Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Highbridge Park Street-Style Skate Plaza, New York City

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Highbridge Park Street-Style Skate Plaza, New York City

Article excerpt

Designing a street-style skate plaza--which models obstacles on elements from the urban environment--might be likened to designing a golf course. The general goal is the same but each has its own challenges, look, feel, and flow based on its unique setting. The big difference with skate plazas, however, is that there are no set standards, no rules for clearances or even what materials to use. And that's where the help of a professional skateboarder can make all the difference.

For the Highbridge Park skate plaza project in the Washington Heights area of upper Manhattan, part of a New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) project to reconstruct the Alexander Hamilton Bridge and the surrounding park area, our urban design team hired Steve Rodriguez, the founder of 5boro skateboards and a New York City "street-style" skateboarding legend. Steve has spent the last 20 years advocating for skateboarding throughout New York City, has studied hot skating "spots" in urban centers around and the world, and knows from experience that it's the details that make a world-class skating spot.

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"Details" is the operative word here. To make sure that we dealt properly with those myriad details, we engaged Steve from the very beginning of the design process.

1. Vision: To start, we asked him to describe some of the features and obstacles of a first-class street-style skate plaza. He showed us photos from locations around the world, and together we considered how the design elements could work within our site, which is located under and adjacent to the abutment of the soon-to-be-reconstructed Alexander Hamilton Bridge. To further complicate matters, the site rests above a complex web of underground utilities, and the New York City Department Parks & Recreation (NYCDPR) prohibits any structures in unsupervised park areas from being over three feet in height. With these as our basic constraints, we began assessing which obstacles would work best.

2. Conceptual Design: As we began the design process, our lead designer, Craig Church, RLA, quickly sketched color-pencil conceptual options with on-the-spot input from Steve. The two went back and forth, tweaking the sketches until they generated a scheme that was safe, practical, and, in Steve's opinion, challenging enough to interest skaters over the long haul. A more formal version of the design, along with an approximate cost estimate, was then reviewed by stakeholders, who most notably included NYCDPR and NYSDOT, the agency funding and constructing the park.

3. Final Design: This is where informed attention to detail really paid off. After helping us identify which obstacles to incorporate into the design and how to properly locate them, Steve's input was crucial in ensuring that final construction detailing would optimize the skating experience. The design was tweaked further still, and tolerances for joints and radii adjusted in millimeters.

4. Construction: Steve is remaining involved as the project heads into construction, making periodic site visits to ensure the vision from the user's point of view is maintained.

Steve's insight and dedication to good design have given Highbridge Park Skate Plaza the potential of becoming a recognized destination for skateboarders. Not only has his experience provided the kind of project-specific knowledge we lacked when the project started, but having his name attached to the project will also increase its street credibility with skaters in New York City and around the globe. …

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