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"Skaters use city assets and spaces for their recreational activity, self-expression and... creativity."
It's sort of crazy, but this is a quote from the City of Melbourne's most recently drafted community initiative, the Skate Melbourne Plan. As someone who's been skateboarding in Australia since the late 90s—getting yelled at, kicked out of public spaces and occasionally assaulted by security guards—I never expected to see those words in a government document.
It's particularly surprising in Melbourne, since it was only six months ago that the council spent $450,000 on destroying Lincoln Square, the city's most iconic and cherished skate spot. The council's stated reasons for wrecking Lincoln were noise complaints, litter, and its status as a Bali bombing memorial—all of which were passionately refuted by skaters. And while Melbourne's skateboarding community won't forget Lincoln Square any time soon, the council actually seems pretty keen to make it up to them.
The City Of Melbourne released the first draft of the Skate Melbourne Plan last week. It's a dense and sometimes vague, 45-page document which takes a remarkably positive view toward skateboarding. So what's changed since I was a 12-year-old skater getting pushed around by the security guards in a Westfield car park?
Essentially, the bean counters have had to face facts. According to the ABS, there are more kids in Victoria who are using skateparks than the combined total of those playing footy, basketball, and swimming. Among 5–14 year-old Victorians, the only things more popular than skating are using the internet and bike-riding.
Another reason for this abrupt change of attitude from the City of Melbourne is that skateboarding has officially become an Olympic sport. As Graham Porteous, director of the council's City Communities branch, told VICE, "Skating is a legitimate form of recreation that is popular around the world, and it will become an Olympic sport in 2020." He said, "We recognise that skating is no longer an underground subculture."
Porteous says the council surveyed more than 500 people about the plan and over 90 percent consider skateboarding as "a positive activity." But its inclusion in the Olympics is undoubtedly the most commonly cited reason for skateboarding's emerging legitimacy.
Veteran Melbourne street skater, Morgan Campbell agrees that it was the Olympics that's made all the difference. "Having skateboarding as part of the Olympic movement would definitely have ticked a big box for the council." To him, this doesn't come with its own mixed feeling though. "It was a sad day for me," he says of hearing about skateboarding's ascension to Olympic legitimacy. "It's very far removed from the reason I started skateboarding, which was to get away from organised sport."
Although a lot of politicians would probably eat their own hats before admitting it, governments everywhere will likely start committing more resources to skateboarding because of the Olympics. The Skate Melbourne Plan is the first concrete sign of this. And the plan itself is probably more positive and comprehensive than any skateboarding-related government document in Australian history.
The City of Melbourne poured a lot of research into the plan, citing examples from all over the world and consulting the town's most respected skaters, including Anthony Mapstone, Ben Harriss, and Casey Foley.
But what's most surprising is that the draft plan admits that "dedicated skate parks will not solve the needs of all skaters." This is huge for street skaters, who've long been told that they should leave the streets for pedestrians.
For street skaters, the most exciting prospect is for skateable, street-style features in shared public spaces. This kind of skate infrastructure doesn't really exist anywhere else in Australia, so it's a pretty new and interesting idea. And the initial reaction from skateboarders city-wide is begrudgingly positive.
"I feel like they did all that work purely on the back of ripping down Lincoln, just so they saved a bit of face, Morgan Campbell told us. "But what they've done is really good."
Matt Lauricalla, another skater from Melbourne was slightly less optimistic, saying that while street style features are great, the ones that have been trialled aren't really considered authentic spots. He told VICE, "The council has already built some street style spots, like in Drummond Street in Carlton. While they're fun to skate, most people will just warm up there and then go to a real street spot when they want to film tricks."
And that's the bottom line. While skaters are understandably excited for these new street-style features, they certainly won't be deterred from hitting street spots which the city deems prohibited or illegal.
Anthony Mapstone, manager of XEN Skateboards, clarified this in an interview with the ABC. "We'll still keep skating a lot of the other spots that we're probably not allowed to," he said. "That's just our nature."
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