Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
A new film explores the conflicted relationship between the skater and the city.
Is there any other sport more defined by the city than skateboarding? Enabled by its infrastructure and enhanced by its architecture and design, skateboarding finds its arena on sidewalks and staircases and plazas and building facades. But like so many relationships, this one is complicated.
An excellent short film produced in 2011 explores the skateboarder's perspective on public space in Auckland, New Zealand, and how politicians and designers can actively inhibit or enable skateboarders. Featuring interviews with politicians, architects, public officials and many, many skateboarders, the film looks at what tends to be an antagonistic relationship between skateboarders and the planners and builders of the public realm. Skaters grinding on handrails and ledges in public plazas is a common annoyance for cities. The people interviewed in this film argue that public spaces can and should be designed to allow skateboarding in a way that's not destructive or a nuisance.
The film also touches on the organic nature of street skating in contrast with the more ordered skating encouraged through skate parks, which are becoming more prevalent in cities all over the world. While the skaters in this film seem to be supportive of skate parks in general, they worry that skateboarding is being compartmentalized into specific areas, and that the city as a skate-site is a concept in danger of being regulated away.
The filmmakers call on skaters to get more involved in urban design and planning processes to better integrate their interests as users of public space. It's not city design by skateboarders, but rather an effort to allow more skate-friendly spaces to be built in cities.
The conflict over where skateboarding should and shouldn't happen remains unresolved. This film is an exploration into how it could be and whether it should be.
Photo credit: Mike Blake / Reuters