City Standard

Two steps forward, two steps back

Joshua Fanning
Jared Nicholson
Jarrod Knoblauch
Mike Moore
Johnny von Einem

A divestment in Adelaide’s skatepark not only pushes young people out of the city, it demonstrates how deeply we misunderstand the value of youth culture.

The scraping of metal on metal, the growl of hard rubber across bitumen; the buzz of five flywheels whining in unison, interrupted only by the sharp crack-and-clatter of timber on pavement.

It’s the sound of progress to some, but to others it sounds like the theatre of war.

BMXers, skateboarders or scooter…ers – like most children – are better seen and not heard. Groups of young men flagrantly disregarding their own safety on our roads; they’re a menace, a nuisance and a destructive blight on the public realm, our streets, our footpaths.

But they’re a culture, a craft and a global communication device too.

In 2020 skateboarding will be an Olympic sport.

In 2015 Adelaide destroyed its only skate park, our grand stadium, the SA mecca for small-wheeled vehicles.

The destruction came just 15 years after we invested $3million building a place for young people from all over metropolitan Adelaide to come and push themselves to the extreme.

Now – as a replacement of sorts – we’ve got a temporary skate space on a reclaimed basketball court just outside of town worth $250,000.

This represents a $2.75million divestment in the youth of today.

Matt Hodgson (interviewed in the film above) owns Little Black Bike, a small business in Adelaide that caters to the city’s BMX riders.

But worldwide – BMX, skateboarding, rollerblading, scooters – all of them – can mean big business too. And while state and local governments remain stalled over a decision about how much to spend and where to put a new skate / bike / scooter facility in the city, the world is moving forward at almost breakneck speed, in an effort to match demand and reflect the true value of small wheeled vehicles.

The skate shoe company Vans recorded $2billion in sales last year.

More people skate than play tennis in the United States right now.

But actually, while youth stays young, skateboarding has grown up.

Investinbarcelona.com proudly proclaims Barcelona, Spain as the skateboarding capital of the world and cites skateboarding as a reason foreign companies and high-net-worth individuals should invest in Barcelona.

Links to tourism and revenue from out-of-towners looking to have world-class skate experiences have been documented and now form lines in enlightened council’s ledgers.

Barcelona estimates skate tourism generates $40million in revenue for the city.

But forget the cash.

Forget the tens of millions of dollars that progressive skate spaces have injected into municipal coffers around the world. It’s a reductive way to rationalise investing in young people.

But sometimes investment in youth needs to be over-rationalised because the thing about youth is – they stay young.

It’s easy to see how we categorise them in the machine of our city. They don’t vote. They don’t pay rates or taxes. They don’t have jobs. They have neither clout nor the connections to kick up a fuss. They are disempowered.

But actually, while youth stays young, skateboarding has grown up.

Tony Hawk, arguably the most famous skateboard name in the world turned 48 years old this year. As well as having spent almost half a century drawing breath, Tony Hawk has managed to become exceedingly wealthy.

Skateboarding, BMX, scooters and rollerblading aren’t fringe activities. Their proponents are a part of society and in some cases actually shape how society sees itself.

They pay taxes; they have jobs. They even go so far as to protect and serve our community.

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These people who have grown up as skateboarders to become that rarest of things – a “valuable member of society”, still wear their history of scars, concussions and fractures as medals of honour. The wounds form a timeline and mark progress for the individual on their way to attaining an ever-higher level of technical ability and esteem among their peers – and they mark them out as part of a community.

As a result, skateboarding forms a cultural narrative, imbued with history. Two skate parks in the United Kingdom have obtained “asset of community value” status, with Rom skate park in Essex acquiring a Grade II listing from English Heritage in 2014.

The sport’s anthropological value is only just beginning to be understood, but it’s undeniable that there is value.

It’s also undeniable that the cultures of BMX and skating have some drawbacks.

Laura Danvers is a 28-year-old post-graduate student at RMIT in Melbourne. She is also a skater.

“I mean I don’t skate anymore,” she says. “But maybe I would if there was an appropriate place. I used to skate all over UniSA with my friend but never really at the City Park,” she says, referring to the North Terrace facility.

“It’s a pretty masculine sport. We never really felt comfortable or competent enough to go to the North Terrace skate park while the boys were there but we’d wait until they would leave and then quickly go on.”

What Laura says is true. Skating and BMX are pastimes dominated by guys, especially at old-fashioned skate parks.

And there’s violence inherent in the activity of these sports. It was no accident that, at the top of this story, we described the cacophony of these activities as evoking the noise of war.

Because, in an actual war zone, skateboarding and a modern skate space are challenging some of the sport’s cultural limitations – like gender norms – and directing idle young people off the street and into school in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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