Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hearts Broken

Cruel irony:

VANDALS have smashed local skateboarders' hearts by destroying a large section of the new Pines Lane Skate Park at Elanora. Elanora Police Beat Senior Constable Kurt Foessel said the coping around the edge of the skate bowl may have been smashed with a sledgehammer on Thursday night, causing significant damage...

(It) would cost between $10,000 to $15,000 to repair. "They haven't ruined just one section, they've gone along and smashed it at least every metre and a half, enough so that you can't skate it..."
Skateboarders cause hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to public and private property around Australia ever year with a practice known as grinding (Wikipedia | About).

The damage caused by skateboarders to kerbs, bench edges, steps, railings, copings and shopfront window sills has spawned an entire industry in preventative add-ons.

Some of these devices might be said to be attractive or at least inoffensive to the eye but they are made necessary only because of attitudes of skateboarders ranging from inconsiderate to simply malicious.

Other anti-grinding devices are plain ugly or detract from the appearance of older property when used as a retrofit to attempt to stop their slow destruction, while anti-grinding devices can make public benches uncomfortable.

It all constitutes the kind of 'pre-vandalisation' with which we've responded to damage caused by inconsiderate and anti-social minorities over the past couple of generations. Instead of punishing this behaviour, we've simply vandalised the built environment before they could, making ugly or less useable or practical the design of everything from phone boxes and bus shelters to, well, park benches.

Lest one thinks one is being hyper-critical of 'kids just being kids', (a) cutting kids some slack shouldn't include allowing repeated damage of property, however unintentionally, and (b), a skateboarder who helped design the $160,000 Gold Coast City Council-built skate park notes:

"It's packed every afternoon with kids from 10 years to 40 years old."
'Kids from 10 years to 40 years old' - it says a lot in so few words.

The same person is now asking the council to install lights and cameras to protect the park from vandals and the police have supported CCTV as an option.

All this might be reasonable if skate parks achieved one of their most frequently stated aims, being to keep skaters off the streets and give them a place to go. However, skate bowls are most often like legal graffiti venues - they are taken over by groups of hard-core practitioners who drive out more law-abiding users and simply employ the legal venue as a place to refine skills openly and with impunity that they will later deploy covertly at other, illegal sites.

So what is the answer?

It's not to stop building stake parks - but it is perhaps to stop giving children and 'kidults' what they want, especially from the public purse, until they learn to reciprocate with what other members of society want. And it is most certainly to come down hard and meaningfully on those skateboarders and their wheeled cousins, in-line skaters and BMX bikers, who do the wrong thing.

In the meantime, all the Elanora skateboarder 'kids from 10 years to 40 years old' who have ever done a grind on a public kerb, step, rail or bench or anywhere else that wasn't specifically built to do it have just got a taste of their own medicine.

It might be worth the repair bill if one or two of them learn respect for other people's property as a result but these days one doubts it.

In the meantime, one is left wondering what motivated a systematic sledgehammer attack on the skate park, an act of much more premeditated deliberate damage than grinding, to be sure.

-- Nick

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