On the edge: A tale of skaters and urban governance

Elaine Stratford

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Stratford, E. (1). On the edge: A tale of skaters and urban governance. Social & Cultural Geography, 3(2), 193–206. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14649360220133943

citizenship , Hobart , skating , spatial relations , urban governance , youth

The ‘problem’ of skating has been conflated with a ‘problem’ with young people in public spaces, reflecting a rise in fear of crime from the mid-twentieth century and referencing more general questions about public space and citizenship. My task in this paper is to highlight some of the tensions between skating and urban governance in Franklin Square, Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania in Australia. This task is indebted to ideas about governance and citizenship advanced by Nikolas Rose; about the proper city as conceived by Michel de Certeau; and about fortress strategies and species of spaces promulgated by Stephen Flusty. Franklin Square functions in two ways in this work. First, its examination encourages consideration of local cases. Second, it can be deployed as a heuristic device through which to explore the edges of public space and citizenship. The essay is intended to make two contributions to social and cultural geography, one enlarging on some well-rehearsed debates about situated and contested socio-spatial relations in what I hope are innovative ways, the other unsettling particular strategies that place skaters ‘on the edge’ and yet draw them into particular domains of citizenship via specific practices of urban governance.

Main finding
The author draws on three theorists to discuss urban skating as an act undergoing transformation, through governance, into something considered more tolerable and acceptable - although not in all cases. From DeCertaeu’s notions of proper space, totalizing rule, and proper naming; the alleged deviancy of skaters is repositioned from ‘waste product to ‘progress’ with the legalization of skating as a form of transportation. Thus, skaters shift from outcast to citizen in the eyes of society, yet still face issues of acceptance as youth and barriers from fortified architectural spaces. Flusty’s ‘species’ of space are used to describe some of these socio-spatial, governmental barriers. For example, ‘slippery’ space is manifest in the replacement of brick pavers with lawn - an unskatable surface. Using Rose’s notion of autonomy and responsibility as the double movement of governance, skaters are both seen as requiring accommodation and control - thus skating remains legal and illegal.

Description of method used in the article
In addition to qualitative research methods, the author sourced findings from the Tasmanian Government on a project studying the legalization of street skating as well as from various teaching and research exercises conducted in the city in the late 1990s. Data include reflections on interviews conducted, in the same time period, with participants including government staff and officials, business owners, skaters, and other non-skating members of the public.

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