Matt Hale used to skate in Speedway. Now, he’s a graphic designer at Axiom, a co-founder of Naplab, and a contributor to We Are City, and he attributes skating to his love for cities and the form you can find in cities.
My deep love for cities was shaped by many experiences as a youth: years as a graffiti writer, many Amtrak trips to Chicago and NYC with my father, devouring city-as-character films such as The Omega Man, Blade Runner, and Dawn of the Dead. But none were as formative as the many years I spent on my skateboard.
Street skating is primarily about the “line,” the creation of a seamless flow from obstacle to obstacle. The skater views the built environment as a continuous canvas, looking for connections or “lines” wherever they can.
Street skating is about exploration. The skater thrives on finding little undiscovered little nooks in the city that have good energy and are serendipitously designed in a way that the skater can repurpose. The entire city is up for grabs and it is theirs. Skaters know their cities like no one else.
Street skating is about the vibe of the spot. A spot is a preferred location for extended skating sessions. A spot is judged by the uniqueness of its obstacles, proximity to home, how well known it is (possession and specialness), the view, its usefulness in downtime (seating, shade, refreshments, etc.), memories, legacy of previous skaters
Street skating is about adaptation and creative reuse. Ledges, benches, rails, curbs, parking lot islands, stairs, cones, walls, sculptures, grassy medians, and driveways all have official uses but those functions are thwarted and redefined in the mind of the skater. They are an unintentional infrastructure.
Street skating is about documentation. The more creative and odd the spot, the better it looks in photographs and films. The skater also loves to document city life in general. Their life is often a magnet for the strange, the raw.
Street skating is subterranean place-making. And the conditions that support a vibrant and hospital environment for street skating are the same conditions and principles that provide citizens spaces for engagement with their surroundings. The line, exploration, vibe, adaptation, documentation.
Urban design should understand movement as better defined and formed by the subconscious efficiencies of the pedestrian as opposed to utilitarian and vehicular rigidness. It should allow for lines and flow through the urban space.
Urban design should allow for discovery, creating spaces to be explored. Through exploration of these spaces they become imbued with memory and an interdependent contextual relationship between self and place. Urban design may not be able to create vibe, but best practices and strategies exist that can be utilized to distinguish a space, provide an opportunity for ownership through adaptation. This adaptation can be supported through flexibility of spaces and thinking universally and holistically about the possibilities of programmatic design as opposed to activation through programming.
And of course, thinking about space as cinematic, visually shifting with season and month and day and hour. Creating vistas and spaces of temporarily invested interest, places for both contemplation and collaboration. Spaces to be seen and to just be.
Skate and create.