Within the skateboard culture, every city has a landmark — a well-known spot used by skateboarders — that was not built for skateboarding. For years, New Ross County Wexford Park over I-84, also known as "Heaven" by skateboarders, has been arguably the best known and most popular skateboard spot in Hartford. City leaders now plan make it an official skateboard park. They have to do it right.
Heaven is a meeting place for skateboarders from central Connecticut and often a destination for visitors. The first time I went to Heaven, I was in sixth grade and was amazed at the number of kids skateboarding: There was a raw energy, everyone was feeding off of each other and having a good time.
In the plaza's prime, Heaven was a definite stop for any professional skateboard team touring the East Coast. It has been featured in many professional and amateur skateboard videos. Although Heaven is still used by skateboarders, years of wear and tear from skateboard trucks (the axles that hold the wheels) and BMX pegs (extensions on bicycle hubs for tricks) have caused the ledges surrounding the plaza to deteriorate. Even this hasn't stopped skateboarders from coming, and skateboarders have been making repairs to the park. Whether it's filling a crack with concrete or super-gluing angle iron onto a ledge to make it good for sliding, skateboarders are determined to keep Heaven alive. In recent years, there even has been an independent event there, with no money from the city, hosted by local skate shops, companies and individuals titled, "Take Back Heaven."
Building an official skate park at Heaven would preserve the aesthetic and history of the spot, revamp the energy and recreate the buzz in that area of downtown. The key is to build a unique skate park. The designers of the Hartford park should think about a skateboard plaza, which is a kind of skateboard park that focuses more on replicating elements a skateboarder would find in the streets — such as ledges, stair sets and handrails — essentially the same elements that drew skateboarders to Heaven from Day One.
One model to follow is Rockwell Plaza in Bristol, built by the world-renowned skate park contractor, California Skateparks. Rockwell Plaza, which opened in 2009, has a great balance between traditional skateboard obstacles and street obstacles. I have never been to Rockwell Plaza when it was not crowded with skateboarders. Builders used existing features to create a unique mix of old and new. That should be Hartford's goal.
When towns fail to build a successful skate park, it's often because they hire a contractor who specializes in prefabricated skate parks. The problem with this approach is that the people who run these companies apparently do not skateboard and cannot personally relate to a good skate park.
These contractors manufacture cookie-cutter obstacles and, seemingly without thinking, place them randomly in the park. This has created the same, mass-produced skate park in different towns around New England, parks that draw no interest from skateboarders. Although prefabricated skate parks cost less, over time they become ghost towns, a waste of space.
Instead of building one of these, Hartford should follow the lead of Stamford, Wethersfield, Deep River, Milford, Groton and other communities and build a successful, well-planned skate park that flows through the I-84 platform and uses its existing features. To make Heaven a unique park, city leaders should hire a contracting firm run by skateboarders, and let local skateboarders be an important part of the design process.
If Hartford does this, the park would be economically viable to the city, create a safe and positive environment, and keep skateboarders away from private property.
Jack Moore, 18, of West Hartford is a 2010 graduate of Northwest Catholic High School. This fall, he will be skateboarding in Worcester, Mass., as a student at Clark University.
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