Council budget meeting 5/14/12

Mark Tran and the other speakers from Mid-City CAN  left an impression on the council members.  They also left an impression on those of us in the audience from all over the city who were advocating for the restoration of meaningful public services that have been cut over the past six years.  The issue of a skate park immediately went onto my “worth fighting for and doable list.”

Skate boarding is wildly popular in City Heights and has been for years, yet there are no skate parks in all of the mid-city area.  The flat concrete strips around the City Heights/Weingart Library function as a de facto skate park, but few people would disagree that it is a lose-lose situation for skateboarders as well as park and library goers.  The video, Half-pipe Dreams by Robert Knauf, was posted a year ago.  In under three minutes, it conveys why kids want their own skate park and the competing visions and power that adults have over determining the best use of public and private property.

The skateboarders in the video make a compelling argument that the sport requires a specific kind of physical space, and that we should allocate public resources for that purpose as we do for tennis, swimming or soccer.   Safety is also an issue. Marcos Olascoaga, a member of the Mid-City CAN Youth Council describes the injuries he sustained in a skateboarding accident in this video:

As Mark Tran stated before the City Council, skateboarders need a place to skate “freely and safely.”  It appears that the sticking point is not simply support for a skate park, but rather a location and funding.  Skateboarders requested a park at the former Pearson Ford lot at Fairmount Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard when Price Charities solicited proposals for the site in the fall of 2010.   A YMCA facility is slated to open on the site in 2014 and it will not include a skate park.

City Heights is chronically deficient in park and open space by the city’s own standards. A recent analysis shows that City Heights is at less then 40% of the target acreage required to provide 2.8 usable acres per 1,000 residents.  While continued infill goes unquestioned, the provision of even a minimal level of attendant infrastructure continues to go unmet.

It is virtually impossible in this high density community to enlarge existing or build new public infrastructure without displacing residences and businesses. We are required to think strategically about, or simply make do with, bits and pieces of  available land.  The proposed Central Avenue Mini Park is an example of working with what you’ve got.

The construction of I-15 freeway through the Mid-City left a 16,000 square foot parcel at the corner of Central Avenue and Landis Street.  The city of San Diego purchased the parcel for development of a mini-park.   This Central Avenue Mini Park has undergone two community design input reviews over the past year.  A skate park was recommended in addition to open turf areas, a children’s play area and seating.

The recommendations have received the support of City Heights Councilman Todd Gloria.  Because of the limited size of the park,  a full scale skate park is not feasible. The city refers to the 6,359 square feet of skate space that was incorporated into the design as a skate plaza.  This design goes to the Park and Recreation board for final review and approval and that will probably occur in September.

Assuming that the Park and Recreation Board does indeed approve the design, little of the funding for the $1.9 million construction of the park has been identified.  Current Councilman Gloria and future Councilwoman Emerald will be faced with the task of cobbling together various funding sources to make the Central Avenue Mini Park a reality.

Is it accurate to say that the power over the provision of a skate park in City Heights resides within the slow moving bureaucratic process and the vagaries of the city budget?  Nick Ferracone doesn’t think so.  Nick, Dennis Stein and Sam Yago founded the Mid-City Skatepark Advocacy Group as a vehicle for organizing, working with public policy makers and identifying funding for skate parks.  He immediately turns the conversation about power back to the skateboarding community itself.

“Kids in Kansas grow up around corn fields.  That is the environment they interact with,” Nick begins.  “Kids  in the mid-city grow up in an built urban environment.  That is what they interact with.”  Skateboarding is both play and problem solving on a variety of levels.  Nick also points out that it  is the antithesis to the deadening influence of gang affiliations and drug use.

Nick knows that the problem solving skills of skateboarders are powerful because they are transferable.  He works closely with the Mid-City CAN Youth Council and Mark Tran.  He speaks with deep respect about the commitment these young skateboarders have made to understanding public policy processes, community organizing techniques, landscape and planning principles and budgeting.

At a recent City Heights Planning Committee Meeting, skateboarders received unanimous support for their efforts to identify locations and establish skate parks in the community.  It is unlikely that this would have ever occurred without the positive impression that the Mid-City CAN Youth Council and the Mid-City Skatepark Advocacy Group have had on public perceptions of the activity.   That public support changes the nexus of power back within the community itself and skateboarders were the critical change agent.

Nick admits that today’s skate park supporters need to be in it for the long haul.  The required bureaucratic process takes time, often years.  The Central Avenue Mini Park would only partially address the need for multiple smaller skate parks at the neighborhood level.  A flagship park of more than 10,000 square feet is also part of the long term vision.  This anchor park would include a full size congregating area and challenging elements.

Sakara Tear, a community development director at the City Heights Community Development Corporation, agrees with Nick’s perception that a long view is necessary.  She also points to the short term wins that are also necessary to sustain that long view.  Sakara points to the visibility that young people are achieving within the community and the degree to which they have changed mainstream perceptions of skateboarding.

We hear a great deal about the deleterious inter-generational effects of poverty, drug addiction and incarceration.  Both Nick and Sakara describe an inter-generational story of success for kids in the mid-city.  Today’s 14 year old skateboarder may be an 18 years old when a skate park is built, but he or she leaves something behind for another generation of kids here.

In the short term, Sakara Tear is helping to organize a Colina Park Night Out on August 7th.  Skateboarders will be there to talk to residents in the area.  A portion of the park has received approval as a potential skate park site.

Nick Ferracone invites readers to the Mid-City Skatepark Advocacy Group on Facebook.

City Heights will get skate parks.

Author’s Correction:  Sakara Tear has provided the clarification that Colina del Sol Park has ” a site that has been identified by the community as a potential skate park site and it was recommended to the Park and Recreation. ” No formal approval yet. 












Anna Daniels

I left a moribund Western Pennsylvania mill town the year that Richard M. Nixon was not impeached for crimes against the American people, and set off in search of truth, beauty, justice and a beat I could dance to. Here I am.