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Posted by : JB Tuesday 2 December 2014

The glorious Southbank. (Photo from llsb.com)

One year ago today I wrote a blog outlining my arguments backing the Long Live Southbank campaign, which I think makes this a pretty good time to review its progress. (You can read that article here: http://www.thisisnotablog.org/2013/12/LongLiveSouthbank.html)

To put it briefly, the campaign was a massive success. September this year saw this statement put out on the LLSB website:
Following talks that have taken place over the last three months, Long Live Southbank and Southbank Centre are delighted to have reached an agreement that secures the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercroft as the long-term home of British skateboarding and the other urban activities for which it is famous.

The agreement has been formalised in a binding planning agreement with Lambeth Council. In the agreement, Southbank Centre agrees to keep the undercroft open for use without charge for skateboarding, BMX riding, street writing and other urban activities.
On the basis of the protections secured by the planning agreement, Southbank Centre and Long Live Southbank have withdrawn their respective legal actions in relation to the undercroft. These include Southbank Centre’s challenge to the registration of the undercroft as an asset of community value, Long Live Southbank’s application for village green status for the undercroft, and a judicial review of Lambeth Council’s decision to reject the village green application.

Long Live Southbank is pleased to support Southbank Centre’s Festival Wing project for the improvement of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery, on the basis that the plans will now no longer include any redevelopment within the skate area of the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercroft.

Cllr Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth Council said; “I’m pleased that Lambeth Council was able to work with both sides and find an imaginative solution to resolve this. Shared public space in London is precious and Southbank Centre is a great asset to the country’s cultural life. This agreement is a sensible way of protecting both and we can all now look forward.”

To me, this appears to be an agreement based wholly on LLSB’s terms, which were, in my opinion, the only acceptable terms to agree on. The lack of compromise displays the triumph of the campaign; had there been, for example, a clause suggesting we would have to pay for entry to undercroft, or that street art was no longer permitted, or any other limitations or exclusions, the extent of its success would be capped.

The organisation and leadership of the campaign must be applauded for professionally and effectively directing LLSB, as without them this success wouldn’t have been possible. It is easy to see campaigns such as the ‘Occupy’ movement falter with a lack of effective organisation and direction, remaining in history as idealistic movements with no real success or solidification. LLSB’s leadership never lost sight of the target, thus effectively mobilised the membership in the right direction, displaying the professionalism of an interest group far more established.

In addition to this, the campaign was professional in regards to its media and PR. Having watched plenty of the LLSB videos on YouTube, purchased LLSB merchandise from the website and followed the Facebook and Twitter, I for one commend those who played a role in all of these areas. The videos are of a high standard, and gave a sense of legitimacy to the campaign, as did the posts on social media, which displayed utmost decorum; perfect for PR. Even the merchandise was of satisfactory quality; the whole production of LLSB was enough to give it a high level of legitimacy.

Long Live Skateboarding.

So, less brown-nosing of the LLSB campaign, more ranting.

In May this year, Norwich City Council proposed a ban on skateboarding in the city centre, vilifying those who take part in the pursuit, claiming that it causes extensive damage to public property and is a ‘nuisance’.

Their ignorance amazes me.

Firstly, whether skateboarding is a hobby, an interest, a way of life or whatever for those who do it, it is always an expression of oneself, and a source of fun for more than 11 million people worldwide. It is certainly not an example of ‘anti-social behaviour’. If anything, it is the total opposite; skateboarding, as with other pursuits, brings people together and gives people the opportunity to socialise, make friends who share their passion, and progress with their art together. It does not endanger the general public (barring any horrifically unfortunate, unlikely events), and does not aim to do so; skaters tend to want to enjoy skating, not causing havoc.

Secondly, skateboarding does not misuse public property. The term ‘public property’ directly implies that property is owned by the people, thus the people have the option to utilise it as they so please. For example, the existence of a rail does not have an explicit suggestion that it must be used as an aid for people to walk up a staircase, in fact people may wish to slide down rails on their backsides, or balance on it for the purposes of parkour, or ultimately grind on it with their skateboards. It takes those with creativity to see the rail as more than just the stair-climbing aid it was designed as; why should we perceive creativity as a criminal offence? (So long as it doesn’t actually hurt people, of course). Can it not be said that creativity is what gives us an interesting, diverse society? Banning skateboarding because it scratches a park bench or a rail outside a shop or a ledge on a bed of flowers is a gross overreaction. Any possible minor damages to such are a small price to pay to have a community of people both young and old enjoying the same pastime together. In fact, the art of skateboarding attracts far more viewers than any railing would on its own; the amount of times I’ve seen crowds of people watching as skaters utilise public property in an interesting way certainly evidences this. Not everyone is like this guy:

And that’s pretty much how Norwich City Council looks to me. As if they’re saying ‘SKATEBOARDING IS BAD BECAUSE IT JUST IS SO THERE’, as if participating in a primary school playground argument.

Leading on from this, my final point. Skateboarding is the total opposite of a nuisance, as I think has already been implied in this article. It is a well-respected, established sport with a huge following. One of the leading arguments I made for the LLSB campaign was that undercroft is a cultural hub for thousands of people; skateboarding itself is that culture. It adds to a diverse society of interests, allowing for people to see the world as they want to see it. But more practically than that, it’s a well-known expression used by officials that they wish to ‘keep young people occupied’ and stop them from ‘hanging around on street corners’ and the likes; in order to have a mobilised, occupied youth, there has to be the opportunity for young people to actually enjoy themselves and do things to pass the time, and skateboarding is certainly one of them. By taking away more and more pastimes for young people, you leave them with less and less options for enjoyment. So rather than seeing it as a nuisance, see it as a great way of giving young people an opportunity to enjoy themselves, and a way to educate people in the importance of being able to have fun, or in the importance of bettering themselves in whichever pursuits they wish to take part in. I would argue that if Norwich City Council make skating a criminal offence, they are setting a terrible precedent of anti-enjoyment; one which suggests that harmlessly pursuing a hobby is a ‘nuisance’ to society as a whole. In fact, the majority of times I’ve come into contact with skaters on the street, they have politely allowed people to pass to ensure it is safe before they continue, and so as to not impact other people’s days.

So to sum up, Norwich City Council: by making skateboarding a criminal offence, you devalue enjoyment in our society, when compared with the well-being of a few rails.

And all this coming from someone who doesn’t even skate.


You can find the LLSB campaign here: http://www.llsb.com/

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