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Youth Reclaim Public Space through Dialogue and Cooperative Planning

United States



The Metro Parks Tacoma ‘Program to Empower Marginalized Youth through Community Action and Inclusion’ (‘Skatepark Program’) plans and develops a network of public spaces designed for skateboarding, in a close collaborative planning process between the skateboarding community and Metro Parks. Through the program, the City aims to empower skateboarding youth in the community and instill greater appreciation and support for skateboarders within the broader community.




The program arose out of a conflict between the young skateboarders and local businesses in the revitalized downtown area in 2002. Municipal public policy had been initiated to exclude and ban skateboarders from this activity in the city. Beginning with regular face-to-face meetings to enable dialogue between local skateboards, city officials, and anti-skateboarding stakeholders and to facilitate the development of solutions to the initially oppositional situation, the process led to the local skateboarding community taking the lead to create a plan, select sites, and co-design places for skateboarders.




The outcome of the skaters’ plan was a tiered skateboarding system which would entail locating ‘microsites’, small skateboarding spots, all over the city; a much smaller number of intermediate skateparks dispersed throughout the city; and a single advanced-level skateparkThe first microsite was completed at the beginning of 2006. The plan was included in the strategic plan for Metro Parks, and in 2005, the Park Bond Program included a $750,000 allocation for intermediate skateparks to be developed around the city. The implementation of the policy involves area skateboarders, the City of Tacoma and Metro Parks Tacoma, and peer organizations such as Skaters for Public Skateparks, a national NGO. Skatepark creation involves a complex process that affords – and benefits from – the involvement of the skateboarding community at every stage.


The metrics for program success are threefold:

(1) the development of sanctioned built environments for skateboarding youth (e.g., skateparks and skate spaces) that are open for public use and fully meet the public need;
(2) community acceptance and eventual adoption of this inclusive youth activity; and
(3) a heightened grassroots involvement by previously marginalized youth.


Result and beneficiaries:


The end result is an empowered youth and powerful participation in community matters. The policy was primarily aimed to benefit skateboarding youth, both male and female, who are empowered through the program and gain safe and well-designed skate parts in which to recreate.

The program also benefited area residents; the general public of Tacoma; the local business community who participated in finding a solution to a conflict over public space use by skateboarders in the downtown core; and the City of Tacoma, who found optimal approaches to meeting the needs of its residents and empowering its youth citizens in this situation.




In addition to grassroots involvement in passing the Parks Bond financing measure, the Skatepark Program relies heavily on volunteerism and community donations to meets its meager financial needs, and receives community and neighbourhood grants and some private funding (predominately in the form of services). The physical development of skateparks is primarily financed through the 2005 Park Bond Program, which includes a $750,000 allocation for skate parks, with some possibility of outside donations or other contributions. Some skateparks are part of broader project initiatives in which other sources of financing are also involved.  




One of the largest obstacles encountered has been social resistance of local communities to the location of a skatepark in their neighbourhood. Thus, it has been challenging to identify the best physical locations for skateboarding that will be accepted by the local community. The case narrative includes pre-requisites and recommendations for cities that want to implement a similar intervention for skateboarding.