You may remember reading recently about plans for Hull to become to first city in the UK to officially embrace skateboarding as part of the regeneration project related to Hull becoming the 2017 UK City of Culture.
The idea was simultaneously simple but equally ground-breaking, especially for a country that has lagged behind the likes of Sweden and Australia when it comes to designing street culture into its cities, as opposed to trying to aggressively design them out after the fact.
Hull City Council, led by Mr Daren Hale and assisted by Mark English of Rockcity skatepark, Hull legend Scott Palmer, Mark Baines and various others, formulated a plan whereby new developments across the city that lent themselves to skateboarding would have design elements included that would encourage skateboard use, whilst also protecting the architecture.
To put it another way - rather than skate-stopping things, Hull City Council decided that it made more sense to construct buildings with skateable plaza spaces designed so that they could be skated without the associated 'damage'.
This brings us up to the present, which saw the completion of a new multi-purpose music/theatre/art building called 'Hull Venue' last week, constructed on the site of one of Hull's once most run-down city centre areas (the red-light district to be exact). The Hull Venue building has a large plaza area out front surrounded by ledges and this space is the first experiment in designing skateboarding into the city.
What this means in basic terms is that rather than adopting the traditional council route of building a plaza space and then freaking out two weeks later when people start skating it and covering the whole thing in aesthetically horrible skate-stoppers - Hull's council have turned that idea on its head. Instead of the 'defensive architecture' approach, Hull council have constructed the ledges so that they can be skated (via the inclusion of rolled coping-like metal edges) with no fear of them being chipped or broken.
It's important to draw a distinction here however - Hull council have not 'built a skate spot', rather, they have constructed a new prestigious cultural space and designed its use by skateboarders into the final construction. Yes, on one level it's "just some ledges" but, looked at from an architectural and Psychogeography perspective, this is unprecedented territory for the UK.
Massive respect to Daren Hale and all at Hull City Council for keeping to their word and daring to think outside the box. It's a rare day indeed when somebody at a local council says,
"I can't wait to see people skating our new building".
Hull Council have further plans for more skate-friendly spaces within developments planned for the near future but, for now, Hull Venue is open, it has a ton of skate-friendly ledges and other bits and pieces and, despite literally being across the road from the Police Station - is 100% not a bust.
Skateboarding is an organic gentrifying force, its presence has a proven track record of reducing street crime, (see 5 Bridges in Newcastle, Portobello in Dublin, Southbank in London, etc, etc) and designing for it, rather than against it, ought to be a consideration for all new urban developments.
There's no point crying about the death of the British city centre if you insist on attempting to design the life out of it.
Yes Yorkshire...other city councils - please take note.
Will Golding - 100% legal nollie front crook. Photo: Farran Golding