ASRA - Australian Skateboard Racing Association

This is from a lecture by Iain Borden who is the director of Architectural history and theory and was delivered at University College London. It is one of the best articles I have read in a long time and has so much power as it's being spoken by an intellectual who otherwise has no interest in skateboarding. This could potentially be used against any council, court, pedestrian or authority figure in a myriad of ways.

''Let me begin with an urban nightmare masquerading as retail dream. Bluewater is a mega-mall shopping complex outside London, and a vast experiment in consumerism. A £375m, 240 acre, self-contained world replete with not only 1.5 million square feet of lettable space spread over 325 fashion shops and other retail outlets; there are three full-blown leisure villages offering multi-screen cinema, outdoor plazas, food courts, night-time bars, public art works and a rock-climbing wall. It is an internalised, predictable, controlled, safe and sterile arena. It is a place that suggests that we are only citizens in so far as we shop or consume. It is a place that suggests that we know what we want, and we know where to find it. Bluewater is a place where there are no surprises.

Let me begin with an urban nightmare masquerading as retail dream. Bluewater is a mega-mall shopping complex outside London, and a vast experiment in consumerism. A £375m, 240 acre, self-contained world replete with not only 1.5 million square feet of lettable space spread over 325 fashion shops and other retail outlets; there are three full-blown leisure villages offering multi-screen cinema, outdoor plazas, food courts, night-time bars, public art works and a rock-climbing wall. It is an internalised, predictable, controlled, safe and sterile arena. It is a place that suggests that we are only citizens in so far as we shop or consume. It is a place that suggests that we know what we want, and we know where to find it. Bluewater is a place where there are no surprises.

It's far from unique - merely an extreme version of one of the most powerful visions currently promoted for the future of the city: that the city is, above all, else a place to shop.

How can we offer a different view of the city? Where can we find practices and spaces that are less docile, less passive, more creative in their engagement with cities? For myself, this has taken the form of a study of skateboarding. Skateboarding is an activity that is culturally critical, and which above all is performed in direct relation to architecture and urban space. It therefore shows how there might be great potentials in cities and architecture that are as yet largely undreamt of by architects, planners and urban managers.

Skateboarding is not, of course, a purely bodily activity, devoid of social meaning and significance. Skaters are predominantly young men in their teens and early twenties, with broadly accommodating dispositions toward skaters of different classes and ethnicity. Despite its lack of real criminal activity, skateboarding has become increasingly repressed and legislated against, not by national or federal laws but by a series of local reactions aimed at suppressing that which is different (and misunderstood). Such laws add to the anarchic character of skateboarding, part of its continual dependence on, as well as struggle against, the modern city.

What then to make of this study of skateboarding? Where does it leave our understanding of cities and architecture in general? In the most general terms, we can begin to delineate an understanding of cities that does not focus solely on things, effects, production, authorship or exchange. The study of skateboarding shows how cities also involve various machines and tools, everyday spaces, imaginative experiences, city mapping social identities and urban terrains.

Cities do not always have to be the place of consumption and genteel civilisation like the shopping mall at Bluewater. Cities can also be composed of all the disparate activities that people do in cities. That is, they are cities of shouting, loud music, sex, running, demonstrations, subterranean subterfuges. They are the cities of intensity, of bloody-minded determination, and getting out-of-hand; they are the cities of cab ranks, boot sales, railway arches and street markets; they are the cities of monkish seclusion, crystal-clear intellectualism, and quiet contemplation.

What skateboarding, and all the myriad urban practices of the city tell us, is that we need to need to celebrate three things: different peoples, different spaces and different ways of knowing the city. We need to celebrate the people of different backgrounds, races, ages, classes, sexuality, gender and general interests, all of whom have different ideas of public space, and who subsequently use and make their own places to foster their own identities as individuals and citizens.

And we need, therefore, different kinds of spaces. Beyond the shopping mall and the piazza, cities need hidden spaces and brutally exposed spaces. And we need practices like skateboarding, all of us, whether we skateboard or not.''

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Unfortunately Dani, Borden has got things arse about face: instead of starting with a problem and finding an answer, he has an answer and tries to find a suitable problem to go with it, and attempts to use skateboarding as a tool to reinforce it. In reality he could of substituted skateboarding with parkour, and ended up in the same place. Does jack in helping skaters gain acceptance and legal areas to ride in any inner city environ.

Yea for sure, Parkour would have been another good example of it but I think it is less known than skating and less of a ''problem'' because they don't knock down old ladies, which of course neither do we but there is at least a 1% chance of it happening so people assume it must happen, which isn't entirely stupid. Just not very likely.

I quite like the thought of someone who knows nothing about skating per say and has no real interest in it defending it and not just with an argument of ''let the kids have some fun'' but in a way which shows he really understands it and see's it as a benefit as opposed to something negative or even something that just happens. The fact that some people do appreciate it in the same way as they appreciate art is really cool and I think this article shows that quite well. 

I don't think he has found a problem to go with the answer. The exact discussion is going on in Helsinki as we speak. There is a worry that the city is becoming to traffic friendly and to consumer friendly which is seen as taking away from (pun 100% intended) the architecture in Helsinki. People are now coming to Helsinki for shopping spree's instead of looking at the incredibly old buildings which have an incredible history. There is even talk of banning all traffic from the city centre, which would be pretty amazing to see.

Fair comments, Dani, and I think posting this type of post on the forum is brilliant, totally worthy. Gives another aspect or view of city skating....and how various people see it.

Yeah Dani, Jan Gehl is on the same wavelength. He gets consulting work advising cities on how to improve their urban environments and make them more fun and lively (he was hired by the City of Sydney for this a few years ago). He's big on saying that skateboarders should be encouraged rather than discouraged in the city, and that the presence of skateboarders makes the city better for everybody else; it gives them something to watch, and provides the sort of passive surveillance that makes cities safer.

On the other hand, skateboarding seems to thrive in the really inhuman environments - brutalist architecture, multi-storey carparks etc.

the 2nd last paragraph is gold!.......be great if cops/authorities etc were open enough to realise,everyone is different and cause they dont believe in somthing doesnt give them the right to treat you with disrespect and judge you for what you do..

give me the fine but save me the lecture and your opinion about us being crazy,careless,and ignorant to the dangers,bla bla bla.

Nice one Bugs, I will check him out!

Skateboarding is often the most appropriate response to some elements of architecture.

that is the comment of the year! If i had a trophy I would award it to you

bernie said:

Skateboarding is often the most appropriate response to some elements of architecture.

Well said Bernie! 

The museum of modern art in Barcelona built it's outside area to be skateboard friendly because they thought that skateboarding fit well into the modern arts category. It worked really well and some years later Helsinki, which already has a HUGE skate scene which is fully accepted all but everywhere built their own modern arts museum and encouraged skaters to come and ride there. It is now one of the biggest hot spots for city skating and this thing is as much in the centre as you can get. For a little while (maybe 2 summers if I remember correctly) they even had a mini ramp built next to the museum. It has since been removed but it may go back up one day.

Great article dani!

Adapting to all the varieties of urban terrain is one of the aspects that makes skating so much fun.  The other day I was walking through Martin Place.  The Supra pros were there, throwing down hammers over the big rail and stairs.  It was great, lots of people watching and cheering when they landed tricks.

My growing up was spent as a street skater rat in one of the most built-up environments in the world and I loved every minute of it.  The skater eyes never die and see spots everywhere...

I remember seeing that mini in 2009. I was checking out the little skate exhibit in the museum. Shame it was all in Finnish.

 

Cheers for posting this stuff up. Should come in handy for that thesis I really should start...
Dani said:

Well said Bernie! 

The museum of modern art in Barcelona built it's outside area to be skateboard friendly because they thought that skateboarding fit well into the modern arts category. It worked really well and some years later Helsinki, which already has a HUGE skate scene which is fully accepted all but everywhere built their own modern arts museum and encouraged skaters to come and ride there. It is now one of the biggest hot spots for city skating and this thing is as much in the centre as you can get. For a little while (maybe 2 summers if I remember correctly) they even had a mini ramp built next to the museum. It has since been removed but it may go back up one day.

No worries man, look forward to reading your thesis!

I love it when the public get into skating Haggy! I used to skate every night until the wee hours of the morning with my 2 housemates. We would just skate around and find new spots every night. One night we found an office building on a main road which had a set of 6 or 7 stairs. All three of us got stuck into ollying the stair which were the first ''real'' set we had ever skated on. A family with a pram turned up and a couple of truck drivers from a servo across the road. They all stayed and watched us for half an hour, 40 minutes and then we all left. They were all super stoked (especially the kids) and so were we because we had just mastered this new stair case. It is still one of my favourite skating memories made all the better with the enjoyment of the strangers and they were by far my favourite skating days.

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