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Long Live Southbank

Photo Credit: Sophia Bennett

Photo Credit: Sophia Bennett

I’ve tried to sit down on several occasions to write about this ridiculous situation. Every time I just cannot understand it, a massive and blatant contradiction that puts any art and cultural objectives in our fair capital into total disrepute

I am a Lambeth resident and have lived moment’s walk from the Southbank for the last 2 years. Every day I walk along the Southbank either on my way home from work, to clear my head by bombing tourist photos or to try and get over my latest unrelenting hangover. None of this area feels like there’s much history until you reach the Undercroft, the world’s oldest standing skateboarding site.

Fortunately, it sits on the Southbank, which is known for it’s acceptance and active pushing of progress in arts and culture and…oh, wait, they want to put shops in it? Seriously?

A collection of post-war Brutalist slabs were built in the 1950’s for the Festival of Britain and continued to provide high society with arts and culture thereafter. Since then it has grown up to include a diverse expression of all art and culture. Yet its saving grace, once you’ve plodded wearily past the chain restaurants you see in every other part of London, or the Shrek mask wearing, spray-painted “street artists”, you finally arrive at some salvation. Every day without fail skateboarders are out in force to entertain the crowds, bottlenecked around the metal fence, away from the river’s other installations. None ever receive the same level of attention and interest as the Undercroft.

Above, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall we have classical music, contributions from the literary world, mostly high society culture. Below, the Undercroft was initially an architectural dead space before the skateboarding movement arrived in the early 70’s. Here, their own form of performance art flourished, and for 40 years has been the home and birthplace of UK skateboarding. Skateboarders pilgrimage from all around the world to visit this piece of their history.

The current proposals are to move the site further along the river, under the Hungerford Bridge. The signatures of over 100,000 people have opposed it and over 40,000 objections to the planning application for the new site were presented to Lambeth Council, the highest number in UK history.

Photo Credit: Sophia Bennett

Photo Credit: Sophia Bennett

So, is this to say that as long as the idea and perhaps the objects that make a historical site are preserved, that the site itself has no significance? Well, no, obviously not, which is why this issue is so frustrating.

It may sound like a ridiculous question but would anybody agree to Big Ben being relocated to make way for a Costa? What’s more alarming is the amount of people I’ve discussed this with, only to hear comments such as, “They’re going to build them a new one 200 meters away, so what’s the problem?”

Everything. Everything is the problem. The fact that this is how some people can sound is a real worry for how we look at our history in London. Do we have a problem today understanding what makes a historical landmark? Do we even know what a historical landmark is, and is it only relative to the profit to be made from its redevelopment? Or do we simply just not care if it isn’t directly affecting us?

Over those 40 years there has been several attempts to destroy, and therefore campaigns to save, the Undercroft. This alone shows it’s relevance, yet it seems that it has come to its biggest challenge today, proving just how void of responsibility and cash driven we are in 2014.

Photo Credit: Sophia Bennett

Photo Credit: Sophia Bennett

You can’t put profit margins against cultural identity and significance, anybody thinking we can doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near the decision making. It seems we’re happy to cover any Banksy work in plexiglass, but this subculture can’t be profited off, therefore apparently doesn’t matter.

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson:

“”The skate park is the epicenter of UK skateboarding and is part of the cultural fabric of London. “This much-loved community space has been used by thousands of young people over the years. “It attracts tourists from across the world and undoubtedly adds to the vibrancy of the area – it helps to make London the great city it is”

Even Boris agrees.

Sign today:

Preservation, not relocation.

Photo credit: Sophia Bennett

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