Skateboarding, scootering and BMXing provide some of the largest statistics for sport engagement within Aotearoa, New Zealand, with skateparks fast becoming community hubs for families and users alike. With a growing population engaging in these sports, it is important that these spaces are looked after and that a distinct level of safety is promoted and maintained at all times.
We have worked within the industry of skatepark and public space design for two decades, and constantly come up against a disparity in the understanding of safety within these areas. As we know, 24/7 CCTV and lighting operates throughout most of Aotearoa’s public domains - this is visibility in action - however, there is a continual push against the implementation of lighting in skateparks throughout our country.
Skateparks are also public spaces, they are intertwined into our parks, cities and towns; when night falls and living spaces light up to create visibility, these skateparks are left in the dark, creating an almost ominous presence within what are often vibrant city scapes.
There is an inherent safety issue posed by having large public spaces unlit and unmonitored throughout the night, whether it be the safety of people making thoroughfare after work, or to and from a destination, people using the surrounding facilities or people using the facilities after dark. The worst part of it all is that this movement against skatepark lighting is championed by those who sit in top positions on our city councils.
Thankfully, we are seeing a progressive change in understanding, with many of our regional District Councils learning from the mistakes of our major cities and deciding to go against the grain in order to protect their people at night. RICH Landscapes recently assisted the Hastings District Council in designing their Flaxmere skatepark, among others in the areas in an attempt to provide the community with more positive engagement through public spaces. This facility is placed in a part of Hastings that has continually seen high crime throughout its history, yet, reports from the Hastings District Council sing a different song of praise for the park, as stated by Rachel Stuart, the Hastings District Councils Park’s Planning and Development manager;
"...In addition, as with our other skate facilities, the provision of lighting has been vital to keeping both the users and spaces safe, as well as allowing the community to enjoy it at different times that suit their own personal needs. We are keeping the lights on all night, and it is monitored 24/7 with CCTV and the reports are that it
isn’t being used all hours of the night, with users mostly gone home at reasonable hours. The lights however are making it safe to use the facility into the evening, as well as protecting the park all night due to visibility..."
Statements like this go against the harmful rhetoric being pushed by Councils in our major cities - places where crime is on the rise and residents are calling for more safety measures to be implemented throughout.
When we were designing the Alfred Cox Skatepark in Gisborne, Shane Kingsbeer and his team provided a business case containing a section on safety needs, where they concluded the crime and safety section by citing international studies, stating that;
A study conducted by graduate students from Portland State University, in conjunction with the City of Portland, found that there is no correlation between skateboard parks and serious crime (Gomez, 2006). In the case of London, Ontario, it has been reported that police experience no higher degree of issues associated with skateparks than with other park amenities that serve as gathering points such as swing sets and play equipment (City of London, 2010).
This leads us to question why there is still such a push back against lighting in skateparks, more particularly in major cities such as Auckland City, where Auckland Council’s acting general manager parks & community facilities Martin van Jaarsveld was quoted in a stuff.co.nz article in response to residents calling for lighting at the space of a deadly nighttime skatepark accident with the following;
“While lighting has been suggested and considered over the years ... it, too, can be accompanied by perverse outcomes, like antisocial behaviour and personal safety issues, and does not necessarily create a safe skating environment.”
- Van Jaarsveld
Statements like this go directly against the Ministry of Justice New Zealand’s national guidelines, which are supportive of the CPTED principles for communities to be successful. The CPTED principles state that a see and be seen model should be implemented to maximise safety and security. To see and be seen indicates that visibility is one of the core deterrents of crime and is key to mitigating danger in open public spaces.
Through either a lack of understanding, or simply ignoring research and experience, our councils continue to jeopardise our communities with their decisions to go directly against advised principles.
This Saturday morning, the 21st of January at 930am Richard Smith, director and lead designer of RICH Landscapes will be interviewed on RNZ about the his journey in Skatepark Design and how safety is achieved in these environments to make skateparks safer for our communities.