June 12, 2013

Southbank Centre’s redevelopment angers skaters


He was a skater boy, they said “see ya later boy…”

In the plans to develop London’s Southbank Centre, it seems one group has been left out of the picture – the skaters. As the new vision for the artistic centre is realised, it’s been decided the historic skate park, which is located in an undercroft on the main promenade, and is seen and enjoyed by almost everyone who walks along the riverfront, will be shunted to make way for retail spaces.

This is only one part of the controversial plans, which have already been criticised for further commercialising the area known for being a centre of music, literature, theatre and art. The plans proposed include overloading the iconic bare and brutalist 1960s design with chain restaurants and shopping areas, which the centre argues it needs to generate more revenue from the space. Already, unnecessary restaurants have been popping up in the area’s corners and crevices at an alarming rate. As it was described in the Observer:

The plan seems to be, in other words, to make the Southbank Centre resemble Terminal 5 or Canary Wharf or any moderately upmarket shopping mall you can think of, where steel and glass frame a predictable retail offer.

In reaction to Southbank’s decision to re-locate the skate park, one skater, known as Skater G, has begun a petition to convince the Southbank to change its mind, and appeals to Lambeth Council, Southbank Centre, Boris Johnson and Arts Council England. From the petition:

‘The proposal to move the skate park means it is not regarded as equally important as the other cultural facilities at Southbank and it shows we are being marginalised…it proves that Southbank strategy is elitist and not serving local people. Many young people started skating here, it is a social meeting place as well as a place for sport and artistic talent.’

As well as being an initiative which rejuvinated the disused space in the 1970s, the skate park now gives the area a spontaneity that it’s sure to lose if the new plans go ahead. The walls graffitied by the skaters themselves, and the improvised nature of the space make it a unique starting ground for young talent, and it is known for being one of the best unplanned skate parks in Europe.

I was one of a group of people who organised a poetry reading in the skate park, as part of last year’s Poetry Parnassus. International poets recited their poetry accompanied by, or rather, in competition with, the sounds of wood slapping cement, and rolling wheels whirring into the air.  Nothing like it had been done before; and the skaters were happy to oblige — just as long as we gave them enough space to continue. The crowd came for the poetry, but also to watch the skateboarders – in fact, being on the main promenade there’s always a crowd watching the free entertainment, which still feels like a genuine expression of street culture, not appropriated for any cause or compromised like the plans will force this arts space to become.

Southbank Centre insist they are keen to work with the skaters in developing the new site, and have set up a website in order to inform and collect feedback from those that use the park. It seems they’re making a effort to re-house the park respectfully, and recognise that the undercroft is a commercial goldmine that must be exploited to fund other artistic projects. From the website:

The Undercroft has the most prominent and commercially valuable space within the scheme area. The income from the Undercroft Space will support commercial loans that will pay towards the capital cost of the refurbishment. We have looked at converting other spaces around the Festival Wing site to commercial use. However, they would only offer half as much in commercial value. This would imply the need for twice as many commercial outlets to help finance the wider scheme.



Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.