1998 aerial photo of East of Maui skatepark. Image courtesy of Montgomery County.

Many kids who skate on and get chased from Downtown Silver Spring’s plazas and pocket parks have no memory of East of Maui, the skatepark on Ellsworth Drive that operated temporarily in the 1990’s before giving way to the Silver Plaza redevelopment. It was a pretty big place, attracting people from across the region. And even though it’s been gone for ten years, skating culture’s never loosened its grip on Silver Spring.

So it’s confusing that the Gazette says a new skate spot in nearby Woodside Park “may clear downtown Silver Spring streets” of kids on four wheels. At 3,000 square feet, the skate spot could fit inside one of the bigger houses behind the park. As I’ve written before, it’s a little out of the way for kids who hang out downtown, not to mention that it won’t even accommodate everyone who tried to go there.

A local activist who goes by the name of Skateboard Mom pointed out “10 Ways To Make A Great Skatepark,” created by Skaters for Public Skateparks, an organization patterned after Project for Public Spaces. It not only says what makes a great skatepark, but builds a case for them as a public amenity, which is necessary in communities where kids who skate are still considered a nuisance. The ten recommendations it makes are:

Image from Skaters for Public Skateparks.

I don’t know if Montgomery County has a process for determining how much space “Meets the Need” for skateparks. But SPS provides a formula to estimate how much skatepark a place might require. Here’s the calculation for below-the-Beltway Silver Spring:

  1. Start with the Service Area’s 5-24 Population The 2008 American Community Survey (basically a yearly Census) says there are 17,737 “youth” between 5 and 24 in Downtown Silver Spring and immediately surrounding neighborhoods.
  2. divide by National Average of Youth That Skate (16%) That means there are 2,838 potential skaters in the given area.
  3. divide by Daily Skaters (33%) These are kids who would be most likely to use and frequent a skatepark. Our total comes out to 936 people.
  4. multiply by Minimum Footage (1500) 1,500 square feet is the estimated amount of space a skater would need to do a trick, combined with areas for spectators, circulation, and so on. We’re at 1,404,810 square feet. That’s roughly the size of Westfield Wheaton Mall (also known as Wheaton Plaza).
  5. divide by Concurrent Users (10) Assume that ten kids are in a given space at any time, each taking turns doing a trick and being watched. That brings the square footage down to 140,481 square feet, about the size of a Target. If it were a square, it would have sides 375 feet long. If it were a block in Downtown Silver Spring, it would be the one bounded by Georgia, Wayne, Dixon and Bonifant.

This may never get built, but it shows one “skate spot” will not even begin to clear skaters from the CBD. You need many places to skate, from neighborhood parks to skateparks that attract people from across the region. Skating is an inherently social sport. You do tricks and spend as much time watching other people try them. That’s half the reason why skaters end up in city plazas. And after they’re done, they might even grab some food or watch a movie or even buy something from a local business.

Denver Skatepark and Flour Mill Lofts

The Denver Skatepark. Photo by Dan Reed.

Give these kids a prominent place in the community and they’ll show it respect. Push them aside and they’ll act out, as happens at the tucked-under-an-overpass Paranoid Park in the movie of the same name. (Rent it, it’s really good.) When I visited Denver last winter I stumbled on the Denver Skatepark, right on the edge of downtown, next to a large riverfront park and some very expensive (by Midwestern standards) condos. Alternative sports are a big deal in Colorado, and it’s natural that the city would celebrate them in a central, visible location.

But finding one acre, let alone three for a decent skatepark in Downtown Silver Spring sounds next to impossible. We had that amount of space for a skatepark on Fenton Street, but it’s unclear what community support is there for it even after local youth made a documentary about the need for one in 2005.

At the meeting about the new Silver Spring Library two weeks ago, County officials noted that the five-story Wayne Avenue parking garage is never more than 70% full, meaning that at any given time an entire floor is never used. Sounds like that roof might be a nice place for a skatepark.