Calgary skateboarders hope city embraces DIY skate park

Dan Robinson is one of a group of Calgary skateboarders who got together this summer to build their own skate park, joining a growing do-it-yourself movement.

Homemade skate spot known as 'The Bridge' was built on city-owned wasteland this summer

See skateboarders navigate a homemade skate park in Calgary. 0:34

Dan Robinson is one of a group of Calgary skateboarders who got together this summer to build their own skate park, joining a growing do-it-yourself movement.

Robinson has been adding new concrete ramps and ledges to the park for the last five months and attracting skaters looking for a different experience than the one offered by official city skate parks.

"There was an old abandoned bike path here collecting dust, ne'er-do-wells, dirt, junkies, garbage. So we decided to bring some brooms and shovels, bring some concrete and turn it into a skateboard park," says Robinson.

Dan Robinson, 41, hopes a homemade skateboard park built on an abandoned bike path will become a permanent spot in Calgary. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

The cement and building materials are mostly donated by fellow skaters and local businesses, with the skaters who use the park sharing the workload and helping to build it.

Giving back to the community

"I think skateboarders have had a bad rap in the past and we'd like to change that," says Robinson. "By giving back to the community with something like this, doing it on our own with no burden to taxpayers, I think it shows ingenuity and creativity."

A similar skate park built without permission on city land in Toronto was demolished by that city this month. Other homemade parks in North American cities like Portland, Vancouver and Philadelphia were allowed to stay open and have gone on to transform the communities they are in and achieve iconic status. Robinson says he hopes Calgary's new spot is embraced by the city.

"To see bulldozers show up would really be a bummer, but that's the name of the game. You build it, it's renegade, we hope it lasts and if it does – bonus. If it gets demolished it becomes skate folklore, that there was this awesome spot that guys got to skate at."

This year saw a city blyaw on backyard skate ramps changed to allow ramps to be built again. That change was brought about by Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley, who says do-it-yourself culture is sweeping across cities around the world.

"The point is to look at what are often called lost spaces and re-imagine what could be in those spaces. That's what makes neighbourhoods cool and activated and bustling and vibrant and unique and interesting," says Woolley.

"If it's not hurting anybody, it's not getting in the way of anything and it's not dangerous, then let's let it alone."

Safety is city's first priority

The City of Calgary says safety is its first priority and that it's exploring and working on new guidelines covering pop-up features and other urban interventions, including skate parks.

"We want to encourage communities to do these things to make the city fun and exciting, but at the same time we have to be concerned about are they safe? Is anybody potentially going to get hurt?" says Rollin Stanley, general manager of urban strategy for the City of Calgary.

Stanley says there are no imminent plans in the works to shut down the skate park, but says people interested in developing unused spaces need to work with the city to make sure things are safe and there are no objections.

Robinson says his group will take a break from building any new features at the park as winter approaches. He hopes to have a conversation with the city over the winter months about the future of the spot and says he'll be back to work building some new features in the spring.