David Moser offered a simple choice to the group of skaters and bikers and rollerbladers gathered in a circle before him Tuesday night: “Concrete vs. asphalt.”
“How critical is that difference?” the city’s landscape architect asked, flipping through his notes on the ideal design of an urban skate park.
“Very!” Nearly everyone in the room shouted at once, voicing their unanimous support for concrete.
“The foundation of a skate park is the most important part to get right,” one skater said.
“Falling on asphalt is like falling on sandpaper,” another chimed in. “It’s the difference between playing soccer on grass and playing soccer on dirt.”
Such was the detailed and passionate and informed conversation that took place at the Coogan Pavilion in Edgewood Park on Tuesday night, where city parks director Becky Bombero and members of her staff hosted a lively hour-and-a-half brainstorming session on how best to redesign the Edgewood Skate Park.
Over 40 local skaters showed up for the meeting to share their thoughts on construction materials and obstacle design and the region’s most reputable skate park architects. All of their observations worked towards accomplishing two goals: the preservation of Edgewood Skate Park as a vibrant epicenter for the city’s local skating community, and the establishment of New Haven as a destination venue for skaters from all over New England to want to visit.
Bombero said she hopes to use their input to inform a Request for Proposal (RFP) that the parks department will put together, budget allowing, to find the right contractor to rebuild the park.
Sitting in a circle in the middle of the Coogan Pavilion’s brightly lit recreation center, the racially and economically diverse group of attendees all seemed to have a few characteristics in common.
Nearly all were young men: twentysomethings with big beards and hoodies, converses and snug winter hats.
Many had traveled widely throughout the region and the country, citing their experiences at well-designed skate parks in Willimantic and Colorado Springs and Woodward, Pennsylvania, as critical to informing their own convictions on what makes for a successful skate park.
And nearly everyone in the room has been coming to the Edgewood Skate Park for well over a decade. This park was their home base, the place where they learned to love to skate.
As the attendees introduced themselves at the top of the conversation, common refrains of “I’ve been skating here for 10-15 years” and “I’m from New Haven and I’ve been coming here forever” filled the room. That deep personal history with the venue served to animate the group’s conviction that the skate park should be preserved and updated, not just for the enjoyment of themselves, but so that it could continue to inspire future generations of New Haven skaters.
“I think it’s a really good idea to incorporate the skate park into the Coogan Pavilion’s current slate of after school programs,” said Joe Kearney of West Haven. “Maybe some one-on-one training sessions to introduce the children to the skate park? There are a lot of kids who would be interested if they knew more about skateboarding and bike riding, and the fact that this skate park is right next to the pavilion makes it a gold mine.”
“I used to come to Westville Day Camp here when I was a child,” echoed Matthew Spodick, a BMX cyclist who grew up right up the hill on Yale Avenue. “I wasn’t really into team sports, and I remember how I used to love to come here and learn to bike and do something positive after school.”
And yet, that nostalgia only went so far. Even though the skaters in attendance had plenty of fond memories of a venue that Bombero cited as being one of Southern Connecticut’s first skate parks of its kind, they also recognized that it could benefit from serious renovation and redesign. After all, the asphalt was cracking, the obstacles were too far apart and oddly angled, and the general layout inhibited one of the most important aspects of any skate park: its flow, or its capacity for a skater’s continuous movement around the course, from obstacle to obstacle, from trick to trick.
So what did the skaters want? Bombero scrawled in magic marker on three larger pieces of construction paper to keep up with the skaters’ suggestions.
Lighting, bleachers, a covered area, integrated nature. “A water fountain would be nice,” Hamden skater Emilio Cucciniello piped in.
Mobile units and designs that accommodated skateboarding, BMX, rollerblading, and scooters.
“We’ve all been kicked out of the Beinecke Plaza for skating on those benches, so maybe we could have some replication of city architecture that we can’t skate on,” one attendee suggested.
Keep the pyramid-shaped four-sided obstacle and lose the six-staired obstacle.
“But whatever you do, don’t touch the grindbox,” Monica Bunton interjected.
And, most importantly, look to contractors who specialize in building parks for specifically for skateboarding. Grindline. Sloppy Sam. Paprocki. These are the vendors who know how to build a parks that skaters will drive miles to visit. New Haven, this group contended, could be one of those places.
“New Haven has to recognize what an incredible opportunity it has here in the redesign of the Edgewood Skate Park,” Kearney said. “Situated between New York and Boston, this city could really become a focal point for skating culture in Southern New England.”