What's the best way to create the perfect skate park?
Don't make it look like a skate park.
Turns out that concrete skate bowls, pre-fabricated ramps and half-pipes are so yesterday. Many who've been weaned on ESPN's X-Games would rather ride and grind in a "skate plaza" with benches, stairs and rails as props for their acrobatics -- essentially the same type of public places from which skateboarders are often banished for upsetting pedestrians.
"The city of Baltimore probably has a plaza that's really good to skateboard," said Gary Ream, president of USA Skateboard. "But the city ... probably won't allow it."
With skateboards riding a new wave of popularity, recreation planners across the country are trying to accommodate the growing interest in street-style skating by putting in curbs, walls and planters and fewer mini-ramps.
"Skateboarding has become very popular with youths because of the lifestyle," said Ream, who operates Camp Woodward in Pennsylvania, a haven for skateboard enthusiasts. "Because of them living the sport and riding basically on the street, different parks are being built to mimic these obstacles."
Five years ago, there were about 250 skate parks in the U.S., said Ream. Now there are about 2,000, he added, and that number is growing for a street sport that many enthusiasts are trying to return to the sidewalk-style skating from the activity's beginnings.
There are about 20 public and private skate parks in the Baltimore area. Howard County officials say they're thinking about building a couple more public parks, and a group of skateboard enthusiasts are lobbying Baltimore for another. In Baltimore County, which already has four public parks and at least one private indoor one, officials are planning a new one as part of a community park in the Perry Hall area.
When penciling in plans for Asbury Park, the local recreation council decided it would be "gnarly" to put in some conventional ramps and jumps so skateboarders could practice their airborne stunts.
To which local skateboarders replied, in so many words: no thanks.
"Instead of us breaking the law all the time, why don't you put in what we want?" said John Mosmiller, a 32-year-old skate shop worker who spoke on behalf of skateboarders at a White Marsh Recreation Council meeting this summer.
What skateboarders would love, it seems, is a skate plaza like Rob Dyrdek/DC Shoes Skate Plaza in Kettering, Ohio. Designed by professional skateboarder and Kettering native Rob Dyrdek, the plaza sprawls across 44,000 square feet and looks more like the courtyard of a government building than a classic skateboard park. It has concrete slopes, benches and stairs with metal handrails connecting the concrete terraces. When the $650,000 project was finished, it looked nothing like a skate park -- and that was the point.
Bill Tschirhart, a manager for the parks, recreation and cultural arts department in Kettering, said families often plan their vacations to include a stop at the plaza, which opened in 2005.
"I drove through there late last night, and there were license plates from four different states," Tschirhart said.
Stephanie Murdock, president of the Skatepark of Baltimore, a nonprofit group founded last year, also has a vision for a destination skate park -- at least 35,000 square feet of street obstacles and ramps and bowls -- this one in the city.
"It would draw tourists and skaters from all over," she said before a small planning meeting yesterday at State of Confusion Skatepark in Rosedale, a private indoor facility. "We want something for all levels."
The group thought it had the perfect spot, a 7-acre parcel under Interstate 95 near Swann Park, but contamination issues have prompted the advocates to consider other locations while they look for grants to help cover the expected $1 million cost.
Other cities, most notably, Shreveport, La., have used Kettering as an example when building their plazas, said a spokeswoman from the Rob Dyrdek/DC Shoes Skate Plaza Foundation.
"Cities are noticing that this is something a ton of kids are doing," said Cristina Kown, the foundation spokeswoman. The foundation provides information to local groups on building skate plazas, and Kown said it is getting a lot of calls from parents interested in having a safe place for their kids to skate.
Nick Applegate, a 19-year-old skateboarder from Kingsville, says he would love to go to Kettering.
"It seems," he said, "like the perfect place to skate."
Reflecting the current rage for street-style skating, the hot spot for Applegate and other area skateboard enthusiasts now is a burned-out lumberyard on Belair Road dubbed "The Ridge."