Southbank, I’ve briefly spoken about it before, but as the situation seems to be getting worse I’ve decided to write about it in more detail. I’m assuming that you already know about Southbank. As a skateboarder I believe you are expected to at least know of it’s existence, but for those that do not I’ll give a brief rundown of what it is and why it’s important.
Southbank is an area in London, situated under the Southbank Centre Undercroft, and considered the birthplace of British Skateboarding. It has been home to skateboarders as well as BMX riders and graffiti artists for the last 40 years attracted. It is possibly the oldest recognised and still existing skateboarding space in the world, the original street skating spot. So needless to say Southbank is a monument to the birth and development of an urban youth culture here in the UK.
So with that said you might be thinking “Cool, so whats the beef?”. The problem is, in early March 2013, The Centre unveiled designs for a £120 million redevelopment of its Festival Wing that revealed their plan to transform the iconic Southbank Undercroft skatepark into retail units. In doing so the Centre wants to relocate the skateboarders and other users of the skatepark area to a new location further down the river. The new location would be a purpose built skatepark beneath the Hungerford Bridge.
You would be right for thinking “Fair enough, they are making sure you still have somewhere to skate”. OK, but, consider for a moment the fact that a piece of skateboarding history would be lost for ever if the plans go ahead. This is something that should be recognised as skateboarding becomes more commercial and as corporate companies are starting to pull it away from it’s subcultural roots. Like I say, Southbank is a monument to skateboarding culture, something tangible from the earliest moments of it’s emergence in the UK and been part of it ever since. What will there be that remains of skateboarding history once it has gone?
I can appreciate the fact that the Centre has it’s bills to pay, but I’m not sure myself that £120 million on redevelopment of an area is money well spent. If the argument is that during a time when there is little money to be spent by the average Brit they want to build something that is designed to get people to spend more. If the money is not there in the first place where will it come from? Tourism? Most likely, but are there not hundreds of shops already in London, will it make a difference to them? 120 million pounds worth of difference? I don’t know, and I suspect I’m not in possession of all the information needed for all the answers. I do find it odd however that being a Centre for Arts and Culture that they appear to be dismissive of the skateboarding community as a culture and the historic value of the area. Particularly so when the skateboarders have in the past been supported and encouraged in the use of the Undercroft both as a Skatepark but also for graffiti artists.
In this video Jude Kelly, a spokes person for the Southbank Centre, discusses the issues of Southbank and the Undercroft area, but I get the feeling that she does not appreciate the importance of the situation and compares it to not being able to hang your coat in your usual cloakroom.
An article was released yesterday by Billy Bragg for the Gaurdian as well as an article by feature writer John Crace also for the Guardian, I guess as an attempt at a none bias approach to the issue. The Bragg article looks at the benefits of the proposed development going ahead but at the same time suggesting that the skateboarders are unwilling to cooperate or compromise and have “refused to take part in a meeting with other members of the community to discuss possible solutions to the situation”. An article suggesting skateboarders are unwilling to compromise, that are selfish and childish does not go a long way in supporting the cause. Two articles express their thoughts on Bragg’s point of view on the matter, one from www.caughtinthecrossfire.com and one from johnnyvoid.wordpress.com both of which are worth a read. The other Guardian article by John Crace appeals to the nostalgic elements surrounding Southbank. It’s a good little article with photos of himself skating in the Undercroft during the 70s, but I doubt that any non-skater reading the Guardian could appreciate where he is coming from.
The future for the skateboarders of Southbank and those that appreciate it’s worth is looking pretty bleak. I suggest that you read each of the above articles for yourself and also have a look at the Southbank Centre Website to see exactly what the plans are for the redevelopments and relocation of the skateboarders. I’ve already joined the Long Live Southbank Website as a member to show my support and hope you will too.
Usually i would leave you with some skate video parts or something but today I decided that I would post a video showing what people have to say in support of the skateboarders of Sounthbank Undercoft.