The new skate city: how skateboarders are joining the urban mainstream

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The new skate city: how skateboarders are joining the urban mainstream
A skater at the the Bro Bowl in Tampa, Florida, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places
Photo © ZUMA Press/Alamy

Skating bans and defensive architecture are increasingly giving way to a realisation of the positive role skateboarding can play in education, entrepreneurship and community cohesion

Since its origins in the late 1950s, skateboarding has typically been perceived as thrusting a rebellious two fingers in the face of controlling authorities, parents and schools. By 1965 numerous US cities already had skateboarding bans, while 50 years later “skate stopper” devices (ranging from metal prongs on ledges to roughened pavement surfaces) have mushroomed across city squares worldwide, spoiling skateboard fun with universal determination.

Typical is the “Scoop” amphitheatre beside London’s City Hall, a pseudo-public space managed by the More London office development and which deploys a metallic army of joy-killing knobs. In this version of the skate city, skateboarding is expelled from urban centres and confined to the invisible hinterlands of suburbia and industrial estates.

Except this is not the whole story. Skateboarders are fighting back. What’s more, many of the general public, charities and councils, along with a few enlightened developers, architects and companies, are starting to agree. One healthy sign of this emerging shift came in 2014, when an immense public campaign saved the historic undercroft skateboarding spot at London’s Southbank Centre from being turned into retail units. Today, as well as its section 106 agreement guaranteeing the continuance of skateboarding in the undercroft, the Southbank Centre is keen to pursue further skateboarding and other urban arts activities under its Hungerford Bridge site. Skateboarding is now an established part of this major international arts venue. []