Arriving at the do-it-yourself skate park in the Columbus Park Neighborhood, you can see concrete-covered city barriers on either side of the street. The barriers are marked by artists’ paintings and streaks from skaters. Behind the barriers and to the left is a beat-up street that leads to the skate park. Trees hang over the street, creating a creepy shadow. The street is filled with sticks, rubble and skaters hanging out. At the top is a skate park where an old run-down cul-de-sac once was. The sun is shining down on everyone’s faces. There is a huge cement truck backing up into place to pour concrete, a constant crack of a jackhammer and the screech of skate wheels. Classic rock playing in the distance, and a slight breeze blows dust and cigarette smoke into the bystander’s faces.
Harrison DIY held an event April 23 to introduce the skate park to Columbus Park. Harrison DIY is a group of local Kansas City skaters who have made it their mission to rebuild their community and give skateboarders a new community to create change.
Harrison DIY was started last year when co-founder Keelin Austin and a few of his friends tried to build a skate park at an abandoned school’s tennis court. The city denied the skaters’ plans for the skate park.
Austin, a member of the Columbus Park community in Northeast Kansas City, noticed the street barriers at the end of Harrison St. that were put in place to deter crime from a vacant lot. Austin, teamed up with skate park builders Kyle Crandall and UMKC student Max Clark. Together they decided to pour concrete on street barriers and skate them. Again, the city shut them down and told them they couldn’t skate there. That’s when Austin, Crandall and Clark decided to make use of the vacant property on 401 Harrison St.
With the support of the Columbus Park community, Kansas City gave the go ahead to Austin, Crandall and Clark to build the skate park the way they wanted it: without city oversight. The first actual skate park piece they put in was a bowl in the center of the park.
“We were in over our heads in concrete, literally in this pit in 90-degree weather,” Austin said.
After the bowl’s completion, Harrison DIY took off. For the first time the group knew what they could handle and knew that from there they could only do good things. Although the skate group started receiving support from local print shops and donations from the Tony Hawk Foundation, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer and Ricos Tacos Lupe, money is still an issue for the skaters.
“Money is a big problem,” Clark said.
Harrison DIY is a non-profit. No one building the park is receiving money. The only money it receives for materials is through donations and sponsorship from outside sources.
The builders ran into this trouble when they were putting in the bowl. The lip the bowl consists of individual pieces called coping. To put coping around the entire bowl, the organization needed $1800 or two full trucks of cement. The builders knew that they couldn’t take a hit like that again. That’s where Crandall’s background as an experienced and well-connected builder came in.
Harrison DIY gets its building knowledge from Crandall. He once worked for Team Pain, a professional skate park building company, and has built DIY skate parks in Indiana and St. Louis.
Instead of spending money on professionally-made coping, Crandall and Clark had a friend who worked for a furniture company and created coping molds for them. Now finishing the whole bowl would only cost around $100. In addition to the coping mold, Crandall has a surplus of coping he acquired from abandoned pools on the North Side of St. Louis.
“They call me the foreman,” Crandall said.
Crandall and Clark build skate parks because they think it’s fun and that perfect skate parks, well, kind of suck. With perfect skate parks like the ones in Overland Park and Penn Valley, companies have a budget and a set time limit to build. With the DIY skate park, there is no time limit or budget.
Skaters simply go out and skate and because they all work with the same skate language and style, skaters know exactly where they should build new pieces and how they should be crafted. Skaters are actually building the parks as opposed to concrete layers. Crandall also likes that there is no park ranger or city officials who comes by and tells you what to do and what not to do.
“It’s a dead end street,” Crandall said. “No one here regulates what’s going on besides us.”
DIY skate parks also give the community a chance to give back and rebuild their community. One of the main goals of Harrison DIY is to get people to come out to events where they can learn how to use concrete properly and realize they can make changes within their own communities. Anyone who shows up to these scheduled pour sessions and is willing to help out can. It gives young skaters a chance to express their voice.
“We have kids from second grade to kids in their freshman year of high school show up at 10 a.m. ready to do something,” Austin said. “Take your neighborhood into your own hands. Just last week we filled a huge pot hole in the street because it was effecting the way we skated.”
The skaters have been building the skate park since November 2015. In April they poured 16 yards of concrete and completed major pieces for the park. In Crandall’s eyes, the skate park is going perfectly, and nothing is really too challenging or hard about building it. Harrison DIY hopes to expand to other areas in Kansas City and transform vacant properties into works of art and places for community members to express themselves.
“As long as were raising money, I’ll keep building stuff,” Crandall said.
To get involved with Harrison DIY, like them on Facebook or follow them on Instagram @harrisonstreetdiy for updates on events and how to get involved.