After a tumultuous fight for community support, the Scantlebury Skate Park opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 27.
Located in New Haven’s Dixwell neighborhood — between Yale Health and Science Park — Scantlebury Skate Park is the brainchild of two New Haven residents and skateboard lovers, Steve Roberts and J. Joseph ʼ19. Though the community was initially hesitant about the project, construction kicked off in July and since its opening has received positive feedback.
“There’s been a community of skaters from the neighborhood who are starting to hang out with each other,” Roberts told the News. “It’s a beautiful thing to see them crew up and encourage each other.”
Since 2017, Roberts has been dedicated to fostering a love of skateboarding in New Haven’s youth. He created his non-profit Push to Start after a local librarian suggested he teach some local children how to ride.
What began with a couple of cones in a parking lot gave way to bigger plans when Joseph told him about The Could Be Fund, an organization which provides grants to community development projects in New Haven. They saw an opportunity to build a community and invigorate the local skateboarding scene, and they wanted to take it.
Roberts and Joseph drew up initial plans for a multi-use skate park that included traditional ramps and rails as well as a stage in honor of the skateboarding community’s ties with hip-hop culture. They chose the Scantlebury Park location because they believed the proposal would be easier to implement considering there would be no need to construct a new parking lot or access routes.
The city of New Haven supported their ambition. According to Rebecca Bombero, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer and the former director of parks, recreation and trees, a previous city hall landscape architect proposed a similar idea and “a skate park had been envisioned as an option for the space as early as 2017.” However, the city did not make any concrete attempts at building a park until Roberts and Joseph approached them.
Roberts and Joseph secured funding for their project, with $50,000 from The Could Be Fund and a $25,000 donation from Yale’s Schwarzman Center. According to Maurice Harris, the center’s director of marketing and communications, the Schwarzman Center donated in support of Finding a Line New Haven, on organization cultivating inclusivity and positive social change through skateboarding.
Things seemed to be going well, but their string of luck would come to an end when community input indicated that support for the project was not unanimous. Primary concerns included loud noise related to the stage and the skate park presenting a deviation from former plans for the park that had been conceived upon its initial construction.
In response to these complaints, the project team agreed to omit the stage and to include general park upkeep in their plans which satisfied the opposition. The changes did not bother Roberts and Joseph. For them, the skate park itself was the priority.
Roberts says skateboarding is a unique developmental activity that helps kids learn how to “fall forward — every skateboarder knows how to take a slam.”
Now that it has opened, Scantlebury Skate Park achieves its goal of bringing people together every day. With Push to Start, Roberts teaches skating lessons at the park and has plans to expand a previous class he held on skating and graffiti art.
The skate park does not only attract skaters from local neighborhoods. According to Roberts, skateboarders from all over Connecticut, including Bridgeport, Hartford and New London, are flocking to New Haven to try out the new course.
According to Roberts, professional skateboarding is shedding its white-male affiliation and is growing more inclusive. Skaters like Tyshawn Jones and Lizzie Armanto provide essential representation and inspiration. At the Scantlebury site, everyone is welcome to grab a board and strap on a helmet.
This community extends to non-skaters as well. “Former skate park opponents are now joining forces with skate park advocates to complete landscaping in the area around the skate park,” New Haven Landscape Architect Katherine Jacobs said in an email to the News. It seems that skateboards can cross more than just the street.
When reflecting on the success of this endeavor, Roberts emphasized his status as a local individual who was able to make significant change. He says that he hopes it “encouraged people to get up and make moves in their community.”
Scantlebury Park is located at 139 Ashmun St.