Urban Politics

By Mohammed Zakaria

Politics is the careful negotiation between interest and threat.

Skateboarding is a practice of individual nature, each trick is a challenge the skater sets himself taking into consideration the parameters of forms and their alignment in a space and its ethos is the challenge of their status quo; “A handrail is a highly functional object ...if there is a meaning at all in a handrail, then it is directly related to function: that of safety. The surprise of the skateboarders reuse of the handrail is that it targets something to do with safety, with everyday security, and turns it into an object of risk, where previously it was precisely risk that was being erased. The whole logic of the handrail is turned on its head” Iain Borden writes in his paper “Skateboarding and the Performative Critique of Architecture”; it is therefore safe to derive that skateboarding is an act of deconstructing preconceived, stipulatory notions and constructing a new meaning and a new function.

 

This transformative nature of skateboarding in the public sphere signifies an inherent alteration in the way skateboarders perceive their cities, its spaces and objects, implying a redefined relationship with their most immediate surroundings; quotidian forms and spaces -stairs and their handrails, plazas and their furniture, parking lots and their curbs- manifest in a whole new light. This shift in perception is evident in the language skateboarders use; to non-skaters objects used by the act of skateboarding are “skate obstacles”, to skaters they are “skate spots”; they are by no means obstacles that need to be overcome, rather spaces and forms that carry great potentiality for redefinition.

 

Using this tool of playful rebellion on preset meanings in a setting that is ever evolving; the city -the built environment; with the diversity of its spaces, and complexity of its structures- is reproduced into an enormous playground carrying the potentiality of recreation at every corner.

 

In today’s neo-liberal cities, space has become a major commodity fought over by the private sector and the public. The value of any commodity is measured by its meaning to the consumer; meaning around which marketing strategies are centralized. Taking this simple formula of meaning equals value, it is safe to say that adding a new meaning to a commodity naturally results in an increased value or at the very least increased marketability.

As has been established thus far; skateboarding is an act of redefinition -not by any means rendering the original meaning obsolete, rather expanding on it and adding to it-, disrupting the discourses of public space and engaging actively in the production of a new meaning for it, which in turn equates to an increase in value, allowing skateboarding to become a performance of claiming the right to the city.

A politician, by the standard definition is someone in charge of acts of governance; if we are to abstract and extend the definition of the act politics, then it can be defined as the careful negotiation between interest and threat. A politician seeks interest and avoids threat for the people they represents. When interest lies in the hands of the source of threat and vice-versa, is when matters get complicated, and a careful negotiation needs be ensued. 

Skateboarding as a public performance breaks the authoritative process of the production-consumption cycle of space -one in which the planner and the architect are the ones with the authority to set meanings for their ideas, and the citizen: the passive consumer-; thus turning skateboarders as a social group into urban politicians, negotiating – on behalf of their fellow city residents – new meanings for their cities and its spaces between interest and threat.