Taking Liberties with skatepark?


SKATE D8, a co-ordinated campaign to find space for a skatepark in Dublin 8, has clapped eyes on a barely used section of St Patrick’s Park as the most suitable location for what could be a fantastic new amenity for young people in the Liberties area.

However, it will only happen if Dublin City Council officials change their mind about what a public park is (or can be), and see the possibilities inherent in young architects Douglas Carson and Rosaleen Crushell’s design.

A council spokesman said its parks department had told Skate D8 it does not consider St Patrick’s Park to be a good location for a skateboard arena because it “would have a negative impact on the heritage and setting of St Patrick’s Cathedral and park”.

The park “is visited each year by thousands of tourists” and the council is seeking to improve visitor facilities there. “It would not be appropriate to impose structures or activities which could be viewed as negatively impacting on the built heritage [of the area].”

In response, the architects quote the great Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, who observed that city parks “are not abstractions, or automatic repositories of virtue or uplift . . . they mean nothing divorced from their practical tangible uses”.

Skate D8 was formed by Sandy Hazel in 2006 to promote the benefits of a skatepark in Dublin 8 that would provide a “meaningful place” to play for young people in the area. Active members include skaters, graffiti artists, parents, schoolchildren and young adults.

The campaign has received support from local groups including the Haroldville Reuben Residents’ Association, the Whitefriar Aungier Community Council and the South Area Youth Service, as well as a petition signed by more than 1,000 schoolchildren in the area.

With support from the Arts Council, Carson and Crushell Architects looked at how an urban space could be both an amenity and cultural site for the community with particular focus on “established street cultures currently under-provided for in the city centre”.

They say the artistic concept of this imaginative project is to “represent, through a collaborative design process, an ideal urban space, focusing on the specific needs of the users of a skatepark while reflecting the aesthetic desires of the remaining citizens”.

The architects point out that there are four skateparks in the Dublin City area, of which only one is located in the inner city. This works out at one per 125,000 in population, compared with one per 75,000 in Vancouver, where all eight skateparks are in the inner city.

Their illustrated report stresses the need to work in collaboration with the community to create successful spaces, and quotes Jacobs again: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

The architects point out that unlike sports facilities such as basketball courts or football pitches, skateparks are non-standard in design terms. “This provides the artist with an opportunity to provide unique challenges to its users as well as creating an innovative and expressive urban space.”

Various sites

The report examines a variety of potential sites in Bridgefoot Street, Chamber Street, Francis Street and the Civic Offices at Wood Quay as well as an indoor option in the former Iveagh Markets, which surprisingly drew a “very positive response from skaters”. But it comes down strongly in favour of the currently underused section of St Patrick’s Park, a wedge-shaped podium along Bride Street that’s physically separate from the rest of this largely ornamental park, which is designed exclusively for “passive recreation”.

The report says that a park “will fail if considered to be solely for one single demographic, either local or tourist, young or old, male or female, skater or walker. The park must be both for those casually passing through and for those who see it as a destination.”

Carson and Crushell note that St Patrick’s Park enjoys “good passive surveillance” from houses and flats overlooking it, as well as ongoing management by the city council’s parks department. And because of its location, it would also have “good skate-tourism potential”.

Turning the wedge into a skatepark would “activate” this area, which is both well-defined and “neutral” as well as being connected to the city centre. Improving the park as a public amenity is also supported by the Cathedral Quarter Framework Plan, which was drawn up in 2006.

“Notwithstanding the potential draw from outside the vicinity – regionally, nationally and internationally – this park represents a great opportunity to provide a much-needed resource for young people in the area”, the architects say in their report. “It is intended that any design for the upper park is done in co-ordination with the conversion of the arches below into a community facility for the youth of the area, as suggested in the Cathedral Quarter Framework Plan.

“The resulting design will be described in architectural drawings and collage using material produced during workshops with Skate D8. A report documenting the project and the outcomes will be circulated amongst relevant stakeholders” – including the city council.

One of the precedents cited is the Micropolis Skatepark in Helsinki. Located in the Finnish capital’s central park, it used granite, concrete, brick, grass, shrubs and trees to create an “architectural experience” as well as an “attractive and exciting setting for skaters”.

Carson and Crushell are relying on the Dublin City Development Plan’s pledge to “ promote the development of both indoor and outdoor facilities for young people, eg multi-use games areas, teenage shelters, skateboarding areas and skateboard parks, youth cafes”.

It’s time for council officials to make good on this pledge. And there’s a good chance that they will, because the council’s budget for 2013 includes €75,000 for a park in the southwest inner city – with the location to be chosen by councillors representing the area.

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