Opinion: Norwich skateboard ban is wrong
- Credit: Archant
As a former resident of Norwich, I read with disappointment about plans to ban skateboarding from the city centre.
I'm an academic now based in Newcastle upon Tyne and with colleagues I have undertaken research with skateboarders over the past four years.
The justification for a ban made by councillors is a familiar one: mention old people who might get hit, cite damage to a war memorial, and claim there are other places skaters can go.
It is a standard argument and one based on a complete misunderstanding of the skateboard community.
There are, of course, some skateboarders who are reckless, but in our work we found the vast majority are careful when using skate spots populated with non-skaters.
They are also very careful with the surfaces they use for tricks.
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Damage to a curb or ledge renders it unskateable, and thus skaters treasure the spots they use.
Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding about skateboarders, however, is that they are satisfied with a single place to skate.
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Leaving aside the fact Eaton skatepark is 2.5 miles from the city centre and the difficulty of getting there for many young people, skaters like to move from spot to spot, exploring the city as they go.
They may session an area for an hour or so, but the desire to improve their ability leads them to seek new places to skate.
What surprises most people we show our research to, however, is that skateboarders represent everything society wishes young people could be.
First, they are social. Older skaters help younger ones to learn new tricks, but also to learn the unwritten rules about where you can skate, at what times, how to avoid conflict with other users and how to look after spots.
Second, skaters aren't generally obese.
These are active people who prefer to spend their time doing exercise outside rather than in front of a screen.
Third, we found skaters in Newcastle were also entrepreneurial. They ran their own competitions to raise money to pay for materials to improve their favourite spots.
These are the characteristics we hear politicians calling for in young people, so why are Norwich councillors trying to drive these very people out of the city centre?
They should be celebrating their contribution to the city. To use legal instruments to ban young people from doing what they love based on miscomprehension is heavy handed and counterproductive.
Jon Swords, Senior Lecturer in Economic Geography, Northumbria University