A planned $1.8 million redesign of Riverside Skate Park back will be reconsidered, to the delight of dozens of skateboarders who are advocating for a more inclusionary design than the one proposed by the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
“The new design doesn't fit the skate community at all,” skater Ian Clarke told Community Board 7 before the board voted Tuesday night to send the plan back to its Parks and Environment Committee for further discussion. “We look at the design and say, 'you just don't get it.'”
The skaters contend that the proposed design, with its largest bowl reaching to about 6 feet high, would have excluded so-called “vert” or “transitional” skaters, who prefer to skate up and down larger ramps and bowls. The park, at the level of West 108th Street, now has a three-tiered system, with ramps at 3 feet, 6 feet, and 9 to 10 feet high. The proposed design would have eliminated this scheme, which would exclude those skaters, said Clarke, who spoke on behalf of the several dozen skaters who attended the meeting. The planned design would dedicate two-thirds of the park to street-type skating, involving urban obstacles. That design, Clarke said, would exclude the vert skating community, which he said is already underrepresented within the city's roughly 20 skate parks.
The park, the city's first dedicated to skateboarders, is considered a landmark by many city skaters. It was built in 1995 in close consultation with skating legend and Upper West Side resident Andy Kessler, whom Clarke called the “godfather” of the New York City skating scene. Kessler died in 2009 at the age of 49 following an allergic reaction to a wasp sting. Clarke said the new design went against Kessler's original vision of a three-tiered system, which allows skaters to work their way up as their skills progressed.
The skaters last month released a statement on their Facebook page detailing problems with the proposed design. Their main concern is that the Parks Department's design does not equally allocate beginner, intermediate and advanced spaces.
The statement, issued on May 26, called the new design a “swing and monkey bars” playground design. While the skaters say the Parks Department “indeed has the best of intentions” and that they look forward to a redesign, the proposed plan's faults resulted from a lack of consultation with the skating community. The statement said that the $1.8 million allocated for a redesign of the park should result in a world-class facility.
According to the architect behind the project, one of the goals behind the new design was to allow the park to be open around the clock. It is now only open at certain hours and an attendant is required to monitor the skate park during its operating hours to insure safety protocols are followed, particularly on the larger ramps.
The new design would dedicate two-thirds of the park to street skating and be open 24/7, with only the part of the park dedicated to vert skating fenced off and requiring an attendant, she said during the board meeting.
Clarke called the Pier 62 Skatepark in Chelsea, run by the Hudson River Park Trust, a model of diversity. That park, he said, attracts skaters of all ages and backgrounds, while the proposed design for the Riverside facility would likely only attract teen and younger skaters when built.
“The Riverside Skatepark location is the most important and significant location currently being developed on the East Coast. We'd like the City of New York, W Architecture and Landscape Architecture and whichever vendor it chooses to design and build to frame the design with this in mind,” the statement says in part. the The skaters, from teens in T-shirts to adults in suits, celebrated outside following the board's vote, at Fordham University.
Michael Massagli, a local resident, was delighted at the board's 35-3 vote in favor of returning the redesign to the board's Parks and Environment Committee.
“I'm happy they're finally listening to us,” Massagli said. “New York is known for having no transitional parks. I show up (to Riverside Skate Park) whenever I can, I try to make it every weekend.”
Another skater credited the victory to the sheer amount of skaters who showed up, which he said made the board more aware of community dissatisfaction.
“There's definitely strength in numbers, if there were five of us, we would have been out of there,” another skater said.
The Parks and Environment committee next meets on June 27. Clarke said the skaters would once again have a chance to voice their opinions and discuss their designs, which he said would hopefully live up to Kessler's vision.
“When we first saw the proposed design, it was a bad day for us,” said Clarke, “But today was a good day.”