As told by Adam Wawrzynczak
Photos by Aaron Cayer
This past February, the city of Ottawa launched a free weekly indoor skateboarding pilot project at the centrally located Aberdeen pavilion, just south of Ottawa’s Glebe neighbourhood. While Birling skate shop played a role in getting the ball rolling for this particular project, the city’s gradual tolerance of indoor skateboarding within their facilities is tied to years of persuasion from the Ottawa Skateboard Association as well as numerous skateboarders. At the end of the day, we have the city of Ottawa to thank for listening and handling all of the logistics (fees, insurance, location, staffing etc.) for this project. It has been a huge success. The project’s simplicity is what makes it so awesome and replicable in any city/town with a small indoor recreational space. We are no experts, but perhaps some of what we did could help you get your own free municipal indoor skateboarding pilot project going. Here is what we did.
Birling's contribution to getting the gears in motion for this project boils down to persistent, and respectful communication. It should go without saying that communicating a skateboarding community’s need for an indoor space to city officials is the most important thing to do, but it goes a little further than that. It was important for us to remain persistent and respectful about what we were communicating. Persistence was key simply because city officials are busy. They’ve got a lot on their plates and benefit from the odd reminder. We made sure to follow-up on all e-mails regarding this project every 2-3 weeks in order to make sure it wasn’t stagnant.
Remaining respectful about our communication was also very important! You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, therefore it was important for us to remain patient and polite throughout the process. A local municipality does not owe anybody an indoor skateboarding pilot project and it may have several concerns about launching one based on ignorance. It is up to skaters to effectively communicate to them why it would benefit the community and why any concerns are unfounded. City officials may be under the impression that skateboarding would be destructive to a recreational space. They may also believe that skateboarding is too dangerous and that the launch of such a project would yield non-stop injuries. Respectfully debunking these misconceptions may become a necessary part of your strategy. Whenever possible, the use of trustworthy statistics (skateboarding related injury statistics vs. other injury statistics such as hockey) would be beneficial.
It was helpful for us to be specific and detailed about what we were proposing. We proposed a very simple, non-permanent, modular indoor skateboard park to be set-up for the winter months only. These details are essential to the project’s success, but are not obvious. For many non-skateboarders, the term “skatepark” means a complicated arrangement of concrete obstacles. They don’t know that (especially for desperate skaters dealing with harsh winters) an empty lot with smooth ground can be enough to scratch our itch to skate. We know that permanent indoor skateparks in Canada often fail because demand is only present when there is snow on the ground. By making them permanent, spaces get locked out of any opportunity to be used for another activity. This is not ideal. We communicated to our city officials that all skaters need is to reserve a small indoor area, a few times a week. Skaters would drag out a few obstacles to use for a few hours and then put them away once they are done with them. This way the space could be used once again for other activities.
Who to communicate with is also an important piece to this puzzle. This depends on the size of your area. For larger municipalities a quick google search of “your city + head of parks and recreation” is a good start. Otherwise you could visit some of the municipally owned indoor facilities where skateboarding could take place. Ask the staff who you should reach out to about your proposal. You can even reach out to higher officials like staff at your mayor’s office. Why not? Someone will eventually get back to you. When the ball starts rolling, make sure to use all available tools of persuasion. Open up a conversation about how skateboarding is now in the Olympics and that folks need a place to “train” over the winter months. Tell them about other parts of Canada where municipal indoor skateboarding is taking place without issue – link them to Toronto’s Jimmie Simpson project and Ottawa’s Aberdeen Pavilion project. If they have any questions about feasibility, put them in touch with a head of one of these projects to discuss specifics. You’re not asking to “re-invent the wheel” so to speak; what you’d be proposing is already happening in other parts of the country. It is totally feasible.
The whole process from our first emails with the city to the project’s launch was about 10 months, so although we’ll soon be switching into spring mode, now is a great time to put a bug into someone’s ear about your own area’s indoor skateboarding pilot project. If Ottawa is known for anything, it is for the red tape that surrounds the proposal of anything fun. It is the “city that fun forgot” after all! If, despite this reputation, Ottawa moved forward with an indoor skateboarding pilot project at a massive, central, and historically significant site (for example, the Aberdeen pavilion is where the Stanley Cup finals were played in 1904), there is surely hope for other cities and towns to do the same.