The City of Melbourne is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to resurface Lincoln Square, a popular square in inner-city Carlton, to make it unsuitable for skateboarders.
The square is widely regarded as one of Australia’s best skateboarding spots. According to a council spokeswoman, a law making skateboarding illegal in the square was passed in 2009, but it was hard to enforce because of the site’s popularity.
“Complaints are regularly received about noise, skating at unreasonable hours of the night, anti-social behaviour, pedestrian safety, and skating on the Bali bombing memorial,” she told Fairfax Media.
The memorial to the Bali bombings is at the centre of the square. It consists of 91 jets of water in a fountain representing each Australian who lost their life. (All 202 bombing victims are represented by 202 lights in the memorial.)
This memorial clearly deserves respect – as does public property. But might a compromise solution to these competing tensions have been found? Elsewhere, in disputes over shared public space, young people have sometimes come up with innovative solutions, particularly when it concerns places they are passionate about.
From my perspective, as a public health expert who has studied skateboarding, this case is replete with ironies. My interest in this topic grew out of earlier research into urban environments and wellbeing in which adolescents lamented their exclusion from many places in the public realm.Chris Samuel/Flickr
Developing life skills
Concerns about anti-social behaviour are often cited by those opposing skateboarding in public places, but empirical evidence is sparse. In fact, a greater weight of evidence suggests that it is the lack of things for young people to do that is more likely to fuel undesirable activity.
Of course there are sometimes complaints as seen in the case of Lincoln Square, but in my decade of researching and speaking with local governments about skateboarding, this is typically a vocal minority, and “shutting it down” doesn’t have to be the answer.
Rarely mentioned in these kinds of debates, is the capacity of skateboarding to generate positive social behaviours.
In a community survey (387 people, including non-skaters) we undertook for an inner metropolitan local council in Western Australia, pro-social behaviours (such as socialising with friends, respecting others and cooperation) were far more likely to be reported.
Anti-social behaviours (including drinking, drug use, graffiti, vandalism and collisions) were typically reported as rarely or never occurring.
These are more than just social niceties. Developmentally, important life skills are informally fostered when a bunch of young people learn to take turns, share a confined space, face new challenges publicly, and pick themselves (or others up) after a fall.
Enlivening the street
“Activitating” public places has become a buzzword in urban planning policies and local government initiatives. Having people out and about not only adds to a community’s social vibrancy but also contributes to safety by having more “eyes on the street”.
Conversely, deserted streets and public places erode perceptions of safety and are more likely to engender undesirable activity. Skateboarding can thus help “activate” public places – in a low cost and uncontrived way.
Authors: The Conversation Contributor