HOW BROOKLYN GOT HER OWN EUROPEAN-STYLE SKATE SPACE

0

You may have seen images floating around around Instagram of a giant new skate spot somewhere in the middle of New York. Known officially as K Bridge Parkthe brand new skate hotspot is nestled next to a recycling center and bus station in the middle of North Brooklyn.

At first glance, this might seem like just another public park in the city that’s been overrun by skateboarders, like Tomkins or TF Westbut there is something different in this particular space.

K Bridge Park is an anomaly because it violates many of the standards we expect for newly constructed public spaces in New York. For one thing, it’s huge, spanning seven acres, and it’s filled with a ton of skate-friendly obstacles. The ledges and stairs are covered and no one cares about the ramps, rails or dropped skaters that are there every day.

So is it a city park, a real skatepark or something else?

Should we be worried about a possible crackdown, or is it actually being used exactly as intended? After talking with a few people behind the scenes, we got the story behind the park and what the big plans are for Brooklyn’s newest spot.

To clarify, K Bridge Park is designated as an “open public space”, not an official New York skatepark, although it does have skateable ledges – with a steel curb – and handrails that are naturally integrated to make the park skate-friendly. This means that no one will soon come to touch the ledges or the rails here. In fact, it’s not even run by the city, it’s run by a non-profit group called the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance.

“K Bridge Park is designated as an ‘open public space’
not an official NYC skatepark”

It’s not the first park in the area to be run by a private organization instead of the city, but it’s the first to encourage and allow skateboarders to hang out and do their thing without being kicked out or harassed by security and pretentious parkgoers.

The vision for the park began in 2019 when the North Brooklyn Parks Alliance secured a $100,000 grant, with the funding earmarked to hire a park designer and hold community sessions to get feedback on the design. The hard part was going to be figuring out how to use a mostly desolate space next to a dusty industrial area and turn it into an attractive project worth all the expense.

If you take a quick look at K Bridge Park, it has more in common with public spaces than you might see in European cities. Although it’s laid out like a normal plaza, it lacks all the fancy stonework, wooden benches, or statues of colonial-era figures we’re used to seeing in New York City parks.

Katie Horowitz, executive director of the NBPA, explained that the plan was always to do something completely different at K Bridge Park. “We finally opted for a [design] company called Public Work, which is based in Toronto because they designed this beautiful space called The Bentwaywhich is under the Gardner Expressway in Toronto,” she said.

The Bentway and Toronto’s K Bridge Park are similar because, in terms of design, both are considered “El spaces” – places under elevated roads, bridges and overpasses – so it made sense to bring in a company that has worked on a similar project before. During this phase, the the local community surprisingly agreed, with no competing interests slowing down the process. As Katie explained, “The space itself was so unexpected that people didn’t feel the ownership they feel with parks closer to home.”

K Bridge Park has always been about integrating skate-friendly elements into the design, which is rarely, if ever, seen before in the United States.

Architect Jim Lau knew that many of the urban elements in his field, such as benches and planters, were obviously skateable while working on plazas and parks during his 30-year career. He put it like this: “I never designed it not to be skateable. A seat height of 18 inches? This is the perfect seat height. But in a way, it’s also the perfect height for people.

“K Bridge Park has always been about integrating skate-friendly elements into the design, which is rarely, if ever, seen before in the United States”

The designers also made sure to work with materials strong enough to withstand the wear and tear that comes from skating in the park. Asphalt and concrete were cheaper alternatives to the more expensive stones commonly found in public parks, such as granite, and were found to provide smooth rolling, grinding, and gliding. Much of the outcry over slippage in public spaces stems from concern over the destruction of property, but with the use of such affordable and utilitarian materials, concerns have been alleviated.

K Bridge Park does not receive state funding, so it generates revenue by hosting and renting the space for on-site events. Funds go towards park maintenance, utilities and, eventually, free programming. Although it is currently a popular skate destination, it may also be used by other groups down the line, which could upset the current skate-friendly dynamics currently in place.

That being said, K Bridge Park has so far been a successful experiment which will hopefully lead to similar projects in the future. Allowing skaters to bring skating obstacles alongside permanent features is part of the reason the park has become so popular so quickly. The laissez-faire approach adopted by the administration of the park has made it one of the most welcoming spaces in the region (despite the noise and dust) and has been a good example of how to create public spaces that effectively meet the needs and desires of a community.

“The laissez-faire approach adopted by the park administration has made it one of the most welcoming spaces in the region”

Hopefully what we see at K Bridge Park is a trend that continues in other mixed-use spaces in New York and across the United States in the future. Skateboarding has become more mainstream to see, and its Olympic debut has given it more exposure than before, so hopefully the stigma that some non-skateboarders associate with skate spots and skate parks will continue to diminish.

To compare, I spoke with Steve Rodriguez, a skateboarding legend and local activist from New York, about cities like Copenhagen where skateboarding in public spaces is considered less threatening. “I think audiences are taking too much ownership of ‘No, this is my only space in America.’ You don’t understand that Israels Plads in Copenhagenwhere is a big empty fountain with people skateboardingcycling around and having a picnic,” he said.

For the United States to catch up and maximize valuable public space in its most populous cities, it might help to adopt similar models more broadly across the country.

Share.

About Author

Comments are closed.