The Case for Private Ownership of Skate Parks

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The idea of privately owned skate parks is not a new thing. As long as people have needed a place to shred, there has been motivation to open a park. I’m not here to talk about the history of skateboarding, or even to relate skate culture to libertarianism, but I want to make the case in favor of private ownership over state/public ownership of parks.

1. People who care are in control

When was the last time your parks and rec officer tried to 180 into a fakie kickflip? When was the last time you bought new wheels from your local city council member? The first problem to address with public ownership of parks is the general lack of understanding and interest in the skate community. Filled with budgets to manage and people to rob, your local politician simply does not have the incentive to care about the skate subculture.

On the other hand, through private ownership the park is built and operated by people who share the passion with the patrons of the park, people who care. If the owner of your park skates the park, he has a direct incentive to maintain quality and customer satisfaction.

2. Direct communication

Imagine you’re having a skate session with some friends and you notice your favorite grind rail is starting to rust. If the city owns the park you have to call up some office, get redirected to some intern and maybe after filling out an official form a Parks and Rec agent will check out the problem in a few months. Fortunately, through the efficiency of free market private property, if the park is privately owned you just have to skate over to the front desk or at most call the owner directly. With private ownership we cut out lots of hassle and as demonstrated by point 1, the proper incentives mean the problem is addressed much more quickly.

This direct communication advantage doesn’t stop there. The easy approachability of the skate park owner means much more involvement with the community. All the worried mothers can douse their fears just with a short conversation over park safety. The owner could easily host meetings to directly communicate with customers and the local families. Private ownership leads to more community involvement – kind of funny to think about.

3. Longevity

Private ownership is no guarantee that the park will last, but being subject to political power puts a public skate park at risk. Greatly outnumbered and unorganized skaters and skate culture are not political forces with much pull. A minority (many of which aren’t even voting age) of people against a highly funded political lobby group is really at a disadvantage when the city considers building a new housing project over the local park.

The private park will stay as long as there is money to be made. Because of profit incentives and direct communication with the public, the park owner is much more likely to fight against the government’s fun killing hands.

4. Profit

Profit incentives leads to quality control, (a dead horse beaten by the other 3 points) but profit has many other positive effects. People are needed to maintain and regulate safety of the park which means lots of awesome jobs for local kids. An opportunity to pursue their passion and get real world job experience is something lots of young punk skaters miss out on.

The possibility of sponsorship from local skate shops creates an environment of for-profit skateboarding entrepreneurship. Being able to advertise in the park benefits the local economy and helps to further advance skate culture along with the market.

Profit and passion are things that should be considered when evaluating private vs public parks. The case against public skate parks is driven by knowing where the right incentives are.  And when it comes to ownership, privatization is like a 360 hardflip compared to the flatground ollie that is public ownership.

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  • konkavekook

    With the point you’re trying to make, wouldn’t it be the other way around? Privatization is like a flatground ollie compared to the 360 hardflip that is public ownership? Why would public ownership be easier? Seems a bit misleading to me but if I’m mistaken let me know.

  • konkavekook

    Also, could you explain to me how local politicians are out to “rob” us? Sure, there is always room for corruption in every city municipality that has a corporate feel, but to label and generalize all local politicians in such a way is very unfair. What about the City Council member whose child skateboards? Or skates themselves!? Some of these people do have a vested interest in skateboarding and not just for their gain.
    Other than that, I couldn’t agree more that we need to push for more private parks. Nothing but good can come from a completely skater owned and operated skatepark.

    Thank you

  • This is an interesting article. The best examples I see of private ownership right now are ‘members-only’ indoor bowls where you get a key to the warehouse when you become a member and pay your monthly dues.

    The traditional pay-to-play model of private skatepark operations has been displaced by free municipal parks. It’s a tough business – you need a super successful pro shop and concessions operations. You need someone who will put their life into the park and who really wants to love and support their local scene. People like that who can also successfully operate a business with tons of overhead, labor, competition and super small profit margins are rare.

    A city has the funds to build and the legal immunity to avoid almost all lawsuits. A private park has to use waivers and get insurance and still will pay tons of legal fees if sued.