An unprecedented project by the City of Cape Town, the new Gardens Skate Park has not only revitalised a derelict vacant space under a bridge, but is a significant step in redressing the historically exclusionary attitude towards skateboarders.
Situated under the Jutland Avenue Bridge next to the Gardens Centre, the new Gardens Skate Park was recently opened with much jubilation from the City of Cape Town, local residents and the skating community. Fenced off and lit up, the predominately concrete park uses the existing retaining wall of the bridge to create a natural flow from two high points with a pipe jam, manual pads, air wedges and other obstacles that cater for both beginner and professional users.
“The skate park will provide skaters of all ages from the City Bowl with an opportunity to hone their skills and get physical exercise in a safe environment,” enthuses Dave Bryant, ward councillor for the City Bowl. “The proximity of the skate park to the new MyCiti bus station also makes it more accessible for skaters from other parts of the city.”
Ramping it up
“The project stands up as a beacon to the rest of the City as to how design can be effectively used to transform a public space into something that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also allows for greater inclusivity. The empathy shown towards the needs of the various groups using this space has allowed a wonderfully functional design to emerge,” says City of Cape Town WDC2014 programme director Richard Perez. The project is an official World Design Capital 2014 initiative and winner of last year’s Building Trust International PLAYscapes design competition, which drew over 500 entrants from around the world.
“We expect that this skate park will bring a unique flavour to the central city and will be a place where many young people can devote time to their passion for skateboarding,” says Alderman Belinda Walker, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Special Projects. Although designed, funded and constructed by the Spatial Planning and Urban Design Department, the park will be managed by the Sport, Recreation and Amenities Department, which resides within the Community Services Directorate.
Precedent setting in terms of what can be done with similarly underutilised spaces under bridges, the project was not without challenges though, Belinda acknowledges. Besides design and construction issues, and delays associated with the MyCiti bus stop construction, Belinda says that the project also needed to engage with “people’s conception of skateboarding and exposing them to this minority sport that is often associated with rebellion, anarchy and anti-social behaviour”.
It is exactly these perceptions that the National Skate Collective’s Marco Morgan and others have been working to redress. “In 2007 they even passed the Anti-Nuisance bylaw. People’s perceptions were so hectic, they hated us so much that they put it in legislation and called us a nuisance!” Marco exclaims. The bylaw was a consolidation of a number of similar street- related bylaws. “As a result, we were isolated from public spaces, streets and the city.”
Although they would have preferred there to be no fences and hope that there will be a lift on the graffiti ban, for Marco and skaters throughout Cape Town, the skate park is a significant milestone in their ongoing conversations with the City of Cape Town to redress this historical exclusion. The existing negotiations were fuelled in 2011 by the World Design Capital 2014 bid book, which not only recognised skating as a viable form of non-motorised transport (NMT) and Cape Town’s need for a NMT development programme (page 362), but also the need for dedicated public spaces enabling the sport (page 416):
Skateboarders sometimes have the unfortunate and misguided reputation of being rebellious ‘anarchists’ with no regard for law and order, and often this is due to their use of public space. The lack of dedicated spaces for them to practice their sport forces them to use shared open space which often clash with other users. There are few venues in the City that allow skateboarders and there were, until very recently, also no big public skate parks in or around Cape Town. However the City’s Quality Public Spaces Programme is in the process of changing this. (…) The design of the first Central City skate park is now underway and will be conveniently located next to the Mill Street MyCiti bus trunkstop. As this skate park will be the first in the CBD area, it is predicted that it be well-used by skateboarders travelling to the area from all over the metropolitan area. This will also put Cape Town on the map as a City that’s “friendly” to skateboarders – a mode of transport that is also now recognised by the City as a viable new mobility transport option.
A breakthrough came in the opening up of the Sea Point Promenade to skaters and rollers on a trial period in 2012. Marco, together with Earl Abrahams and Andre Bird, initiated Promenade Mondays to get skaters “from six-year-olds to 60-year-olds, white and black to come together and show how diverse skate culture is, and how there isn’t those divisions – there’s nothing between us besides the skateboard.”
“The ‘collective’ in the National Skate Collective is such an important thing because it’s about us coming together to redesign our spaces to start integrating ourselves,” Marco adds. “There’s no sign-up or official registration. Anybody who skates or advocates skating is automatically part of the crew. We’re pushing a common goal, which is to grow the sport and the culture in a positive direction.” Etiquette and responsible skating was also encouraged and, after the trial period passed and extended without incident, access to the promenade was eventually legalised.
Now loopholes in the bylaw are starting to be explored. Since skateboarding is now recognised as a form of NMT, it can be argued that it is a way to get to work and needs to be included in policy. “If we’re included in policy, then we can be included in the design of the city,” explains Marco. “We are currently working with the City of Cape Town on developing a framework to address the need for skate-friendly spaces, which will hopefully result in more skate parks being included into the City’s vast public space network.”
“The Community Services directorate has recognised the diverse range of recreational interests within communities and hence why the provision of skate parks is essential,” confirms Belinda. “This skate park can be added to a fleet of 18 others across the metro which serve the community.” The skate parks in Valhalla and Athlone were completed just last year.
More innovative place-making projects can be expected from the City. Improving public spaces, says Dave, “is one of the ways that the City can help to work towards creating a safer, friendlier and more inclusive environment for our communities.”
Images: Earl Abrahams puts his rollerblades through their paces at the Gardens Skate Park. Photo by Lisa Burnell.