Two weeks ago one of the world's most iconic cultural locations was listed for demolition. This week, after years of opposition, another iconic site also moves dangerously close to demolition. These are NYCs famous 5 Pointz graffiti centre and London's Southbank skatepark.
On Long Island, we can blame gentrification and ever-increasing property prices. In London, we can blame global waterfront development trends. At both locations we should be asking, how property projects with multi-million dollar values can be compared with these historic sites of irreplaceable cultural value?"
Governments continually cave to the pressures of developers. To them, the decision is generally pretty easy; on one hand you have M&S, Nando's or Trump waving about tens of millions of pounds. On the other hand you have a bunch of ratty kids with spray cans on skateboards. How hard is it? You could even argue that more waterfront shops is what Southbank needs, and more residential property space is what Long Island needs.
But let's look at this way... Both London and NYC are global cities which strongly influence the arts, music, sport, financial flows, ideas and innovation. These are cities that compete with every other city in the world to maintain their top spots. But what is it that makes them unique? What is it that makes them special? I'll tell you one thing - it's not the shopping alongside the Thames. These cities are unique because of exactly what these two places represent; free-thinking and grass roots ideas that mobilise around the world. One day a bunch skateboarders decided they could do a kickflip off the perfectly formed transition at Southbank. On another day on the other side of the world, a bunch of artists found an awesome place to paint, away from the eyes of the public. Today, these places are iconic because they represent exactly what make London and New York special.
NYC: Image courtesy 5ptz
The decision-makers have failed to see this. They've failed to understand what does not equate into dollar figures. Yes, you can move the skatepark to another site, and yes you can legalise some graffiti wall somewhere. But is loses its charm, its character, its history... These sacred places are sacred because of what they represent and that can't be replicated.
City managers generally don't realise the importance of 'underground' urban culture until they can profit in on a Banksy. That Banksy needs to evolve from somewhere. These sites are not only sacred to the people that use them, but they're sacred to the entire city around them. They play a strong role in maintaining the global status of these cities. So before we just look at how much money a property proposal will make, let's look a how much cultural influence it will have. Unlike Southbank skatepark, a tacky Nando's won't be on magazine covers for decades to come.
Feature image: Southbank, London. Courtesy UAS