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Skate Hull | How Hull plans to become the UK’s first skate city

The U.K's first skate city?

Hull will be the UK’s first officially designated skate city. With over twenty years of skateboarding history, good street spots, ten outdoor skateparks, and one indoor skatepark, the city will align itself with the Skate Malmö and Skate Melbourne campaigns.

Words: Daryl Mersom | Illustration: Liam Painter | Pics: As stated

Earlier this year when Hull City Council opened the West Park Plaza, Mark English, who runs Rockcity, took the opportunity to pitch his idea of the skate city to the council.

“The council will ‘consider skateboarding’ for all new public space, buildings and so forth. Some areas will not be suitable, but at sites where skateboarding can happen safely (i.e. away from traffic) the city will ‘build in’ skateboarding, rather than work to stop it.”

“The fact that there is an experienced skatepark organization to be a partner to the city makes a fundamental difference,” Gustav Edén of Skate Malmö tells me. “So far it seems they have had positive feedback from the City of Hull and will be seizing the opportunity to integrate skateboarding functionality in the very fabric of the redeveloped city. This is an incredible situation to be in that can really place Hull at the forefront of creating an active multifunctional urban environment.”

»This is something that has been brewing in Hull. Looking at cities like Malmö and Copenhagen, the common theme seems to be that there has been a build up to a point where things must change. I think that is probably going to be the case in other places that have a history, or a maturity«

The campaign fits in well with Hull becoming the UK City of Culture 2017, and the hope is that the public will now be more open minded and receptive to it. But this is not all to do with Hull’s City of Culture status, as Mark let me know.

“This is something that has brewing in Hull for 20 years, as the scene has grown up. And for me looking at cities like Malmö and Copenhagen, the common theme seems to be that there has been a build up over 20 years to a point where things must change. I think that is probably going to be the case in other places that have a history, or a maturity.”

The benefits of a project like Skate Malmö, such as the tourism it generates, and the reduced maintenance cost of public spaces that are built properly with hard wearing materials were largely unknown to Hull City Council. But events such as the HTC pop-up skatepark in Selfridges and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were said to help convince councillors of skateboarding’s popularity.

“The council will ‘consider skateboarding’ for all new public space, buildings and so forth. Some areas will not be suitable, but at sites where skateboarding can happen safely”

“The Olympics is another thing like the City of Culture status that gives us opportunities,” Mark added. “For people who aren’t involved in skateboarding it’s an external reference as to where skateboarding is now perceived in the wider world. Imagine if the top ranking teams were Brazil, Sweden, America, basically where the Vans Park Series lives. Then there would be an obvious correlation between performance and facilities, wouldn’t there?”

The templates provided by the Vans Pro Park Series and Skate Malmö have no doubt helped Hull in their efforts. They also offer lessons learned from the experience of making a city skate friendly, and from his experience with Skate Malmö, Gustav warned that, “it is crucial to see what groups are actually partners worth investing in.”

Skateable sculptures in Estonia. Pics courtesy of Risto Kozer

“If the city builds a hundred skate-spots or even slacklines and no one uses them because there is no active partner that sustains the local community to grow, then it ends up a poor investment. This is why events, skate-schools and the rest of it is so crucial. This is also why skateparks should not be handed over to scooter-kids after skaters have fought for them. At least not until they represent a partner to the city worthy of investment.”

»The fact that there is an experienced skatepark organization to be a partner to the city makes a fundamental difference« – Gustav Eden, Skate Malmö

“I’m all for scooter-parks if the scooting community fought for them and showed that they provide the same social function that skateboarding does. Scooters – fine, but not at the cost of skateboarders if the skateboarders have proven themselves worthy of investing in. We have actually tried to help the scooting-community in Sweden organize for this reason, but so far nothing.”

No doubt all of this advice will be taken note of, as from what Mark tells me about the council’s attitude towards the project, it is clear that there is a serious commitment to getting this right.

“Yesterday I had a meeting with the council about the new Hull Venue that has got grounds to it. I spoke to the landscape architect and the council and they are very open to making sure that the grounds of this thirty-six million pound venue are skateable.”

Info graphics Skate Malbourne has done a great job in putting together. Graphics courtesy of Skate Melbourne Plan by City of Melbourne

“So we’re not talking, ‘yeah we said we’re going to do this so we’ll just put a ledge down a back street.’ They are genuinely wanting to get all parts of the city frequented.”

“Hull’s intention of hosting some kind of annual skateboard festival is perhaps the most predictable element of its range of planned activities, and shows how the Olympic effect is already beginning to infiltrate minds and policies.”

For Iain Borden, author of ‘The New Skate City’, the 2020 Olympics play a big part in this announcement.

“Hull’s intention of hosting some kind of annual skateboard festival is perhaps the most predictable element of its range of planned activities, and shows how the Olympic effect is already beginning to infiltrate minds and policies. As Tokyo 2020 nears, we are going to see a lot more of this kind of thing, with competition- and training-lead initiatives springing up all over the country. Not everyone in the skate world is going to like this, for sure, but then again it won’t be compulsory, or even widespread – just for those who really want to take competition to heart.”

“And so even more welcome is Hull’s plan to provide “skateboard-friendly” areas around public buildings – integrating skateboarding into the everyday public arena is a hugely positive step forward, and follows the example of places like Malmö, Innsbruck, Cologne, etc., who have all made ambiguous spaces which aren’t outright skateparks but are still open to skating. It remains to be seen, of course, exactly what Hull will provide in this area, but the intention is admirable. And if Hull can have a go, why not other UK cities?”

Should we look forward to polished architectural accidents, with their wallride-able surfaces, and hard edges, or even to cutty non-spots? It will be interesting to see how the UK interprets the ‘Skate City’ theme, and if what we get will be in keeping with the current landscape.

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