Copenhagen and Skateable Public Space

The Copenhagen Open skate contest once again showed the world how far ahead Denmark is in the provision of “active urban space,” a phrase we borrow from our author's previous conversation with Danish skater and pioneering architect Søren Enevoldsen.

Daryl Mersom reconnected with Søren to discuss his recent work, the campaign to save red plaza, and the relationship between Copenhagen and Malmö, two cities connected by the Øresund Bridge that are both excellent for skateboarding.

What developments in the field of skateable public space have surprised you?

Gustav Eden (the 'Skate-Coordinator' for Malmö city) bought some of the granite from Love Park. That's super surprising, cool, funny and surreal at the same time. I'm looking forward to see what will come out of that. I skated with him and heard a bit about the plans. It's going to be interesting for sure.

In Copenhagen the FSR guys have been on fire with their DIY project below the Bispebjerg Station Bridge in Copenhagen. I'm really stoked on their energy and attitude towards skating. Also the dudes at Hullet and Wonderland. I don't skate these things much, but I am psyched that skateboarding has all these diverse directions.

CPH Skatepark, designed by Søren's firm SNE Architects.

CPH Skatepark, designed by Søren's firm SNE Architects.

Neighbouring Malmö calls itself a ‘skate city’ - what is the relationship between Copenhagen and Malmö?

I don't think there is any specific coordinated 'skate-relationship' between the two cities at all. As far as I know it's just two cities that do a lot for skateboarding and happen to be really close to each other. I guess it’s just the Scandinavian political landscape that allows these things to emerge gradually.

In Malmö, Gustav Eden is doing his thing as the 'Skate-Coordinator' for the city - with the Vans thing, Bryggeriet, new skate parks etc. And the guys at Bryggeriet have the Skate High school, the skatepark and the skatepark construction going.

In Copenhagen William Frederiksen is the municipal 'street-guy'. He and his team manage the skate park, Fælledparken Skatepark and X-hall etc. and they do the yearly skate-competition.

And then we have this organisation called GADEIDRÆT (Street Sports) headed by Semir Catovic. They are an NGO organisation that helps street sports. For instance if you want to do a DIY project or organize an event it is really easy to apply for money. And then we have the private companies in both cities like FSR, Pivotech, Concreatures, myself (SNE Architects) etc. that also work to further skateboarding.

I met Gustav about a month ago at a 'skate-seminar' in Gothenburg. He's a super cool dude and really good to communicate skateboarding to the public. Him, some other guys and I talked about a more coordinated collaborative approach to address skateboarding to cities. But so far it's just talk and ideas.

Marek Zaprazny, 360 flip at Copenhagen Open 2017. Photo: James Griffiths

Marek Zaprazny, 360 flip at Copenhagen Open 2017. Photo: James Griffiths

How has CPH Open been received by the non-skating population of the city?

My two friends are pretty pissed that their bikes got stolen at the events. And the local homeless guy at the red plaza thought the “foreigners” were doing some “wild jumps”.

I haven't really paid much attention to people’s reaction since I didn’t really attend the thing much this year – too many people and hero worship/hierachy for my current mood. Personally, I got to witness Gino skate at a quiet chill session at the red plaza though. That was my little fan moment.

Is there a project to save the red plaza at Superkilen Park?

The city wants to change the surface on the plaza since it's very slippery when wet - and also due to the color of the surface it has been fading over the years. So basically they feel that the surface is ugly and unsafe. They can't just do a new less slippery version of the existing surface, since it has been deemed unsafe to work with when heated. So they've decided on this brick surface.

It's really hard to explain municipal decision makers the difference between a classic purpose-built skate park and a skate-friendly public plaza. To us as skaters it's common sense.

Let me step back and explain a bit about the plaza. I skate there almost every day with my friends and the other locals. To me it has a really authentic and pure spirit of what I like about skateboarding. There's no hierarchy there. No one tries to out cool each other. And I love that the place is a real public place in the sense that you meet other people there and you get to see real city life. It's warm, it's tough - it's diverse.

A good example is that I'm on first name with the local bottle collectors. You hear their story, and they hear yours.

Jesper is in a wheel chair and has some sort of arthritis. He uses the mellow bank launch ramps to exercise his muscles and wheel chair skills. Joseph is from Lagos and a Trump supporter because he thinks the world needs strong men that don't spend too much time on dialogue. He's told me about his turbulent life around Europe and about his wife and kids. You hear all these stories from people you'd otherwise never talk to. That's real city life in a nut shell. You meet 'the others' and they meet you. A lot of people only talk to 'their own kind'.

There's also the bad side of the place. I've seen knife fighting, police raidss etc. Yesterday there was a drive by at the barber right next to the place due to the gang rivalry. Gun shots, the fleeing dude that got shot, running across the plaza, a squad team with automatic machine guns - the whole charade.

I firmly believe that we as skaters are a huge part of creating a safer environment at the place. We are there when the plaza is empty besides us and the local hash dealers. If 15 year old skaters are skating and hanging at the plaza, it feels safer for others to enter the plaza. The local dealers are very closed, and don't interact with others. But after years of acting cool, they've actually approached the skaters on rare occasions in order to borrow a skateboard when they are bored. To me that's a small but important step for interaction with 'the others'. I've tried to communicate these stories to municipality.

So far they've agreed to 'have the ambition to preserve the skate-activity'. What that means in reality is still unknown. In the end the budgets will decide. I'm meeting the project team in about a month to discuss the further development. So I'm really hoping that they will understand what wonderful diverse place they have, and that they should nurture it and interact with the users of the place.

Rune Glifberg, backside smith grind at Copenhagen Open 2017. Photo: James Griffiths

Rune Glifberg, backside smith grind at Copenhagen Open 2017. Photo: James Griffiths

Has your view of the topic changed?

On skateable public space? I don't know if it has changed. I mean I've worked with it for over 15 years, so I kind of know how I view it. It’s sort of a gradual change that – it gets more nuanced and complex over time I’d say.

Concept for concrete sculpture by Søren Enevoldsen.

Concept for concrete sculpture by Søren Enevoldsen.

Would you tell us about the concrete sculptures/urban furnitures you've been working on?

The sculptures/installation are a sort of attempt to address and discuss the notion of 'rules', 'meaning', 'purpose' and 'hierarchy' within the urban space. The actual shapes of the sculptures themselves are inspired by different skeletons and the skin and muscles that surrounds them.

As skateboarders we reinterpret the defined meanings and purposes of our surroundings and we get a sense of freedom when we find and 'conquer' a new spot that has never been skated. Street skating can be completely different than skating a skate park where skate park designers has sort of defined your flow patterns. It's my hope that the sculptures can cause a bit of this feeling for people that 'unlocks' new meanings in the sculptures. By merging meanings and functions that are abnormal in relation to each other, hopefully new unseen hybrids or mutations of meaning and purpose will emerge. And by studying people's interactions with the sculptures I/we might learn something new about what public space can be.

Political agendas are expressed through rules and definitions - and also through our architecture. And with that comes certain hierarchies and behavioral patterns in the public realm, both explicit and subtle ones. The easy examples are skate stoppers and 'homeless-proof' benches in commercial areas. A lot of interesting books and theses have been written about this topic.

Village Psychic