Why Closing Southbank Skate Park Would Suck for London
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to London, but if there’s one thing this city is lacking it’s coffee and sandwich shops. Many’s the time I’ve found myself approaching people in the street, saying, “Hey, you know what this city needs? More cafes.” Because there just really, genuinely aren’t enough. I mean, take supposedly gastro-friendly Spitalfields Market, for instance; there are only four Prets, three EATs and two branches of POD in a five-minute radius. And as for fusion taco stalls and Evisu stores? Don’t even get me started. Honestly, it’s like living in Brezhnev’s Russia sometimes.
It seems the good people at the Southbank Centre share my opinion, as they’d apparently like Londoners to forget about that world famous unofficial skate park next to the Royal Festival Hall and instead associate the area with places where you can spend an hour’s pay on a sandwich. The planning committee has announcedplans to “refurbish” the area and move in high-rent retail units, shunting the skaters from the brutalist, graffiti-splattered enclave of banks, ledges, and stairsets they carved out themselves, to a new council-built spot beneath nearby Hungerford Bridge.
A video shot at Southbank and other nearby spots in 1991.
It’s an expensive development, coming in at a reported $183 million. There are a lot of fierce opinions flying around, as well as a petition addressed to Lambeth Council, the Southbank Centre, London Mayor Boris Johnson, and the Arts Council. Naturally, the skate community and anyone who has a vested interest in London not becoming a massive shopping center on the outskirts of Guildford are up in arms about it. We went down to Southbank to gauge what the local heads were thinking and find out what the future holds for the site, the skaters, and London as a whole.
Lev Tanju, from our film Skate World: London.
Since I was too busy listening to Cypress Hill on my Discman outside a nearby chain music shop to get involved in the early Southbank scene, I thought I’d speak to somebody who knew what they were talking about. Lev Tanju, founder of Palace Skateboards, is someone who’s been skating Southbank for 15 years.
I asked Lev about the first time he ever skated Southbank, when he was young and “proper shit” (his words, not mine). He painted a picture of a lost time, the days before South Bank looked like a Richard Curtis set.
"It was kind of at its most legendary then, because it was before South Bank was redeveloped. There were no shops or cafes, it was like a no man’s land. The only people there on the regular were homeless people and skateboarders, and the skaters there at that time policed the place and wouldn’t take shit from anyone. There was a feeling that you had to know someone to skate there."