I recently spent time skating the Pier 62 and Corona Park skateparks, two new recreational areas opened by the Hudson River Park Trust (Pier 62, a 15,000 sq. ft “flow” course) and the New York Parks Department through its “Adopt-A-Park” program (Corona Park, a 16,000 sq. ft. “street” course). The timing couldn’t be more accommodating and it’s refreshing to see a city respond proactively to the ever-growing demand from the skateboard, inline, and BMX communities, especially in light of the recent loss of two sites that had became staples for the progression of these communities. As both a designer and a skater, I was eager to test the new parks for myself and share my thoughts on them as a follow-up to Design and the Urban Skatepark.
In January of this year, use of a site known to insiders as the “Brooklyn Banks” (resting under the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge) was scaled back to accommodate a need for staging areas for scheduled bridge maintenance. The banks were effectively closed to the public on June 2nd, with the potential relocation of the free standing obstacles found within. The second recent loss for the skating community was the Unisphere Fountain, originally constructed for the 1939 World’s Fair and appropriated by skaters as early as 1990. The site is currently closed to skaters while it undergoes renovation to become a working fountain again. These two locations have informed innovation in skating for over two decades; the Brooklyn Banks was host to some of the most iconic moments in East coast skateboarding history.
With these locations coordinated to close as the aforementioned parks opened, we have to thank various activists that lay far and wide, three of the most outstanding being: Open Road, a non-profit organization working to develop and expand spaces for youth recreation within the five boroughs; Steve Rodriguez, owner of 5Boro Skateboards; and the late ambassador of New York skateboarding, Andy Kessler.
At the Pier 62 skatepark (BMX prohibited) there is hardly a thing to change. It has an interesting and high variability within a relatively small space without being congested, the attention to speed control is acute, as is the mediation between planes, and the occasional cool breeze whipping off the river is a relief. While there, I had the chance to speak with professional skateboarder Zared Basset, of New York based skateboard company “Zoo York,” who concurred: “It’s one of the best parks the city has ever had. The lines are endless; two thumbs up.” During that visit I also had the opportunity to speak with Christopher Gates from the landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh, architect of record for segment 5 of the Hudson River Park development. I raised question about some early fracturing occurring in the parks “pocket feature” and was assured it was being monitored. Otherwise, the only change I could envision would be the addition of shading planes in a few key locations that have (since opening) become launching points and resting areas.
Corona Park skatepark is filled with near replicas of some of the cities most skated terrain — with the wise omission of the Amsterdam Ave. feature, as it disrupted a greater circulation pattern and had a poor approach. It is, for the most part, a well-planned and well-constructed piece of architecture, but some noticeable problems have already surfaced. The curb that delineates the Exchange Place gap is a bit awkward, providing narrow opportunity to address it as a “gap.” Instead, it becomes a hindrance, making approach to a few other obstacles unnecessarily (although slightly) difficult. In addition, there is widespread chipping of what seems to be a veneer on these curbs; granite (found in two locations) should have been omitted as a material, as it too is quickly chipping; and a finish that was applied to the darker areas of concrete (whose frictional coefficient could not be battled with the softest wheels available) is an annoyance, if not a hazard. On top of all this, there are no shade planes or access to water on the premises, a problem that users of the park are creatively addressing themselves.
In both of these projects California Skateparks is to be credited with the design (skatepark design/build firm “SITE” was initially in charge of Pier 62 until they were bought by California Skateparks during the project’s development), which makes the lesser quality of the Corona Park skatepark all the more surprising. It seems to me that Corona Park was designed primarily for the Maloof Money Cup, the organizers of which constructed the park for their June 5th and 6th event before donating it to the Dept. of Parks & Recreation’s Adopt-a-Park program, with prolonged use by the public as an afterthought.
In both projects, lowering the dead load was essential. To achieve this, each park was built on top of stacked and pinned polystyrene blocks in place of the traditional compacted earth, so it’s fair to say that both parks are, relatively speaking, anomalies within skatepark construction. The first of this construction type occurred as early as 2005 at Skatepark des Ursulines in Brussels, followed by a few additional parks in between. Hopefully, the future of this construction methodology will lean more towards a responsible product such as Ecocradle (at a larger “per unit” scale), or similar, provided it holds the structural integrity required to support the load.
These new features within the cities recreational planning are (albeit late) highly appreciated and a great push forward for the communities that use them, and in that, it starts a new chapter within New York’s already rich skateboarding, inline and BMX history, that will undoubtedly inspire several generations of youth forward.
Buck Jackson is an artist, designer and educator. He teaches furniture craft and digital design at 3rd Ward in Brooklyn and places most of his studio focus on designing skateboard parks and furniture. He lives in Long Island City with a partner and four cats. For more on Jackson’s work, visit www.designofficestudio.com.
As with all review and opinion pieces posted on Urban Omnibus, the views expressed are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.