Skateboarders are the shock troops of gentrification, making no-go areas secure and then seeing their newly valuable sites destroyed when the developers move in. Can one much-loved London spot buck the trend?
It was like a part of my soul was destroyed, says Ian Davross Scudds. He is talking about the moment in 2004 when two-thirds of the skateboarding site at the Southbank Centre in London was fenced off and destroyed without warning. Four decades of skateboarding history went with it. Now 54, Davross has been skating at the Southbank since he was a teenager, and was the UKs first professional street skater. I do get upset when I go. I have memories of what was there, and I do get quite tearful. But he rallies at the thought of what it once was, and could be. If the small banks came into being again Id be down there every weekend. I was in love with the small banks.
He may yet get to see the full Southbank skateboarding site return to its former glory. In 2014, the final third of the site was threatened with closure when the Southbank Centre management changed hands; the plan was to transform it into retail units as part of a 120m redevelopment scheme. But a David and Goliath campaign began, run by the sites most militant defender, Henry Edwards-Wood, and Palace pro Chewy Cannon, and eventually backed by the then London mayor, Boris Johnson. The Southbank Centre capitulated and a new era of cooperation dawned.
The Long Live Southbank campaign is now run by 22-year-old local Louis Woodhead and community organiser Paul Richards, and last year they proposed the reconstruction of the site in its entirety. The Southbank Centre, in a massive U-turn, agreed, and they put in a joint planning application to Lambeth council. The application was accepted, and plans were approved. Now, the only thing standing between the skaters and reconstruction is a bill for 790,000 to pay for the restoration of the original site, as well as an education centre adjacent to it.
I ask Edwards-Wood if the area surrounding the skate spot, now populated by chain restaurants and a continuous stream of sightseers, had been different in the past. Of course, he says. There were no shops there. It wasnt like a high street like it is now; it was beautiful, a big open space to think and be The point is, skaters made that area safe; in the old days it was cardboard city. That is what skating does: it fills the cracks in society left by capitalist development that is where skating exists. Its like a fungus, its like moss, it just grows in the corners where no one else wants to be.
The idea that skateboarders are the shock troops of gentrification has been well documented. Ocean Howell, a professor of architectural history at the University of Oregon and an ex-pro skater, described the process in 2005. In a paper published in the Journal of Architectural Education, Howell outlined the role skateboarders had played in the gentrification of Love Park in Philadelphia. Love was a famous skate spot that was redeveloped, at a cost of $800,000 (613,000), in a way that destroyed skating. Large swaths of smooth ground were covered with grass, planters were installed in front of the concrete ledges and a ban on skating in the park put in place in 2000 started to be enforced.