In Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, it is becoming quite usual to see children skateboarding, especially in the last few months. Even where there is no specific equipment for skateboarders, people find a way to practice. This phenomenon is what Brazilians are calling the “Rayssa Leal effect”, and it refers to the skateboarding fever arising from the inclusion of the sport in the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and the outstanding performance of Rayssa Leal, a Brazilian 13-year old girl who took home a silver medal.
The industry has certainly started to feel these changes in the demand, and production had to adapt to respond to the skateboarding fever. But what about cities? Are public spaces prepared to fit into this reality?
Why skateboarding is good for cities
In order to design spaces that are appealing for skateboarders, communities and planners have to primarily understand the benefits. The first reason why skating is good for cities is that it brings vivacity and diversity to public spaces. A primordial need of public areas is having frequenters.
Overall, among the list of characteristics a public space may seek depending on its function, underutilization will never be part of it. Skateboarding represents a different form of using public spaces, opening the range of options an individual has when they attend or just pass by the place. Consequently, the probability of having people in the area grows.
Besides, skateboarding can be an easy and yet challenging activity. While no specific abilities are required to start learning how to practice it, skateboarding also has plenty of room for improvement once you begin. As a result, it can be an entertaining activity for both amateurs and pros, and it is also accessible to people of different ages, social classes, and body shapes, which contributes to diversity, another desirable characteristic for cities.
Other interesting qualities of skateboarding that influences urban life are its potential to be a type of physical activity, a mode of transportation, and a social activity. As a body exercise, it can improve collective health while encouraging people to be on public squares and streets, something that many other sports are not able to offer. As a transport mode, it can be practical, cheap, faster than walking, and sustainable, reducing the need for automobiles.
Finally, it can also be a social activity, as many people practice in groups and start to see skateboarding as part of their identity. As it often takes place in public areas, skateboarding in groups promotes friendly interactions between unknown people, which is an essential part of creating a sense of community in cities, an idea that Jane Jacobs, known as the mother of urbanism, states in The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
Key factors to consider
When thinking about building public spaces that are appealing for skateboarders, some elements should be considered. The first one is the informality factor. Having an urban infrastructure that allows and encourages skateboarding does not necessarily mean that more skateparks should be built, because especially in the street category, skateboarding has as one of its essential characteristics the informality.
Interestingly, in most of Rayssa’s interviews she reinforces that, in her opinion, skateboarding is fun, which contrasts with the burden that many athletes are known for carrying because of other sports. This laid-back atmosphere also reflects on the public spaces skateboarders use. Most of the time, all they need is regular stairs, handrails, benches, and ramps. It is in a scene like this that Rayssa Leal was skateboarding in a video Nike published as a tribute to her after the competition.
Perhaps the most efficient way to accommodate skaters is not to build specific infrastructure, but to create urban furniture with durable materials and design interesting paths with different shapes and levels in public spaces.
The second consideration when thinking about the presence of skaters in public areas is to avoid unreasonable regulatory policies. For a long time since its origins, skateboarders have been associated with rebellious groups, and the hard maintenance of the public equipment used by them reinforced this bad image. As a result, numerous US cities banned skateboarding in the ‘60s, and “skate stopper” devices were built in city squares worldwide.
Although the reality is different today, regulations are often not as flexible as they should be. In some American cities, for example, skaters are prohibited to use bike lanes.
Skateboarding popularity is something that planners and designers should take advantage of instead of avoiding, as it can benefit public spaces in many different ways. Skateboarding can stimulate social interactions and diversity, contributing to the vivacity of the city. Besides, it can be both a sustainable mode of transport and an activity of longer stay.
Skaters have proven to be good for cities, therefore it is important to have an optimistic view towards the sport. As the demand is increasing, people should be open to the idea of having a great community of skaters in public spaces. Cities have nothing to fear.
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