Grounds for Change: Activating Vacant Land

Durham Central Park Skate Park


Tags: Durham, infiltration, municipal, NorthCarolina, plaza, porouspavement, public, skateboarding, youth

A public skate plaza inspired by informal urban skate traditions.

Durham Skate Park is a public park combining amenities and attractions for Durham, NC, skateboarders with elements of stormwater management to offset the introduction of new concrete surfaces.  The overall desired effect is that of an urban plaza, a public space designed specifically for its urban setting and a diverse populace.  The 10,000 square-foot skate park connects to Durham's Trails and Greenways system.

Durham Skate Park incorporates a stormwater regulatory system in accordance with the city's building code.  Water management features include piped level spreaders--erosion control devices that convert and disperse high-velocity stormwater flow to slower sheet flow--water‐loving plants, and soils designed specifically for bioinfiltration basins, among others.  Each element was designed to aid stormwater infiltration and groundwater charging.

Skatable features include a floating quarter pipe, launch boxes, step-up bank, stairs and handrails of varying heights and depths, a clamshell, and a four-pocket bowl.  The park was poured in place, meaning its hard surfaces were constructed by pouring concrete into formwork directly on site.  Eschewing pre-fabrication alleviated some of the project's construction costs, reduced the environmental costs of transporting building materials, and made for a higher quality skating surface.

While the park is unmonitored-in fact, some sources credit the permissibility of "Skate At Your Own Risk" signs with allowing the city to move forward with the project-it is open from dawn 'til dusk only, and is located across the street from a police station.

Pillar Design Studios headed the team of design consultants collaborating on this project with the City of Durham Department of Parks and Recreation.   Stewart Engineers, Artisan Skate Parks, and Lumina Builders, Inc., completed the creative and production coalition.

In September 2008, the City of Durham's Department of General Services organized a public meeting between the park's design team, Durham skateboarders, and other concerned citizens.  Following the meeting, representatives of the Department of Parks and Recreation noted that public response to the proposal had been generally positive, and that the city's permitting process was more likely to slow down the design-build process than any community resistance would.  Upon the park project's approval, Durham Parks and Recreation held a groundbreaking ceremony on April 18, 2009, in concert with skate-related demonstrations and Durham's Earth Day Festival.  The park opened to the public just under 7 months later, on November 7, 2009.

The initial design was approved with a budget of $371,600.  As of the park's opening-in November 2009-maintenance costs were estimated as up to $4,000 a year for the first 10 years, with an additional $3,000 per year anticipated for repairing concrete following heavy use.  The city funded the project through impact fees and 2005 general obligation bonds.

Certain forms in the park mimic popular informal skate locations around Durham, a deliberate decision by designers seeking to attract members of the city's existing skateboarding culture in addition to newcomers to the sport.  Brad Siedlecki, a spokesman for Pillar Design Studios, cites urban plazas as a prototype for the kind of space envisioned here.  Structures and forms repurposed for skating here include large sculptures; a variety of staircases and step heights; and "street furniture" like benches and railings.

The Durham Skate Park joins a similarly conceived park in Raleigh as a regional attraction.  The Raleigh park, also designed by Pillar and with features distinct from the Durham space, apparently draws skaters from as far away as Greenville, NC.


Pillar Design Studios

"Durham NC Skatepark Groundbreaking Ceremony."  City of Durham Press Release (April 23, 2009).  Accessed online via, April 4, 2011.

Artisan Skateparks

"Durham kicks off skate park design review."  Bull City Rising Blog (October 1, 2008).  Accessed online April 4, 2011.

Chambers, Stanley B.  "Skate park opens today."  The Durham News (November 7, 2009).  Accessed online April 4, 2011.

"Durham Hosts Public Meeting for New Skateboard Park Design Input."  City of Durham Press Release (September 16, 2008).  Accessed online April 4, 2011.

Durham City/County Inspections Department - Building Plans Review Requirements

City of Durham Parks & Recreation Department

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