Seems I haven’t been talking about New West that much recently, so here is a viciously local issue that was brought up to me last week., via the Twitter.
The new Westminster Pier Park is a little more than 2 months from opening day, and so far so good. Rave reviews are coming in, despite a slightly embarrassing lack of spell-checking at the steel plant, and less-than-ideal access, which will soon be improved. I have yet to hear a negative review. Then I went down on Labour day and saw literally hundreds of people over a few hours coming and going, sun tanning on the grass, people connecting their Quayside walks, and kids on the playgrounds.
And then there were the skateboarders.
Now I am not going to be that guy – just trying to bring the dudes down – but I guess I am now old enough to complain that the noise and the impact of a few young kids on skateboards disrupted an otherwise peaceful, pleasant park. Except there weren’t just a few of them (there was at least two dozen), and they weren’t kids (I peg the average age in the mid 20s). Excuse me a minute while I shake my metaphorical fist from my metaphorical porch swing – I’m going somewhere here.
They were also comfortable enough to afford beer and video equipment. Yes, they were video recording things. At least three separate cameras on site, being filmed by each other doing slides and grinds along anything concrete. Not on iPhones, mind you, but full-on Sony digital video cameras. No doubt to be dubbed to music and posted on YouTube.
The situation at the basketball court was pretty funny- as the crowd of a dozen or so guys had organized into what I can only describe as a hockey-style drill: lining up along the wall behind one net while they took turns, one at a time, sliding the concrete step at the opposite end of the court, while one guy took the occasional video recording from his own slow-moving deck. It had all the aesthetic flow of a Pee-Wee hockey team pre-game drill. Passing seniors were less excited.
Except way louder. Big kids slamming boards against concrete and asphalt gets pretty loud. It is a jarring, violent sound in the middle of a park where other people were picnicking, walking, playing on swings, or even playing guitar. When they do it for hours on end 5 feet from your lounge chair, it can kind of ruin the entire waterfront-park aesthetic.
However, the noise is not my biggest concern. That would be the damage that is already apparent on some of the concrete structures at the Park.
Most concrete structures these days are built with some sort of anti-skateboard technology. There is a whole industry involved in designing concrete surfaces to not become skateboard-attractants. At the Pier Park, they too one of the most passive approaches: small dents every few feet on concrete ledges.
Clearly it isn’t working. Only two months after opening, the concrete is chipped and broken in areas, and there is significant ground metal/board wax staining on “grind” areas. I can’t imagine what it will look like after a few years. (notably, the concrete stair on the edge of the basketball court is lined with a steel rail to protect the concrete and facilitate “grinding” – as the Urban Dictionary tells me the kids say).
So what are the alternatives? There are already two established skate parks in New Westminster. The brand new one in Queensborough came at significant cost to the City, and is a pretty big facility with a huge variety of riding options. Unfortunately, the old bowl adjacent to Mercer Stadium is a little old, a little decrepit, and likely bound for destruction when the new School is built.
Neither of these location are where the new population centres of the City are. Maybe it is time to build a new park?
I’m not a skateboarder, never have been, but I can see it as a sport that gives youth (and increasingly, adults) a physical and creative outlet: this is something we need to be encouraging in the City, and not discouraging with arbitrary rules. However, when any one user group (be they skateboarders, firearms enthusiasts, equestrians or performance artists) disrupts the enjoyment of public facilities for other users, and damages the physical infrastructure built by the City while doing it, we need to find a way to mitigate those physical impacts. We live in a society, and that’s what societies do.
Here are two quick proposals:
1) Build some temporary skate-friendly structures on the asphalt part of the Pier Park. That asphalt is not being used now in any way that would change if a few jersey barriers, concrete blocks, or whatever the kids are “grinding”, “sliding”, and “ollying” today, were installed for the skaters to use and abuse at their leisure. It isn’t as good as a full skate park, but it is better for everyone than the structures being abused now; or
2) Do the same thing on something like 1/8th of the current Waterfront Parkade: those wide-open expanses of elevated concrete that are currently abandoned even on the busiest days of downtown businesses. Let’s put the white elephant to some practical use as a temporary measure until a longer-term solution can be found.