Can you explain how the Temple Street Parking Garage became a sanctioned DIY? The Parking Authority approached you? How complex was the process of turning the Temple Street Garage into an underground DIY?
The journey to get the garage approved was a bit of a winding path with a few hiccups and side steps along the way, but ultimately took about two years from first conversation to a sign recognizing level B2 of the Temple Street Garage as an underground DIY.
In the Summer of 2020 the parking authority director, Doug Hausladen, reached out to ask if we might have an interest in temporarily activating the parking garage as a skatepark. (I have a past relationship working with Doug on safer streets and other civic projects through his previous work as Director of Traffic and Parking for the CIty of New Haven and my previous work as the founder of SeeClickFix, a civic communication software platform.)
A few weeks later Myself and two other local skaters, Steve Roberts and Bobby Murphy, met up at the parking garage to look at a surface level location where we and others had been skating since the early nineties. While waiting for Doug an NHPA employee asked why we were bothering to do something formal instead of just skating the basement where no cars were parked and no one paid attention. We’d never skated in the basement so we went down and checked it out. The basement was a bit creepy with the old, dim yellow lighting, and smelled a little of piss, but there was a one up two down pad with smooth ground, some slappies and another low pad that looked appealing.
Over the next few months we skated in the basement while Bobby prepared a Power Point for the NHPA board to get something approved for the upstairs. Bobby’s .PPT delivered and the NHPA board was sold, but the insurance consultant wasn’t comfortable signing off yet. At the time there was mention of lack of precedent for an indoor public skatepark and there were concerns about someone hitting their head on the roof (they think we can jump higher than we can. Steve is really tall and Bobby has ups so maybe that was it?).
Things got kicked down the road for a bit and we kept skating the basement without formal permission. It was mid pandemic and no one really gave us a hard time.
Then an unlikely diversion moved things along when a crew out of DC, Finding a Line, working through a guy who was running a center at Yale, Steve Roberts and our friend J Joseph reached out to see if we’d have an interest in landing a bowl in New Haven that was previously built for a hip hop event at the Kennedy Center. We looked first to the parking garage but decided it was too dreary and the ceilings were too low. We ended up landing the bowl down the street in the Fall of 2021 on a surface parking lot owned by NHPA.
From there the insurance consultant got comfortable with skateboarding on the NHPA properties and the board got more enthusiastic about expanding the use of their spaces for skateboarding. Steve led a really solid community effort to keep the bowl clean, maintained and free of litter as we do and the trust between the skating community and NHPA was furthered.
Winter was coming so we started to push again on the garage. We brought a couple of obstacles down to B2 to test the waters, but maintenance wasn’t having it because litter was being left around and kids were hanging out during highschool causing the occasional issue. At one point a trash can was lit on fire and there was an arson investigation.
The obstacles were removed and people started getting tossed again by security.
To NHPA’s credit, this only encouraged them to formalize the park. They went to work securing the space so that it could be locked after 10AM. They worked with us on formal signage. They got new LED lighting which made a world of difference and they repaired some of the ground.
In Fall 2022 I opened Plush around the corner from the garage with Trevor and Alexis. Trevor and Alexis’s sponsor, Converse CONS, donated ramps made by Andrew Consadine for the opening weekend. The ramps lived in the street for that first day and then we got the assistance of the local business improvement district to help us move them over the garage where we had approval to place them. The garage wasn’t formally open but it was coming.
A couple more months went by waiting on some logistics and we missed most of the unseasonably warm New England months but the garage finally got a sign making it official in late Winter of 2023.
The DIY is temporary but damn it feels like every skater in CT and then some have skated it already and the obstacles keep shifting and improving.
How long is temporary?
Not really sure. The bowl was supposed to only be on the lot for a year and its still there 18 months later with no immediate conversations of removal. NHPA may need the parking for a biotech tower that’s being built but TBD. New Haven is having a cultural shift away from cars in its downtown so we can keep our fingers crossed that the parking demand won’t box us out.
Is there a timeline for when the Biotech building is going to be done?
12 months or so.
So you guys brought a bunch of ramps in there. Do you guys have another place that you're planning on moving it all once the spot ceases to be?
We just got another outdoor DIY approved at a waterfront city park behind an old icerink. We can bring the ramps there or somewhere else in the city if we get pushed out by cars. I’d like to see some form of skatepark/spot in every neighborhood in New Haven in the next five years. We have two permanent parks, two DIY’s and the bowl so we’re about halfway there. For a town with 130K pop it feels like we’re doing pretty good by the skate community so far.
Do you guys plan on hosting any events there through Plush?
We’re going to host something at one of the DIY’s in the near future. Garage events will probably wait till its colder, but you never know. It can be a nice repreive on a hot Summer day too. Usually the street gets taken over in front of the shop when we do an event like a screening so at that point Orange Street is the skatepark.
Do you think there's like potential for more spots like this taking advantage of underutilized city structures in New Haven?
Hopefully there will be less cars in the future and more available parking, but you never know. There are definitely other parking garages in New Haven. Temple Street, is the most interesting structurally. It was designed by Paul Rudolph and is a Brutalist Architectural icon. Scantlebury Skatepark in the Dixwell neighborhood is an old parking lot. Edgewood, the oldest park in the city( arguably the center of skateboarding in CT and the vortex that sucks skateboarders into New Haven) is an old ice rink.
Any DIY wisdom you’ve acquired over the years that you could share?
Relationships matter alot. With the City and with the skate community. Creating a balance between the two is tricky but worth the reward of sustained skate spaces.
A battery powered angle grinder and a diamond bit go a lot quicker than a rub brick on a concrete ledge.
There’s a part of Edgewood that’s become a DIY but the asphalt there is over 20 years old. We rented an EDCO walk behind grinder from Home Depot for less than $200/Day and were able to smooth the surface really niceley.
What are your thoughts are on city sanctioned skate spots? Instead of building a skate park that’s $500,000 - $1,000,000 cities could build spots that cost $10,000 or $5,000 in a smaller area where there's not a lot of like traffic and where it could be integrated into community. What are your thoughts about projects like that?
That’s my favorite kind of skate spot. Skateboarding should be integrated into the fabric of a neighborhood. Alexis designed a beautiful sculpture in a plaza in Malmo, Sweden that serves as a skatespot. More of that! The examples in Providence and Paris are good as well.
How would you say this spot has influenced the skate community? Has it been growing since since you guys started talking about it? For sure. More and more people are going there. I was getting anxious in November because I could tell it wasn’t going to be ready for winter. Then we didn’t have a winter. We skated outside all winter and it actually snowed right after we officially opened the garage. We got lucky with the weather. Between the skate shop being downtown and opening in September, the garage, the bowl and Scantlebury all coming online during the pandemic there’s just way more people skating street in New Haven again. We still get kicked out of Beineke Plaza and Hall of Records but hoepfully someday they’ll welcome us.
What advice do you have for anyone starting their DIY or for anyone trying to make an underground spot? I think if you're starting your own DIY, start small, do something that you can do today, like in a few hours and skate that day or the next and have the expectation that it might be gone tomorrow. Celebrate if it lasts a week or a month. I feel like I appreciate it more if I know it might be fleeting. Just be prepared to find some other spot and move the thing, learn from what you did and move on. Also push the boundaries on materials and design. Try something new. It’s likely impermanent so there’s not much to lose. A DIY can be a laboratory for skatepark design.
In terms of building a DIY that is sanctioned, you really do have to be respectful and show all of the positive sides of the skateboarding community. Pick-up litter. Smile at strangers watching. Show a curious onlooker how to skate. But also push the envelope a little because all of this is relatively new for city hall folks, and new stuff feels scary and foreign. Sometimes you have to ask for forgiveness and be prepared to say sorry. Always keep skating even when they tell you not to. You have to show that skateboarding’s going to happen whether or not its approved of. It’s all a balance and takes some diplomacy. New Haven has the benefit of government employees and citizens that are active and care about the city and care about each other and have historically worked well together. It’s a community of sustained relationships.
Ben Berkowitz breaks down the story of how New Haven's underground Temple Street garage was trasnfomed into a DIY and gives tips about the politics of working with your local town government to bring skateboarding to your community in new ways.
For the first event of our Down the Line contest series, we have teamed up with the infamous Looney Tunes in West Babylon to put together a one of a kind game of skate tournament.