The mental health of individuals is strengthened through the development of social capital. Social capital is the tangible assets individuals harness for a quality of living through the relationships with the people in the community, such as friendship, trust and political power. Social capital created through social interactions, provision of community facilities and participation in governance structures. The development of social capital is particularly important for disadvantaged members of society to prevent isolation and becoming the forgotten segment of communities.

A particular segment of our society in Perth that is vulnerable tends to be youths. This is a result of them having have limited finance (due to child labour laws), experience (due to a lack of life experiences) and power (inability to vote). Recreation is a useful avenue to developing social capital in youths, particularly skateboarding. However skateboarding and the participants are often feared and excluded from the mainstream population and civic spaces.

Skate parks are more frequently being provided by local governments as community facilities. The provision of skate parks is to cater for the increasingly greater number of participants in the skating activities. Often in Western Australia when skate parks are proposed there is still a significant amount of public angst against the proposal. Local communities have not yet become accustomed to the idea of skate parks or their evolving nature from a kidney bean shaped bowl to an activity destination for youths. The negative stereotype cast on skateboarders is counter productive to social cohesion especially at a time when skateboarding is considered an activity that could help Australia fight national obesity.

The locating of skate parks in communities is a contentious issue, as it will create land-use conflicts between existing uses of space and the new visitors to the constructed skate park. The conflict will often happen when a new activity is started in an existing used and loved space. To properly find a location to construct a new community facility, especially skate parks there has to be equitable community engagement of both existing users and future users of the space.

Discussions are needed with local residents to ensure their quality of life does not reduce (through increased noise pollution or fears of anti-social behaviour) but others community members need to be included to ensure the facilities cater for their needs. Therefore the community engagement process for providing facilities is important in achieving a sustainable outcome that is desirable for all stakeholders.

Skate parks originated out as the familiar kidney shaped concrete bowl based on the empty backyard swimming pool. The design of skate parks has evolved to include angled blocks and decks to be used for tricks. Simultaneously skateboarding has adapted to use the built environment on public streets and there are now multiple types of skateboarding; freestyle, vert, street, park, cruising, downhill and others.

Whilst the general public will often bundle all forms of skating into the one classification, skaters will distinguish and consider the variations as different sports such as the differences between the ball sports of rugby and soccer. Furthermore skate parks are now used by bmx riders, scooters and inline skaters. Future versions of skate parks may be designed to feature other physical activities to make the area attractive to multiple demographics and be a cultural hub.

The conflict of space arising from the introduction of skateboarding or any new activity can be resolved by engaging the different community segments and having all members understand the need to facilitate each social group. The engagement develops social capital, introduces youths to political spheres and creates acknowledgements of youths needs. This process can be used in the wider introduction of youth activities or minority group activities.

Making youths feel included into the political sphere of a community can lead to decreases in youth crime and anti‐social behaviour. The decreases in anti­‐social behaviour and crime is a result of the youths perceiving themselves included in the adult world.

Therefore adults and institutions should welcome youths and not prejudice against them, to decrease youth crime and anti‐social behaviour. This means a greater facilitation from adults of the behaviour, activities and sub‐cultures developed by youths. Essentially, embracing diversity and growing social cohesion is good for communities, the basis behind the multicultural society ideology.

Participation in political decisions is considered the ultimate form of social engagement in societies, but youths are not allowed to vote, exiling them from this social capital building exercise. The ability to revalue forgotten urban spaces and give those spaces new meanings is a positive affect skateboarders can have on the governing of urban area. The youths are often not recognised as improving the urban area or contributing to the social capital of the society, but they are making use of a forgotten space.

Whilst many individuals will pass through urban streetscapes, skateboarders can develop a form of communication through actions (such as leaving scratched off paint marks and metal scuffs on areas that are conducive to skating. Whilst the activity can provide pleasure to the skaters it provides dissatisfaction to management bodies that attempt to keep a tidy and clean look. Understanding and facilitating the role of the skateboarder in urban areas will have to be improved by governance bodies.

Beyond the personal benefits, skateboarding is able to improve the urban street-scape by acting as urban entertainment and providing passive surveillance. However, its activities often causes conflicts for space (such as with pedestrians), which is why there are often attempts to ban the activity.

Historically when there is a conflict for space there becomes an exclusion. Exclusions could include demographics (race, gender, age, class, religion), land uses (heavy industry, fishing, recreation, etc) or trade (tariff’s, taxes, etc) amongst others. For the exclusion of skateboarders from a public space it is done through policies. However, exclusions are discriminatory and cause disadvantages to social groups.

Attempts by authorities to ban skateboarders from highly active public spaces, are often ignored by skaters who persist in the active area. The skaters will prefer to be in the highly active public space, than move to purpose built facilities that are often in desolate areas, because skaters prefer to be able to interact with other members of the public. These are not attempts of rebellion but desire for social acceptance. Banning and prohibiting skateboard does not help the situation in any manner. Such attempts to stop a productive form of socialising for youths further excludes youths from civic spaces, promotes the idea it is acceptable to exclude social groups and encourages the belief that skateboarders are anti‐social and unwelcome individuals.

Despite skateboarding being an unstructured activity it still provides positive social development to youths because there are internal‐based controls over behaviour (such as peer pressure to not interrupt other users and to negotiate rotational use of the facilities between attendants). However there are still negative views about skateboarders held by adults and other youths.

It is the management of skateboarding activities amongst other activities in urban areas that has to be improved. Instead of banning the activity, public spaces and streetscapes should be designed to facility skateboarding and withstand the destructive force of the activity.

A good source of information on designing public spaces to facilitate skateboarding include websites for skatepark design and construction companies Convic and Skate Sculpture.

In the next article we will explore the development of the Esplanade Youth Plaza down in Fremantle, with regards to the attempts of including youths into the town centre.