Sometime around the middle of last year I heard for the first time about the new plans for the undercroft on the Southbank. The undercroft is a world famous skate park. Skate park isn’t quite the right word – that sounds like one of those sanitised places build of wood and metal and special surfaces sat behind a fence and sanctioned by local governments. The Undercroft isn’t that. The undercroft was somewhere I had been and knew off by heart before I’d even been to London as an adult. Featured on Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 (you have no idea how formative that game was on the minds and musical tastes of a slightly to mid alternative once-younger generation).
But look, I’m not a skater. It’s just a made-up place to me. But to thousands of people it’s a home. It’s one of those homes you build with the people you choose which makes it stronger and sit heavier on the landscape for all its folds. Also, according to The Kind Of Paper I Read (Guardian) it’s “hailed as the birthplace of British skateboarding, a spot that has nurtured the homegrown talents of skateboard professionals such as Lewis “Chewie” Cannon, Ben Fairfax and Joey Pressey.”
But, look, I’m not a skater. I don’t know who those people are. I am however a lefty reactionary type, so when I heard in the middle of last year (it must have been before September because it’s when I was working at Hide&Seek) that that big Goliath of culture was set on demolishing that plucky David of counter-culture I signed up to that petition, and shared it. Like all good internet reactionary lefties would. The Southbank centre has submitted a £120m plan to double the capacity of their buildings and practices. That involves developing the current space being used to skate in. ‘Developing’, and using the space to build retail spaces to help support their artistic and outreach plan instead.
I dutifully sent out a tweet. And shared it on Facebook. But then Alex in the office saw it and leant over and said ‘did I know that they were going to be building a bigger, better, more purpose built skate park’ to replace it? Did I know about all of the outreach that the plans would allow Southbank to do – all of the development of kids and artist local to the venue? Had I read the statements and understanding from the SBC? Did I know about the consultation and how closely they’d worked with skaters to design the replacement? And people I know and like have been part of that consultation process – explaining the plans to passersby, volunteering to support something they strongly believe in, and I then feel muddled. Felt a bit guilty about the simplicity of this tweet, and I couldn’t work out where the line was, where I had to work out I stood. I couldn’t see it.
So, I forgot about it. Like I could. As a good, lefty reactionary who was not a skater who had other stuff to do.
And then it came up, a couple of weeks back. I’m currently dating a guy who is a skater. And his housemate is a skater too. And I saw a picture on his instagram of them handing the petition over. And the boyfriend who’s not known for his interest or certainty regarding anything political said ‘yeah but it won’t do anything’. So I asked for their opinions on it, finally realising I knew skaters to ask. Hasn’t the consultation been really careful? Aren’t they building a better place to skate?
And they said ‘look, it’s not about that, it’s about how skaters take over these places, these left over places on the edge, and they make them into something, and suddenly loads of people go there, and it’s cool, and desirable, and then the people that never wanted them in the first place just come and take them back’
Academic people thinking about skateboarding as an urban practice also talk about the turning of ‘space’ into ‘place’ (p.139 on)
I wouldn’t know, I’m not a skateboarder. But I spoke to two,
It comes down to this: “why is your cultural practice more important than mine?
Why are our made up places less important than yours?”
That’s the line. I know where I stand on it. How about you?