I write a lot about skateboarding mainly because I think a lot about skateboarding. That and a lot of my life, probably most of my life, has involved skateboarding in some way shape of form.
Skateboarding in relation to what I do now for a living couldn’t relate more actually. I’m serious, especially if you want to talk about place and especially the city or the urban experience or whatever you want to call it. All the apps and geolocative whatever, and sad to say any of the ones I’m going to work on, will never equal a bunch of kids taking a derelict parking lot or forgotten chunk of land and making it into their own secret little place that only makes sense for them.
So a while ago I finally got around to reading what is surprisingly and probably the only academic treatise on one of my reasons for living this long, and you guessed it, the city. For what should have been it for me, the thing that would bring it all together, it couldn’t have done more of the opposite. When I was reading it, the last thing I was thinking about was skateboarding – about actually using the city so to speak.
More than anything, more than any post-constructivist or whatever notions of space and place is that the point of skateboarding is skateboarding. Not to philosophise, not to write about it. The last thing I wanted to do when reading this book was actually skateboard. The whole thing credited to Frank Zappa about “talking about music was like dancing about architecture” couldn’t be more true. I guess in this case though, you kind of are dancing about architecture.
The creation of space and place is something that always fascinated me, but I don’t think people do it for some obscure philosophical reason. Skateboarding is no different, thank god, and people don’t create spots to fulfill some sort of academic Marxist fantasy. The thing about skating is that in fact you get really greedy about space, not very collectivist about space at all in fact. You want more and more of it, and you not only want your very own space which no one else can access, but want other people’s spaces as well. Are you deconstructing the corporatisation of the commons and of the city or are you going to do whatever you can for another spot that you won’t get kicked out of?
The thing is, if you really want to know about the city, you have to go out there and get dirty in it. You have to just go out there and make it yours. This is what they’ve done at Burnside and what Bobby Puleo has been doing for years, making his own parts of the city to skate. Just guys with a need to make the city do what they want it to do and not waiting around for someone else to do it for them.
One of the best and worst things to ever happen to Cleveland is the point in history where people just stopped giving a shit. Case in point, Skate Nite at Now That’s Class. Now That’s Class is a former gay sex bar on the periphery of a really large, really bad neighbourhood, somehow serves vegan food and has a mini skatepark in what was more than likely the former orgy room of the bar. Monday nights are skate night, although nothing is stopping you really from skating any other time. I don’t know of anywhere in the world where something this random could happen besides the former Yugoslavia.
Very little theory going on here, only action. People actually creating place instead of theorising about it. There’s some space, there’s some wood and a city known for the most brutal winters. The place is alive, its changing and no book is helping anyone do any of this. So if you want to learn about the city, put that book down, get out there and use it.