Recycling Underutilized Sites

By Mike McIntyre and Kanten Russell

Once relegated with the label of “alternative sports,” BMX tracks, trails, and skateparks have become a worldwide phenomenon. Today, some of these facilities even host major international and Olympic events, including UCI BMX World Championships and a World Cup Skateboarding competition.

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More and more communities are embracing the idea of skateparks, as well as BMX tracks and trails. Not only are the sports themselves gaining popularity, but the opportunity they offer to flexibly and creatively repurpose previously underutilized or constrained sites is attractive. From a contaminated brownfield, a sharp-sloped ravine, and an unusable drainage ditch, to an abandoned middle-school stadium, action-sports parks offer a solution to challenging topography. The following case studies show how the very nature of action-sports’ park components are great solutions to provide underutilized sites with a second chance at life.

Contaminated Lot Turned Lynch Family Skate Park, Boston, Mass.
Boston’s skateboarding community had long been without a real skatepark, and after more than a decade of raising money and public support, the project finally took shape. The real question was where to put it.

The site selected for the park was a century-old, contaminated, vacant lot beneath two highway access ramps to the iconic Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge. Bookended by North Point Park on one side and Boston Sand and Gravel on the other, the 40,000-square-foot site was the perfect place to depict the contrasting story of recreation and creativity with the industrial-tinged edge of skateboarding culture.

The site required environmental cleanup to be usable, including site excavation, installing a liner to restrict contamination seepage, and capping the site with concrete. The design team thoughtfully made use of the concrete cap to serve another important purpose—the base of the skatepark. The park restored an underused and contaminated site, allowing regional public use of former inaccessible portions of the Charles River Basin. Since its opening in late 2015, the long-awaited skatepark has become a destination for skaters across the Northeast.

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South Doyle Middle School Turned BMX Track, Knoxville, Tenn.
There are other ways to use abandoned infrastructure for a community’s benefit. For example, in South Knoxville, Tenn., a football stadium at a middle school once sat idle, the concrete bleachers flanking an empty patch of grass. But that site is being transformed by Stantec’s Action Sports Group in designing a USA BMX national-level track that will host weekly racing, practice sessions, state races, and national events. The stadium’s infrastructure design offers the benefits of an existing drainage and stormwater-management system, which can be pricey if brand-new, and bleachers for spectators. Since much of the infrastructure is already in place, it also allows for an accelerated schedule. Once complete by the end of 2018, this will be the only BMX track on a middle-school campus in the country.

For the investment, the community gains a new recreation option at an abandoned site and a revenue-generating facility—a win-win solution! Tracks generally charge approximately $10 for admittance during weekday open-practice sessions, and on race days fees can increase from $25 to $45 per rider, depending on the event level. The revenue opportunities, coupled with the sustainability benefits of reusing the old stadium, make the BMX track a conscientious solution for South Knox County.

A Grassy Slope Turned Into A Pump Track At Colgate Park, Clarksville, Ind.
In Clarksville, designers are developing concepts to turn a portion of Colgate Park—an otherwise unusable grassy slope—into a BMX pump track. The current area has major flooding and drainage issues due to failing underground pipes.

The original proposal focused on replacing the failing pipe—but adding the action-sports component gives the space new life. The design solution includes a 5-foot pipeline to replace the existing pipe, increasing drainage capacity to handle increased water runoff. However, this will change the land elevation and create a sharp slope that is not conducive to further development. But an action-sports component will transform the slope into a vertical wall for a BMX or pump track.

The end goal is to take a poor situation and make it cost-effective, while adding a new amenity the community can enjoy. After public input, the end design could even include sustainable features like rain gardens, recycled granite, and bio-swales, in addition to the jump/flow trails, street and flow plazas, and pump tracks needed for the park.

On The Edge Of A Retention Basin In Alga Norte Skate Plaza, Carlsbad, Calif.
California is considered by many to be the heart of the action-sports industry. More specifically, the city of Carlsbad is generally regarded as pioneering one of the first two skateboard parks in the world.1 When the city wanted to add another “wheel friendly” skate plaza to Alga Norte Community Park, it was crucial to host several design charrettes with the local community and regional professional skaters. The design team faced a significant site constraint. The only available land at Alga Norte was a sliver right along the edge of a retention basin.

The final design capitalized on this strip of land, showcasing the skatepark as an aesthetic gateway that integrates the city’s architectural flare. The color palette reflects the prevalent Spanish-style architecture, and a transition arch is inspired by the shape of Carlsbad’s historic Old Mission San Luis Rey. The skatepark was designed around the basin, giving it a free-flowing movement, while providing wonderful views.

Alga Norte is a great example of activating small spaces with challenging shapes and constraints to generate return on investment using active recreation. The project also proves that even though the space is small, a creative design team can incorporate sustainable design techniques—like rip-rap in the drainage basin—to protect against erosion and contamination and ultimately provide a facility that maximizes necessary infrastructure.

These are only a few examples of communities across the country that are revitalizing underused sites and transforming them into action-sports parks. As noted, BMX racing is now an Olympic sport, and skateboarding will debut at the Olympics in 2020, further elevating the once “alternative” sport into one of the most televised events around the world.

The opportunities are endless in integrating complex and abandoned public spaces into action-sports facilities and turning them into revenue-generating venues. Whether it involves a former brownfield or drainage ditch, or repurposing an old stadium, golf course, or tennis court, action-sports parks may be the best sustainable option for a community to transform existing infrastructure into something engaging and powerful.

Mike McIntyre is the principal of the Action Sports Group at Stantec and an active BMX racer on the National Circuit. Reach him at mike.mcintyre@stantec.com.

Kanten Russell, a former professional skateboarder, is a project manager for the Action Sports Group at Stantec. Reach him at kanten.russell@stantec.com.

Footnote:

1. San Diego: A Birthplace of Skateboarding. https://www.sandiego.org/articles/skating/san-diego-skateboarding-history.aspx