possessed-to-draw-red.gif This is the first in a series of exclusive interviews that aim to enlighten and expand our view on public skateparks, and what it takes to get them built in our communities, by talking to the people who go out and make things happen. First up is a candid and open discussion with Seattle’s own Grindline. Exhaustive, and thorough pieces on Grindline’s history can be found elsewhere, so we won’t waste your time with another re-cap. But here’s why you should care about what these guys have to say:

Grindline are the embodiment of skatepark activism turned action-ism, and they have done more than any other builder to push the public skatepark agenda forward in Seattle. The only skatepark still standing in Seattle was built by Grindline, twice. Grindline has also been highly instrumental in the construction effort down at the skater-built Marginal Way skatepark, and the soon-to-be constructed River City Skatepark. It’s not uncommon to see these guys at skatepark meetings, and they are always donating time, work, and support to Seattle’s skatepark advocates.

Regardless of what you may think about their parks, (all bold statements incur some controversy…) Seattle’s skateboarders owe a great deal to these pioneers of public skateparks in Seattle.

Without further ado…

Please state your names for the record:

Matt Fluegge and Micah Shapiro

How many skateparks have you guys built to date?

I think we are somewhere around 60-70. It depends on who you ask, and which ones they say count and don’t count.

Obviously you prefer to work on projects that you can design and build for professional and creative control, but how do you think skaters benefit from design/build?

There is some assurance that the original intention, not necessarily the exact original design, but the intention is followed through. I don’t care what it is that is being designed, i.e. houses, commercial buildings, golf courses, there will always be some things left to the builders interpretation in those bid documents. A quality finished product is a result of a builder who is competent and experienced in that particular niche in the construction world. It still blows my mind that this concept is so hard for general contractors and citys to grasp when it comes to skateparks. It is also comforting to know that this sharp hip is going to blend to round at the right spot, or that this waterfall will blend perfectly with the tranny at either end. It guarantees that things that could never be accurately shown in some flat black and white drawings are constructed correctly.

We’ve heard that the city benefits from having a separate designer and builder because it provides a built in set of checks and balances for construction costs and keeping on schedule. Are there ways to give them the assurances they want and keep it a design/build project?

Well there sure are plenty of examples on our backyard of how the separate company theory can go to shit. There are some cases where it can work out for a great finished product. Look at Battleground or Bellingham. But to me these are just lucky results of the public bidding process. In these situations there is no way to be sure that if it is not Grindline building their own design it will be Dreamland.

What’s the best way for skatepark advocates to assure that their city will only use qualified companies to build their skateparks? There seem to be a lot of wanna-be companies out there trying to build parks these days.

Prequalification. A municipality can require all bidders to submit qualifications that meet the project criteria prior to the bidding process. This way, the dogfight on whether some of these borderline or “wanna-be” contractors are qualified or not can be hashed out before pricetags even enter the equation.

You guys run a lot of public design meetings and like to get the local skaters involved in their new park. Let’s say I am a street skater and I want the new park to have something for me, What is your recommendation for preparing for the design meeting so I can get what I want? What should I bring?

Bring your ideas and a positive attitude. Bring photos and sketches. Bring a list and a explanation. A lot of design of the street stuff is emulating famous spots, or even just some kill spots in the area.

Every skatepark meeting in Seattle seems to have a few neighbors in it that are worried about noise, graffiti, and the typical misperceptions of what a skatepark is. How are you guys currently addressing these recurring design issues in your current designs? Are there some things that advocates can ask for up front in the design that will help cut these arguments off preemptively?

I think this will always be a battle. Too many people don’t realize what a skatepark is and what influence they are going to have on their neighborhood. They seem to think the worst and put them into the same category as prisons and toxic waste dumps. Skateparks are quiet compared to other recreation facilities, graffiti is done by kids that aren’t out there skating. We all know that, so the best we can do is educate. Skateboarders are typically good stewards to their park, more than anyone playing at the local outdoor basketball court or baseball field. Plus they are learning to take turns and cooperate with others. You gotta push the true positives and educate on the misconceived negatives.

At all the design meetings I’ve been to, people seem to ask for features they’ve skated elsewhere. Is this a good thing or should we be encouraging the designer to try new things? What’s the best way to do this?

I think its part of the whole evolution of skateparks. Part of improving on what’s out there now is taking those ideas and expanding on them. As for the street stuff, it’s like I stated earlier. Bringing stuff in that’s out there for real is crucial, how it is all laid out in relationship to each other brings endless possibilities.

To put it bluntly, a lot of your parks (especially the bowl sections) don’t really cater to novice skaters. This leads to a lot of little kids running around in the bowls meant for advanced skaters, and nowhere for noobs to really learn. Why is this? Doesn’t it help advocates if they can show that everyone will be able to use the park, not just a subset of the skaters?

In a perfect world of million dollar budgets and endless sites this would be a no brainer. But budget and site constraints make reality a little bit more complicated. I guess when those limitations have to be considered you have to ask yourself, do I design a significant portion of this park for a true beginner to skateboarding so that they grow bored of it once they are comfortable, or do I design something that beginners may be challenged with, but will enjoy for years to come. As the years roll on I think our parks have become more inviting to skaters of all skill levels. Also we feel there is plenty of obstacle that beginners can skate that are still challenging for experts.

What project have you worked on that you think Seattle’s skatepark advocates can learn the most from politically speaking?

Missoula, Montana. Less talking, more doing! Not much internet blogging, tons of fun raising events, benefits and education to the community.

You guys built two bowls in Ballard but only got paid for one. You’ve donated a ton of labor and a lot more for the Marginal Way park, and will soon be doing similar work at South Park’s River City Skatepark. Why do skateparks always have to be these charity projects? I don’t recall ever seeing a fundraiser for tennis courts or baseball fields. Do other cities just pay for skateparks outright or is there always some fundraising invovled?

Some cities just pay. But the projects that involve some type of grassroots effort are always the best! Cities are still ignorant on skateparks. In my hometown in Eastern WA there is a mega million dollar softball complex that looks rad but is always a ghost town. There is a sick park designed to go next to it but the project keeps getting delayed because funds are short by $20,000. This would be the most used piece of recreational real-estate in town if constructed! I guess at some point you just gotta get over being treated unfairly and figure it out.

Seattle currently has a city-wide skatepark plan with 27 pre-designated sites for skateparks on it. What do you think would be the best way to assure an even distribution of types of skateable terrain across the whole system? How would you envision it? Should there be beginner parks and advanced parks or is it better to have a mix of stuff at each location? Street vs. transition in dedicated parks?

Hopefully with 27 spots there can be everything. Some big parks with everything, some smaller parks with one or the other, skate spots with both or just one particular skate element. If we are ever so spoiled with 27 spots who cares what each of them are exactly. As long as they are design and built by quality skater firms it will be a great City to live in. Sometimes when things get so over analyzed we forget, it’s all skateboarding and it’s about having fun with your friends or even on your own.

What’s your opinion on Seattle’s skatedot concept? What issues do you see with exploding the skatepark into single features scattered around town?

NIMBYs on a whole different level. The crucial one on this concept is going to be how to integerate without making things uncomfortable for both the skaters and existing users of the park. I think skatedots are good. But they gotta be part of a system that includes larger parks.

Thanks for taking the time for this interview, is there anything else you want to add that you think the Seattle skaters need to hear?

Thanks for taking the time on the interview.


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