When I was out skating on New Year’s Day, an interesting point came up in a conversation about skateparks. I said that, from experience, councils tend to use graffiti, smoking/drinking, and general vandalism, as a reason to stop/delay skatepark projects. As we continued to talk about it, I realised – it’s completely unfair. Council’s hold skatepark projects ransom, and threaten hard working groups based on the actions of a minority with no connection to the project.
Usually they do this by dangling the promise of a new skatepark over a community, as long as the representatives of that scene ensure the skatepark users exhibit “good behaviour”. The frustrating part is it took me so long to nail down exactly what this was – it’s pointless busywork, designed to occupy the face of a skatepark campaign, and it makes the council look good because “anti-social behaviour” at skateparks seemingly reduces. The downside is this can splinter skate scenes, cause increased aggression between park users, and ultimately from what I can tell, it doesn’t often help get the skatepark everyone is hoping for.
The truth is, and I am paraphrasing one of the dudes I chatted to about this – you can’t stop life from happening. In all aspects of life, you can’t stop people from doing things society says they shouldn’t do. Skateboarding by its very nature is treated as an Anti-Social activity, and with an uphill battle already to get skateparks built, there’s simply too many hurdles as it is without council’s requesting every skateboarder, BMXer, scooter rider and rollerblader be the perfect citizen. This doesn’t even take into account people who don’t even skate who cause issues at skateparks or are classed as “undesirable” (people who council’s are happy to use as an excuse to not build skateparks).
I guess the point I want to make here is I think council’s love to make skatepark campaigns into their own personal unpaid community support teams. The inevitability that someone within (or outside) of the skatepark community comes along and does something so objectionable that the council withdraw from supporting a skatepark means they can blame the user group. They do a damn good job of holding the campaign organisers responsible for what happens, and this can essentially sabotage skatepark campaigns without councils ever having to say “No”. Meanwhile they take the credit for any positive effect this “collaboration with the community” may have. It’s a win-win for them, and usually a lose-lose for skate scenes.
I know there’s a lot of tin foil conspiracy nonsense in this post – but whether it’s intentional or not, telling volunteers who are working toward a new skatepark, to then police the behaviour of others, is detrimental to skatepark campaigns, detrimental to communities at skateparks, and unnecessarily demonizes an area of youth culture already bogged down with a negative image. This attitude, and the request that skatepark campaigners “police” the actions of others, is a reason why multiple campaigns I have been involved in fell apart.
You can’t be at a skatepark or skate spot 24/7, and you can’t convince everyone not to drink, smoke, vandalise, or even skate no-go spots. It’s an impossible task – and what’s worse is I think they know this. It’s a nasty, cynical and demotivating tactic, designed to put the brakes on skatepark campaigns, and it’s a practice that has to stop.
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