I found a recent article by O’Connor, Evers, Glenney, and Willings (2022) that proposed placing skateboarding as a grey activity. This is proposed as different from leisure activities that take place in green spaces and are often seen as promoting sustainability. Grey activities, on the other hand, exist in the space in between. They require urban, concrete places to skate and are increasingly subject to capitalism with high profile brands and frequent gear replacement. But they also challenge concepts like private ownership of property when skateboarders make use of buildings and spaces that are not designated for skateboarding and often work to actively discourage it. Skate parks can also be viewed as positive for remediation by covering contaminated sites with concrete for a purpose. And the community seen between competitors in competitions as elite as the Olympics is inspiring.
I’m not a skateboarder so I haven’t really thought about these complexities before but I found the article absolutely fascinating. The idea of skateboarding challenging privatization alone is something that I want to explore further from a sustainability perspective. I wonder how activities like skateboarding and other urban sports could help challenge the capitalist ideas of privatization. This could be particularly effective if it was found that similar to how green activities are seen as motivation to protect green spaces, grey activities stimulated a similar care for the spaces. I imagine that having litter in the middle of your planned skate path would be negative and thus might inspire you to keep an area litter free for example.
Fundamental to acceptance of the creation of public spaces through skateboarding would be a change in societal views of skateboarding and skateboarders. In fact, a lot of the activities that might be classified as grey activities are associated with negative stereotypes involving delinquency, vandalism, and drugs. As a result, there are often views that preventing these activities makes an area safer. Designated spaces are then frequently built in undesirable locations like highway underpasses. This has the added impact of exposing participants to significant pollution.
The authors are proposing this idea of grey leisure to introduce another frame into the discussion. Given that urban areas are not going away, we need to expand the discussion of how they shape and can be shaped by a wide range of activities including ones like skateboarding. How can we engage in activities to reclaim things like the commons? How can we change views of privatization? And how can we ensure that urban spaces are healthy for everyone?