More culture? No, more coffee shops.
May 11, 2013 3:25 PM   Subscribe

South Bank, home to skateboarding in central London for 40 years, is to be turned into retail units. Part of South Bank, namely The Undercroft, has been hallowed ground to 3 generations of skateboarders. In response to plans to redevelop the site users have responded with a campaign to save the existing space, along with an attempt to have it classified as a village green. One skateboarding magazine ex-editor suggested the alternatives should be explored, but the skateboarders did not agree.
posted by lawrencium (13 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This is a nice companion piece to the post on late capitalism below.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:18 PM on May 11, 2013

As a non-skateboarder: the undercroft always seemed to me a gloomy, grim place. Kinda cool that it got appropriated into skateboard culture; it can't have ever been much loved by anyone else.

The Guardian article seems a bit fuzzy on its exact status: calling it a "skatepark" makes it sound like an officially-blessed sports facility, but I don't think that's the case.

(Which is maybe why "we can build you a new one under Hungerford Bridge" is seen as a poor alternative: there's a big difference between taking a space back from the man vs the man deigning to provide you a space.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:41 PM on May 11, 2013

Damn, I used to skate there all the time back in the day. I remember hanging with Rodney Mullen and impressing him with all my flatland tricks. And this one time, we saw an elephant being transported over the bridge by truck but it escaped, and he dared me to nosegrind the traps they set to capture it, and I did it and the elephant went free to rampage through the city.

Haha yeah. Awesome times, man.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 5:39 PM on May 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

There was skateboarding in London in the 70s? Wow, I always assumed it was pretty much limited to Southern California before the original Z-Boys popularized it worldwide.
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:10 PM on May 11, 2013

I was a skater in London in the 70s, more Meanwhile Gardens & Rolling Thunder than South Bank tho. Got my first board in 78 I think. This was fairly contemporary with the z-boys though obviously the UK scene would not have existed without them - the mags were always full of Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva etc. The scene died a death in the early 80s before coming back strong later on. One of my school friends actually still skates professionally, believe it or not - we're both forty bloody eight!
posted by pascal at 10:57 PM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know how i feel about this.

On the one hand it is a skate spot with a lot of history, and there is much much more to London life and the southbank than another row of generic shops.

Also as a matter of principle I find it intensely arrogant and narrow minded to read about how one of the goals of the redevelopment is to provide world class external cultural spaces at the expense of the undercroft - you already have one it is just a different culture!

On the other hand as a skateboarder in London I don't go to the undercroft very often because the current incarnation (much smaller than in its heyday) just isn't really that good (say it quietly!).

And although I've been very impressed by the level of activity from the skateboard world to save the undercroft I am not sure whether the village green demarcation is a responsible action.

As someone who works in construction I'm painfully aware that organisations such as the RFH often have limited funds with deadlines and various other strings attached. Having to preserve the undercroft will fundamentally change the scheme and possibly make it unviable as you lose your key retail area. Is that fair on all the people who would have benefitted from the new development?

So, I have mixed feelings!
posted by Albondiga at 11:03 PM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

The space blows my mind. That they ever had such a place to skate in the first place is completely amazing. I have a friend in London who skates (and is a college professor), so I've been aware of the controversy. The wish to save the space is only reasonable.

Personally, I'm fascinated with the fact that I've been around there several times, and was completely unaware of the existence of the skate park.
posted by Goofyy at 11:24 PM on May 11, 2013

there's a big difference between taking a space back from the man vs the man deigning to provide you a space.

There's a time when I would have agreed with you, but the people I know who work or exhibit at Southbank are about as far from 'the man' as I can imagine. They're just perennially underfunded arts organizations trying to figure out what to do in a world of even-less-funding. David Cameron they ain't.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:21 AM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason why the space seems to be (at least from the Guardian photos) completely male-dominated? No young women skateboarders at all? That seems a shame.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:18 AM on May 12, 2013

I utterly adore the SBC, but I'm really worried about this new redevelopment. I am a bit concerned in general that the powers that be don't really get that what's great about the space is how much of it is unstructured and doesn't direct the user as to what to do with it. The new development will apparently have "a new national literature centre, education centre, dedicated family children's space and orchestral rehearsal space as part of the Festival Wing, which will include refurbishment of the 1960s buildings", all paid for by selling off more space for more stupid shops (there are already too many). I already quit being a member of the SBC after they started enforcing a stupid rule whereby you aren't allowed to use a laptop in the members' bar after a certain time in the evening, because they want it to be a 'social space'. At the moment the Festival Hall is like a giant public living room, and that is part of what makes it so magical. All the new stuff they are talking about sounds a lot like dividing it up into areas for defined uses, and reducing the space available for people to just sit quietly and read or talk or think, or, for that matter, do ollies.
posted by Acheman at 4:44 AM on May 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

urbanwhaleshark - Skateboarding is completely male-dominated, so the pictures and interviews reflect the reality (there is one female ex-skater amongst the linked gallery on The Guardian site). I don't know why this is; there was recent thread on the Sidewalk forum that had some views on the subject.
posted by lawrencium at 7:15 AM on May 12, 2013

what's great about the space is how much of it is unstructured and doesn't direct the user as to what to do with it.

Well said! It wouldn't be as enjoyable otherwise.
posted by ersatz at 7:52 AM on May 12, 2013

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