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April 16, 2015

Skating toward an inclusive future

It’s been a little more than a month since the City Skate Park on North Terrace was bid a final farewell. After much debate over its relocation, CityMag is still hopeful the eventual solution will integrate skate and BMX culture into the CBD, rather than locking it away in a corner.

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  • Words: Tiarne Cook
  • Pictures: Ryan Cantwell

City planning, rightfully so, is an oft-discussed topic in Adelaide. But the familiar conversation tends to revolve around liquor licensing, the activation of long-forgotten laneways via small bar culture and the redevelopment of  public spaces like Victoria Square, Rundle Mall and the Adelaide Oval.

But with eyes focused solely on shiny new shopping precincts and late-night laneway drinking spots, we can forget that there are a lot of ways to bring life to the city. And that there’s more than one demographic to engage.

Skate and BMX spots and parks add to the fabric of the city by hooking in a different group of people and giving them a reason to explore and use the Square Mile. In the process, these facilities also have the potential to break down stereotypes associated with the sub-culture.

Sometimes seen as menaces to society, the skate and BMX community are frequently misrepresented and often bear the brunt of negative media coverage, as seen in the case of Philadelphia’s LOVE Park.

Skate and BMX advocate, Al Mawer of Hindley Street store Twenty Fifty Two, believes that stereotypes should be put aside so a more open conversation can be had about skate and BMX culture and acceptance in Adelaide.

“You get stereotypes with everything, whether it’s team sports and jocks or this,” he says.

“But the level of acceptance shouldn’t be based on stereotypes. It’s at a point now where a more educated response has to be put forward… Skate boarding and BMX have been around since the ’60s and ’70s so it’s not like it’s new. And it’s not just 14-year-old kids doing it. It’s guys who are 40 or 50,” he says.

The only city-central skate park was forced to close in late February this year, after the State Government and the Adelaide City Council announced (all the way back in 2012) that a new medical and teaching precinct would take over the space on North Terrace.

Despite the fact there was quite a lot of time to find a replacement site, a temporary skate park has only just been announced. It will be located in the Parklands along Wakefield Road, with construction expected to be complete midyear.

But a more permanent fixture remains illusive.

South Australian Greens MLC Tammy Franks, who has rallied behind the skate and BMX community, believes that the skate park is an essential element of youth culture in the city.

“For young people it means a place to go, a place that’s social, that you can recreate, meet friends, try new things and that gives you an outlet and it’s a pretty healthy outlet… Not just for youth culture but for skating and BMX culture in general,” she says.

“It’s unacceptable to have as one of your ten key strategic priorities that the State Government want a vibrant city and not have given any thought to where a skate park is going to be permanently when you are building right over the top of the old one. The Premier hasn’t indicated funding or certainty for a permanent spot and it’s just unacceptable.”

However, Tammy has praised the Adelaide City Council for being proactive on the matter and working closely with the skate and BMX community to ensure the temporary site meets their needs.

Adelaide City Council spokesperson Matthew Rechner says that despite the collaboration with the State Government taking longer than anticipated, they are working towards a better outcome for skaters in the city.

“A key part of creating great skating outcomes is good planning and design. Once a permanent facility is built, this will provide a fantastic venue for skaters and BMX’ers to use a modern, custom-built facility in the city,” he says.

Al seconds the notion that good planning and design matter, but sees the current absence of a designated skate park as an opportunity to do something different.

“Victoria Square is a really good example where that’s going to start to really change a lot of the perspectives of people in society… When you start to bring people together on a daily basis not just on a big event basis or a drinking basis then it becomes kind of this mix of everyone in one space and I think that’s where people learn, that’s where society grows. ”

“The idea of utilising architecture, art and everything to create skate and BMX spots – where you can kind of activate laneways and places in the city that aren’t being used with a couple of small obstacles that are really well designed – that’s a really great idea.”

So while the allocation of a permanent, purpose-built skate park is at a stand still, perhaps the delay should be used productively to apply some extra thought to the problem.

It’s not just a matter of a simple skate park, but of ownership, integration and identity.

And because of that, this is an opportunity for Adelaide to do something beyond the ordinary and achieve a sense of “vibrancy” that exists outside of Happy Hour and caters for people of diverse interests.

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