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Saarbrücken skatepark - an area for Olympic demands?
By Norbert Szombati, LNDSKT – planning office specializing in skatepark design (Skatepark Planning & Marketing)
Does the approval of skateboarding for the Olympic Games have an impact on the building of local skateparks?
In summer 2020, skateboarding will debut as an Olympic sport at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. There, 40 men and 40 women from all over the world will be vying for gold, silver and bronze medals in the categories “street” and “park”. The skateboarding youth culture between the conflicting poles of commercialisation and focus on high-level performance for competition – a development that has definitely sparked criticism and a heated and controversial debate among skateboarders. However, does this development also have an impact on the planning and building of skateparks? Will skateparks even be standardised by the IOC like other sports facilities in future? The Saarbrücken skatepark planned by LNDSKT was opened in April 2019 and thus serves as a recent example illustrating the current situation.
The 740 m2 skatepark is situated in the middle of a 22-acre park, the historic Bürgerpark recreation area. The park was planned by Peter Latz on the ruins of Saarbrücken’s destroyed coal harbour as part of an ecological urban renewal scheme in the years from 1985 to 1989 and implemented together with schoolchildren, students and local residents. It was awarded the Landscape Architecture Prize of the Association of German Landscape Architects (BDLA).
Around the turn of the millennium, some precast concrete skating elements were installed on the existing asphalt surface within the Bürgerpark. At that time, this was the common way of implementing skateparks in Germany: using precast components and usually without involving local users. Since then, skateboarding has evolved into an Olympic sport and so have skaters’ needs as the vast majority of users.
Today, the US-style in-situ concrete has also established itself as the preferred approach to concrete construction in Germany, as it provides the highest level of flexibility and a wide range of individual design possibilities and thus potentially makes each skatepark unique. Unlike football or basketball, even the international governing body World Skate, which is responsible for establishing the sporting guidelines for skateboarding in Tokyo 2020, endorses the individual design of skateparks.
Moreover, skateboarders have learned to become organized, form clubs and put forward their ideas and visions of their skatepark to cities and municipalities. Nowadays, planning is almost unthinkable without involving local users. As in the 1980s, citizens and users were heavily involved in the new skatepark project for the Bürgerpark.
The users express their wishes in participation workshops, usually having very concrete and detailed ideas of individual elements – e.g. a set of stairs with handrail. These wishes are considered by the planner and incorporated into a coherent overall concept, taking into account various other factors such as the area, budget, surroundings, public amenity value, client’s objectives, etc.
Set of stairs with handrail and a bowl in Saarbrücken
In the case of Saarbrücken, the Cologne-based LNDSKT planning office developed the design as specialist consultants for Latz + Partner in close cooperation with the City of Saarbrücken, the Saar Skateboarding e.V. association and other parties involved. The aim was to create a facility for children, young people and adults, which helps to regenerate and revitalise the Bürgerpark, enhances the quality of urban life and makes a major contribution to intercultural understanding and integration. Lukas Junk, chairman of the Saar Skateboarding e.V. association, and the other active members of the association were not only involved in the planning of the new skatepark in the Saarbrücken Bürgerpark, but they also raised 80,000 euros in donations. The federal government, the federal state of Saarland and the City of Saarbrücken each bear one third of the remaining costs of the € 484,000 skatepark.
The general challenge facing skatepark planners is above all to make the right compromises in terms of a coherent overall concept, for in almost all cases, the users’ requests exceed by far the available budget. A set of stairs with handrail and a bowl were explicitly requested for the Bürgerpark. Both are elements that could not be any more different. Besides, these are used only by advanced skaters and require a relatively large amount of space. From a sporting point of view, a set of stairs, as a replica of urban furniture, represents the Olympic discipline “street”. The bowl with its organic shapes represents the Olympic discipline “park”. A combination of both elements into one is absolutely not recommended due to very different skating speeds.
Separating these two elements spatially and at the same time integrating them into a coherent overall concept requires an area of approx. 1,500 m2. However, this problem of “street” vs. “park” had existed long before the discussion about skateboarding and the Olympics became a public issue. One can therefore assume that the very different requests are rather influenced by culture and can be ascribed to the versatility of skateboarding. The decisive factor and common denominator is the fun of skateboarding. For the skatepark design in Saarbrücken, the essential elements of the two disciplines were first defined and then adapted to be combined in a limited space. The skateboard facility was embedded in an open plot of the existing recreation park, elegantly hugging the topography and using the existing structures and spatial conditions. Spectators and skateboarders taking a break can view the action in the skatepark from a raised part of the lawn. On hot days, pine trees and wild cherry trees provide shade. The skating elements are strategically arranged and match the materials and colour scheme of the surrounding Bürgerpark. It looks as though the skatepark had always been a part of the recreation park.
Skateparks in public space are primarily meeting places and not competitive sports centres. Being a place with a high public amenity value, where people of all ages and backgrounds can spend their leisure time together, is the primary objective. The possibility for individual skateboarders to practise and prepare for the next competition will always be of secondary importance and be restricted to a limited area. This aspect will only come into play with larger skateparks, which are also intended to be used as competition venues. Will the approval of skateboarding for the Olympic Games have an impact on the planning of local skateparks? Not in the Saarbrücken Bürgerpark and not with most future skatepark projects either.