New ‘skate plaza’ design gives urban environment thrills

See how a new Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau project can reduce the damage that skateboarders cause to commercial and public spaces, by drawing them to a new skatepark planned for outer East Portland, designed with big-city challenges …

East Portland parks advocate, Linda Robinson, Mark Vanderzalm, skatepark design and construction consultant, and Mark Conahan,46-year-old skateboarder (and long time thrasher), look at the new “Skate Plaza” design – as Portland Parks & Recreation Program Manager, Rod Wojtanik, points out features.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Ed Benedict Park, located just east of I-205 on SE Powell Boulevard in the Lents Neighborhood, is the setting for Portland’s newest skatepark.

What’s a skatepark?

It’s a place specifically designed for riders of skateboards, street roller skaters, and BMX bike to have fun – away from city streets and public plazas.

“Portland Parks & Recreation isn’t building anything else that gets as much use as skateparks,” says the Parks Bureau Project Manager Rod Wojtanik, himself a Southeast resident. “These facilities serve a demographic we’ve not done a good job serving, unless the young people are in an organized sport.”

Play areas serve 2- to 8-year olds very well, explains Wojtanik. Soccer, baseball and football fields serve team sports players. Community centers feature basketball courts and swimming pools. “But none of these serve the young people who can’t find a place to skateboard and have planted themselves in front of the TV on the couch.”

25% of kids 14 to 16 years old say they like to ride a skateboard, Wojtanik continues. But, they don’t have safe alternatives to skating in the street or in public plazas. “Giving them a safe place skateboard meets a real recreation need.”

The plan for the proposed Skate Plaza mimics “skate-able surfaces” found in urban environments like benches, railings, and planter boxes.

Suburban ‘Plaza’ to feature urban skating features
Urban plazas are designed for pedestrians, not skateboarders, Wojtanik says; but because of these places have challenging and fun-to-skate surfaces, kids love to ride there. Skateboards ride, flip, and “grind” these surfaces – often to the dismay of city officials and property owners who must repair damage this play causes to railings, curbs, stairs, and planters.

The difference between a skatepark and a skate plaza, Wojtanik tells us, is the layout. Typically, skateparks have dramatic features like deep, swimming-pool like bowls, and are built into a relatively small area of land.

A skate plaza is more spread out. “It simulates an urban environment with stairs, railings and ledges. We’re creating an attraction for the skateboarding community designed to draw skaters away from public plazas to a place they can enjoy their kind of riding – without being arrested or fined.”

Unlike easily-damaged public and commercial areas, the surfaces in the skate plaza are specifically designed for skateboarding; planners say they’ll last indefinitely.

Ed Benedict Park was chosen because the site is large, has good visibility from the street, and has good access to public transportation. It is an area that is safe for children, Wojtanik says.

Bureau seeks public input
At a meeting held at Earl Boyles Elementary School – it borders Ed Benedict Park – planners showed off their skate plaza design and asked for input.

Skate plaza designers reveal that at least 70% of the skate park will have “street skating” features. The plaza will feature more vegetation than in the other skate parks, with numerous planter boxes – all with skateable surfaces.

Overall, indications from skateboarders show they favor the street skating theme of the new park. They suggest that “transitional skating” features (30% of the skate plaza) be kept at a scale that’s compatible with the streetscape theme.

Across-the-street neighbor Mitchel Odom, and his son Derek, look at plans for the new skate plaza – but Mitchel says the location raises some concerns.

Neighbors express concerns
A few non-skaters in the audience expressed concerns that the skate plaza is located on the north edge of the park, close to traffic on SE Powell Boulevard. The design team said they will use a variety of mechanisms, including vegetation and cables, to keep skateboarders from accidentally flying out into traffic – and, to keep out-of-control cars from careening into the skate plaza.

As across-the-street neighbor Mitchel Odom looked at the skate plaza’s design, he said that he’s concerned about the possibility of a “culture clash” at the park.

Urban skateboarders have their own culture, Odom said, as do teams of ethnic soccer players. “Soccer players don’t come to the park with skateboards. There is a lack of parking. Every day on Powell, there is a huge backup of traffic. It is a two-lane road. My major concern is the potential for a culture clash among users.”

Next steps
Wojtanik says the bureau is in the public design phase of the development process. If you missed the meeting on September 13, you can still comment by going online – promptly – and letting your concerns or comments be known.

To comment online, CLICK HERE. This link will take you directly to the comment area on

“When we solidify our design, we’ll get permits and begin construction. We should see skaters on the plaza by July of 2008,” predicted Wojtanik.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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