Skaters in London are fighting to save the legendary and historical spot known as Southbank. The Southbank Centre wants to build retail shops to help fund some other renovations and redevelopment. The plan calls for building a nearby skate spot that would actually be 10% larger than the existing floor plan, but the community of skateboarders aren’t having it. Ironically, Southbank Centre management and supporters of the new development are accusing the skateboard community of bullying the public image of Southbank Centre through manipulation of the press and PR. There are some great quotes an article in Metro.
The new development calls for “much-needed rehearsal spaces for orchestras and dance companies, as well as huge education centres for children and young people.” Underneath that, in the spot currently occupied by skateboarders and BMXers, plans call for a row of retail spaces and cafés. Development supporters seem to be focusing on a message of what “young people” will be missing out on if the new retail shops aren’t realized, because without them, they say Southbank Centre won’t be able to afford building the rest of it. Here’s a quote from BBC Radio 1 DJ Nihal Arthanayake, who sits on the Southbank board:
‘What the skaters have failed to take into account is that there are going to be tens of thousands of young people who are going to lose out by this: who don’t have friends in the media, who don’t have that cool, fashionable urban art thing behind them that skating does.
I want the young people who live in the vicinity of the South Bank to understand it could be a place for them to realise what they want to be in life.
I can’t believe I wasted all those years of my life at school and traveling when I could have been shopping to learn how to maximize my life potential. More from Arthanayake:
‘We’re not PepsiCo, we’re a charity,’ Arthanayake says. ‘We’re not going to put a McDonald’s in there, it still has to fit in. But this is the world we live in.
Now who’s unfairly maligning McDonald’s! But that’s root of the problem. Money. Management can put up with skateboarding on premise for the good of a community when public opinion is behind skateboarding, but not when there’s money to be made. Southbank Centre management has traditionally been empathetic and often supportive of the skateboarding community there and the spot’s place in the history of UK street skating. They still feel like they are being supportive now, even “bending over backwards.” After all, the newer, bigger, skateboarding specific spot would only be 100 yards from the current location, so why are the skateboarders being so “unreasonable?”
The Metro quotes filmMaker Henry Edwards-Wood:
‘We are completely connected to the physical elements of that space,’ he explains. ‘I’m sure what they build would be great but you can’t just pick up and transplant that kind of heritage. The whole ethos of street skateboarding is about finding and interpreting a space, so as soon as you put it into a predetermined, contained spot it goes against everything that we stand for. If they move us they will be desecrating 40 years of history and a place which means so much to so many people.’
On the surface, skateboarding might be better served by a new facility, but it comes down to marginalization. If a building can be registered and protected as a historical monument because of things that happened in the past, then why can’t the same thing happen for a space that continues to “live” in the ways that made it historical in the first place?
According to the Metro, the protestors recently won a legal appeal to have the space declared an “‘asset of community value’ under laws designed to protect village greens.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but organizers say that’s just a small victory in the larger battle. The Southbank Centre is regrouping and trying to figure out how they can go ahead with plans.
For having such a well oiled PR campaign, their web presence of the skateboarding community is still a little scattershot.
Long Live South Bank (llsb.com) appears to be the most recent/active site, but there is also a Facebook page called Save Southbank, a skeletal web site called Save the Southbank that hasn’t been updated since April of this year, and incredibly, Savesouthbank.com hasn’t been updated since 2008!
If you’re still in doubt about the significance of Southbank, I’d suggest watching the excellent UK scene documentary “Rolling Through the Decades.” It covers the entirety of the UK, but there’s extensive coverage of Southbank. The movie came out in 2006 and there used to be web site, but it appears to have lapsed. You can read a lengthy review here on S&A if you want to try and track it down. (Please keep in mind, that review was also written in 2006!)