Colonizers Camping in the Solution Space

Kent Dahlgren
4 min readAug 24, 2023


On Tami Pudina’s Hyperdrive Anthropology podcast I recently shared how threatening people into action is often the only thing that works.

Well-meaning “colonizers” tend to camp in the “solution space” because they are monetarily rewarded for being the savior, and they end up inadvertently sabotaging the work of others, otherwise progress kicks them off their inauthentic pedestal.

Here’s some Burnside Skatepark history that many don’t know, probably because the rival effort didn’t last.

After YEARS wasting our time within the “public process,” asking politely for the city for a safe and legal place to skate, we got fed up and built our own concrete skatepark, under the east end of Portland’s Burnside Bridge, which is located at the city’s geographic heart.

At the time, and by explicit intention, we’d chosen to build at what used to be one of the city’s most filthy and criminally-active areas.

But our constant presence resulted in a reduction of crime, which allowed us to forge healthy and productive relationships with local business owners, neighborhood associations, and even law enforcement, thanks in no small part to my now-deceased paternal grandfather, who retired in 1973 as personnel director for Burlington Northern, and was still somewhat connected where it mattered.

And so by the time the City of Portland found the wherewithal to eject us from our unsanctioned project, (which was literally erected on land leased by the department of transportation to a corporate entity), the City realized that they didn’t have the political chops to do so.

Video opens with young Mikey Chin saying “City Skates is ok, but it’s kind of a fucken bag”

We had managed to demonstrate that we were better at this than the city was, and this is what threatened them into action.

So, they found the money for a skatepark that they’d henceforth claimed could never be allocated, which demonstrates an important point:

There’s plenty of money to get the job done, it’s just being spent elsewhere, and when they tell you they don’t have the money, they are often lying. The money is just going into someone else’s pockets.

And so, threatened into action, the City of Portland allocated a marginal slice of their budget into a skatepark, and then did the normal government thing of making sure that the plan isn’t fiscally viable from day one.

“Fiscally viable” meaning: does the plan have the chops to cover its own TCO without external windfalls or benefactors? Usually: no.

The City leased a building for an indoor skatepark, and then to offset operational and maintenance expenses, they invited a local skateshop owner in to manage the facility.

I should mention:

This skateshop owner is actually a person who is very dear to me, by the way (Howard Weiner). I really do love this guy, for he was more of a parent to me when I was kid than my own folks, and he taught me a lot about activism that he himself had learned during the Civil Rights era, but still.

The City did the normal government thing by pitting us as rivals, playing divisions from within, and then we “Burnside guys” were operating at cross purposes to a for-profit “public skatepark” that only worked for people who could afford to skate.

The facility itself was located about four-five blocks from Burnside.

The City showered the facility with praise and nearly broke their arms congratulating themselves for their great success, ignoring Burnside just as much as possible, and then went back into City business as usual, and in short order the facility become insolvent and was forced to close its doors.

And we did the normal skateboarder thing and broke into the facility after-hours for an unknown number of entirely unsanctioned and illegal sessions, and for my part I feel not a spot of regret, because this is how skateboarding works. It’s like being angry with water for finding its own level.

It’s now almost 33 years since we broke ground on Burnside, and 21 years after the City of Portland authorized the doomed “City Skate” facility.

Today Burnside is known as the most famous skatepark in the world, and almost nobody remembers City Skate.

But the City of Portland DID learn a lesson, and in 2004 the City government formally approved a plan we recommended for 19 skateparks — a system of parks, in the spirit of how many cities have a system of fields for ball-related sports.

And by “we” I mean a host of NON-skaters such as Linda Robinson, Rod Wojtanik, Bryan Aptekar, Tri-Met’s risk officer, and even a cop.

The important take-away is that you have to work outside the system to effect change from within, and this schema works in the corporate space and in the government space, because true innovation absolutely cannot be allowed to take root within a risk-adverse institution.

That means that often you have to threaten the system into action by forcing an eviction of those who camp and colonize within the solution space, presenting themselves as saviors while sabotaging the progress of others.

Use your elbows, and stomp those toes, but keep smiling.

They are only being rude because they believe you to be subordinate to them, and they consider themselves the saviors, even if they’ve failed to accomplish even marginal tangible progress for years or more.

But in the event they are able to “refresh the screen” they may later come to realize they were inhibiting the progress of others by camping upon the dreams and aspirations of the solution space, and as I say: power is taken, never given.

What’s more important than their entitled right to grift the solution space for another trip to Bali? ACTUAL progress that is of benefit to the poor.

So by all means, stomp those toes and extend your elbows.



Kent Dahlgren

Product management fix-it guy. World-famous people skills. Extremely small hands. (edit) marketing lady says I’m also supposed to say “CEO of software company”