If you have ever walked along London’s famous South Bank your eye will have been caught by the bright colours of the heavily graffitied Undercroft skate park, and the impressive tricks (and falls) of the skateboarders, BMXers, and other urban sports enthusiasts who use the park frequently.
The eye catching and unique skate park has been a feature of the cultural scenery of South Bank for decades, since the 1970s, and is an important part of skateboarding history, known widely as the birthplace of British skateboarding. It is used by local skaters and internationally famous skaters alike, and is a constant hub of activity, not only for skaters and graffiti artists, but also as an open place for people to meet and watch the action.
Unfortunately, in March 2013 The Southbank Centre revealed their redevelopment plans, which included turning the Undercroft skate park into retail units. This proposed destruction of Southbank skate park has been met with an overwhelmingly negative response, from those who use the skate park and those who understand the cultural importance of the space.
A ‘Long Live Southbank’ campaign has been using media and a petition on change.org to raise awareness of the public’s disapproval of the redevelopment, and to overturn the decision, fighting for preservation of the skate park instead of relocation and the construction of a new skate park. The petition has so far raised over 60,000 signatures.
The ‘Long Live Southbank’ campaign describes the importance of the skate park on their website, ‘we believe its cultural and historical status to be irreplaceable and that its unique architecture and the vitality of the thriving community should be present for future generations’.
The reasons to save Southbank skate park are not motivated by nostalgia. They are motivated by the importance of protecting an existing and vibrant community of diverse sport and street culture, and preserving a significant cultural and historical landmark.
This will ensure that the cultural and sporting landscape of South Bank continues to flourish for years to come. For skateboarding is not a sport that is dying out, but a sport that continues to be popular and, along with other urban sports, continually evolves in dynamic new directions.
Just as London is the capital of the UK, the Undercroft skate park can be viewed as the ‘capital’ of British skateboarding. It is an important landmark which, if destroyed, will affect the cultural integrity of The Southbank Centre, who claim to encourage the arts and make them available to all, but fail to recognise the thriving artistic and creative community existing beneath them.
If the Southbank skate park is destroyed, not only will skateboarding lose a valuable and iconic space, but the community will lose a unique cultural landmark in London’s history.