“Skateboarder stoppers, man…”
A battle of wills is being played out on Bristol’s ledges and benches. Skatestoppers – or “skater-haters”, as they are sometimes called – are metallic knobs attached to a city’s street furniture to prevent skateboarders from using them for tricks. Originating in America, they began appearing in Bristol more than 10 years ago. A leading manufacturer markets them as devices that prevent urban spaces from becoming “a practice ground for disruptive and destructive activity”.
Well, hurrah! Hopefully Southend Council will buy some to prevent the nuisance skateboarders at the Victoria Circus interchange…
But that is not say the people of Bristol are all against skateboarding. Many are friendly and respectful to us; they seem to enjoy watching the spectacle, and even have a cautious attempt at skating.
Really..? I can’t say I’ve ever seen that, but then (thankfully) I don’t live in Bristol!
As a skateboarder, I believe the stoppers threaten our freedom to exercise our bodies and individuality in public space.
In the same was as railings threaten your freedom to run into the road and get yourself (or someone else) killed?
Admittedly, skateboarding is a loud activity, but cities are loud places. The screeching of wheels on polished floors is just another feature of the plaza as performative space. Take all the noise and activity away, and plazas become sterile and disused.
Or people breathe a sigh of relief and say ‘Thank god, those ghastly skateboarders have finally gone!’.
According to DIY Bristol, a website set up to document the skateparks hand-built by the city’s local population, scratch marks on a ledge may “give people a moment’s displeasure as they walk past it on the way into work,” but this seems a fair exchange for the hours of enjoyment and creativity had on ledges such as these.
The website details the organised work of young people to reclaim public space for themselves. This same group of people is often presented as apathetic and difficult to galvanise. Clearly, the common goal of liberating these skate spots is having a positive influence on Bristol’s youth.
Well, I suppose it’s stopping them doing anything else that people find antisocial, like mugging or rioting.
Whether or not public opinion changes, the heart of the debate lies in how we perceive public space – and how we attach value to it. It seems there are some people in Bristol who would rather protect the right-angled edges on granite ledges from damage than see them used in a creative way.
This impulse works against the flux of the city by trying to erect permanent structures in an otherwise dynamic environment. When an object is placed in a city’s public space, it is up to the citizens to choose how they wish to interact with it. Those in charge of our public spaces should acquiesce to the mutability of the city, as skateboarders have done already.
Hmmm. One for Pseud’s Corner, I think!