Formulate a skatepark strategy and pull Canberra’s older parks into the modern age: that’s the call from stakeholders at public hearings into skateboarding in the ACT.
A committee inquiry is investigating the accessibility of skateboarding and skateparks across the community, as well as skateboarder safety and welfare, planning and maintenance, and what is needed to further support and promote the sport across the Territory.
It’s in response to two petitions lodged to the Legislative Assembly – one requesting Gungahlin Skate Park be refurbished and the other calling for the redevelopment of Tuggeranong Skate Park.
Canberra Skateboarding Association (CSA) president Tony Caruana and vice president Brendan Wood told the committee that while Canberra had been the place to go for skateboarding in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, that reputation of having great infrastructure was gone, despite the sport’s increasing popularity since its inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“The ACT is somewhat failing to keep up,” Mr Caruana said.
“The ACT is falling behind in the provision and management of contemporary skateparks, with some facilities lacking in repair and maintenance, and there’s no apparent coordinated infrastructure planning approach to develop new facilities to cater for the ACT’s expanding suburbs.”
While Canberra is known internationally for holding great events – such as the Belco Bowl Jam and Australian National Slalom Championships – it’s the facilities letting the Territory down.
The CSA is advocating for new, more accessible and better-maintained skateparks in public spaces, with a skate strategy to be developed to address current and future infrastructure needs.
Mr Caruana explained previous development of facilities, such as in Belconnen and Woden, appeared to have occurred due to funding being in the right place at the right time, along with a “bit of luck”.
“We’d like to see a bit more of a structured, forward-thinking approach to that planning,” he said.
Building skateparks in more public areas near transport and shops, as well as implementing elements into playgrounds, has also been suggested to invite more people to participate in the sport, deter anti-social elements by being more prominently located, and extend the life of play spaces.
“Play spaces are catered to a very narrow age demographic. Kids will grow out of a playground quite quickly,” Mr Wood said.
“If you build a decent skatepark or skate elements in a play space, people will start using them at ages four or five and keep using them until they can’t anymore. It appeals to a larger demographic.”
A strategy could also be used to ensure skateparks are being maintained correctly and in a timely fashion.
Maintenance is currently undertaken as part of looking after playgrounds and through submissions to Fix My Street, which both men said weren’t targeted enough.
They pointed to the Tuggeranong and Gungahlin parks, which are so poorly maintained that rocks have been making their way through the concrete to the surface.
Mr Wood added that while Tuggeranong skatepark’s layout was fantastic back in the day, that was no longer the case.
“The layout and design of the park hasn’t changed … since it was built, so it’s this big space that sees very little use because the surface is dilapidated and the design is outdated,” he said.
Expanding Canberra’s facilities to include more skate elements was another matter raised.
Representatives from Canberra Region Old School Skaters (CROSS) explained adding both ‘street’ and ‘park’ elements to facilities would open them up to more users.
Spokesperson David Pang said utilising urban design at Canberra’s smaller parks to make them safer would make them more attractive to anyone on wheels.
Constructing facilities for all-weather was also suggested to keep skaters out of car parks or privately owned covered areas, as well as incorporate more skate elements along footpaths and in the community.
“Skateboarders want to take care of where they are skating because it’s the same as a footballer wants a good turf to play on on a weekend,” Australian slalom skateboarder gold medallist Imogen McMillan said.
“If you make it safe for people, they will use the space, and where people can take ownership of a space … they take care of it.”
Constructing a bitumen pump track was encouraged by both groups, with Mount Stromlo seen as a suitable destination.
CROSS member Scotty Taylor said while bitumen might be more expensive than dirt or compacted granite, it was more weather-resistant and useable for a range of riders.
“[It’s] the popularity of them and the ability to attract a lot of different members of the community, and suitability from tiny kids up to old men,” he said.
The government’s submission noted a skatepark infrastructure strategy was under consideration.
A reporting date for the committee is yet to be set.