The consensus in the Cincinnati skate community has been unanimous and longstanding—the scene needs an inner-city skatepark. This idea has even passed through generations. Gabrielle Larkin, a key player in the current movement, recalls seeing her father in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1987 advocating for the same cause.
The Cincinnati Skatepark Project is the concerted effort of many skating and community niches to build a skatepark in an inner-city neighborhood. By unifying roller sports of all kinds, small businesses, and environmentalists, the Cincinnati Skatepark Project hopes to position itself as much more than a place to skate, but a restorative boon to the city.
Evan Walker founded the Cincinnati Skatepark Project in spring 2022. It felt abnormal for a metropolitan area with a vigorous skate scene to not have a skatepark—if not a network of skateparks that they hope to eventually establish.
Prior to the advent of Cincinnati Skatepark Project, skateboarder and history professor at Xavier University Randy Browne invested his efforts in creating a Cincinnati skate refuge at the Under the Bridge Skatepark in Newport, which he says exists out of need; the dizzying hoops the city presents for the scene to jump through scuttled formal attempts to advocate for a park. Engaging in the collaborative efforts of the DIY skatepark is how he and Walker met.
Noticing scattered attempts to get the ball rolling on skatepark advocacy initiatives falling flat, Walker decided to coalesce the efforts in ‘strength in numbers’ fashion. The project works heavily with skate-forward entities like Blacklist Boardshop, Galaxie Skateshop, and The Cincinnati Skate Collective to spread the word and to create a feedback loop for the people who will be using it to suggest design ideas. Making the park accessible in its features as well as its location is a chief consideration.
Larkin, founder of Cincinnati Skate Collective, says she recently developed a survey she hopes will reach the entire skate community to collect feedback. “Making sure it’s not just the voice of the three of us that are running this project, but really a community created project, a community created park,” she says.
A place for all roller sports, skill levels, and ages is the vision—made possible by roller sport subcultures that see more similarities than differences between themselves. “I think we have a really unique advantage because there is such a good relationship between all the different types of roller sports in the area,” says Larkin.
But the strength in numbers philosophy stretches beyond roller sports coming together. The Cincinnati Skatepark Project is partnered with Groundwork Ohio River Valley, a nonprofit composed of young and energetic battlers who advocate for socially equitable environmentalism and are serving as the project’s fiscal sponsor. The entities are companioned by a shared sense of scrappy resourcefulness that comes with being passionate but overlooked. “The innovation that comes from scarcity or the innovation that comes with the lack of resources…We just love that park from the skatepark as well. They’re coming at it from the resources they have, they’re trying to create something,” says Groundwork Ohio River Valley executive director Tanner Yess.
The partners are viewing the project as a chance to provide more than an accessible outdoor safespace skaters, but a true park with sustainable and neighborhood-enhancing design elements, like bioswales, pollinator gardens, trees, according to Yess. “The skatepark of old is just a big concrete pit,” says Yess. “We’re looking at any building from a sustainability, climate change resilience filter now. We’re not looking to build this concrete patch that just absorbs heat and makes the neighborhood hotter. We’re going to look at things, and we’re going to advocate for things like green infrastructure.”
Wielding an eye to restore and vitalize a location, the project is willing to claim and redevelop a defunct lot somewhere in the city in hopes of finding something near main roads and pre-equipped with water access and parking. While in communication with the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, the project devised a list of potential sites for the skatepark and found common ground at a field adjacent to the Camp Washington Pool, which hasn’t been in service for the past few years. This, Walker hopes, will be where the park materializes.
“They had it on their list of possible sites as well,” says Walker. “It comes with bus routes and bike lanes. It needs more outdoor recreation and trees and things like that, as a really urban neighborhood, but it has a hardworking and also artsy side to it as well that connects well with the skate community.”
The proposed site has received enthusiastic support from Camp Washington Community Council and the Camp Washington Business Association. Browne says the Cincinnati Recreation Commission is also moving forward with their formal internal review process on the project. “This is an opportunity to activate a space that isn’t being used for anything,” says Browne.
Many modern skateparks implement creative tributes to the local community in the design. One skatepark in Batesville, Indiana features a ramp that depicts a coffin in a nod to the town’s legacy in the casket manufacturing industry. For the site in Camp Washington, the idea of including a ‘Camp Washington Chili Bowl’ has been kicked around to honor the beloved Camp Washington Chili.
The Cincinnati Skatepark Project knows the value of introducing a city-owned skatepark and is rallying the troops to illustrate this value. A chance to breathe new life into an outdoor plot; to enhance accessibility in a scene that is alive and well; an appeal to young people that may find solace in roller sports as an alternative athletic outlet. In doing so, they hope to make the decision as clear-cut as possible for the city. “We see it as such a big benefit for the city and we know it’s going to be seen as a success when it’s built. But getting things done when people are busy and budgets are slim can be tough, so we’re trying to make this as easy a lift for the city as possible,” says Walker.
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