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City Heights residents shape skatepark

About 40 City Heights skateboarders and Mid-City CAN Youth Council members came together  on Sept. 12 at the Weingart library in City Heights to start talking about what skatepark features they liked in a meeting facilitated by the Youth Council and Tony Hawk Foundation. Photo by Adam Ward
About 40 City Heights skateboarders and Mid-City CAN Youth Council members came together on Sept. 12 at the Weingart library in City Heights to start talking about what skatepark features they liked in a meeting facilitated by the Youth Council and Tony Hawk Foundation. Photo by Adam Ward

On a hot Friday afternoon about 40 City Heights skateboarders and Mid-City CAN Youth Council members came together to talk about what skateparks they liked and why.

As skateboarders filed into a meeting room on Sept. 12 at the Weingart library in City Heights, they were immediately attracted to about 20 pictures of skateparks with a variety of features, some resembling public sculpture -- others replicating the stairs and rails of an urban environment

Mid-City CAN Youth Council Member Terry Stanley introduced planning and skatepark specialists who led the discussion.

"Now this project is real," said Nick Ferracone, associate planner with the City of San Diego and a member of the group that advocated for the park.

Ferracone sketched a long serpentine shape of available space for the skatepark at the southeastern side of Park De La Cruz, behind the baseball diamonds – estimating that the final park would most likely be 14,000 square feet. The project is funded and scheduled to break ground in January 2016, he said, which means the park should be finished in the spring.

Next, two representatives of the Tony Hawk Foundation facilitated a process where skaters put dots on their favorite images and talked about what they liked about the pictured skateparks.

Skaters' descriptions included, "Looks fun, sick" and talked about qualities they liked, including the launch and linkage in a park.

Peter Whitley, programs director at Tony Hawk Foundation, stressed that the meeting wasn't to design a skatepark.

"What we want to do is put your voice in every step of the way to ensure that each decision is the right one," he said.

"Ultimately what you say will influence the process."

Whitley summed up the group's feedback.

"People are pretty down with aesthetic details, but not to the degree that it impacts the budget so much that it is more of a sculptural space – it's a skatepark," he said.

He also talked about the importance of the park's function rather than form.

"I think what I'm hearing is a preference toward the wider, simpler more technical space rather than cool, innovative, unique spaces," he said. "It's not that kind of wild, one-of-a-kind park, it is some real standard stuff that everyone can skate, everybody loves."

Aaron Chau, one of the City Heights skaters at the meeting, described what he heard in the meeting as a place where skaters "can go back to our roots."

The meeting helped make the vision real for him.

"Catch me at the skatepark every day," he said.

Jorge Robles, another City Heights skater and Mid-City CAN Youth Council member, said he was a little disappointed in the group's vision.

It's the "standard stuff you see on TV," he said. "I want to see more transition and a lot more flow-y stuff."

He was impressed by the age-diversity of the group that participated, he said.

"I was really hyped to see that many younger kids," he said. "Usually it's like the older kids that show up."

Miki Vuckovich, executive director of the Tony Hawk Foundation, said the point of the process was to create a bell curve of designs that the group likes and then send that information to the city, which will hire a designer.

"Each of these images represents a different style," he said. "They also represent a different type of designer. All the preferences we make here tell us what style works, but they also kind of point to different designers."

Eliminating unqualified designers is an important part of the process, Whitley said

"We are just trying to remove the designers that are not qualified to bring their CAD [Computer-Aided Design] software anywhere near San Diego," he said. "I'm talking about ramp companies for example. Nobody wants hot steel ramps and a little tennis court."

Vuckovich was impressed by the group's ongoing efforts.

"What you guys have on your side is you have a great group of skaters, coming to the meetings and being that engaged and involved throughout this process," he said. "You also have the luxury of a group like Mid-City CAN as a champion of this cause. There are really a handful of groups throughout the country that we work with – that are exactly what every community needs in terms of getting a skatepark and getting youth voices heard in the community. Mid-City CAN is way at the top of that list."

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