The second instalment of my first round of public questioning concerns how people act and react in their town centres.
50 members of the public were asked
When you’re out shopping in town, how do you go about it?
This chart represents the answers I got, which shows an astonishing majority get in and get out of town as soon as possible. Some went on to say that this was to avoid hefty parking charges. I think this is reducing the social value of town centres, making them places that are just tolerated for as short a time as possible when using them for shopping. It is also interesting to note that the smallest amount of people said they used this experience to meet up with friends and family. What I am interested to find out next is how people act in their town centres when they are visiting for none consumer reasons.Is there a more social and enjoyable way to use these spaces?
How do you feel about skateboarding in the city centre?
This question was inspired by the resistance that artists and designers come up against from local authorities that want to limit the use of town and city centres for anything other than pedestrian access. This includes, most notably, skateboarders. It is my opinion, and the opinion of eminent urban thinkers that skateboarders should be allowed into city centres for the good of the whole community. Reasons for Making town centres skater friendly include encouraging older people to feel more comfortable around younger people and vice versa. People would feel more comfortable to admire the skill on show and people would be generally more exposed to the notion of using their bodies to explore the environment, and not just their eyes. The main reason against this that planners and local authorities talk about is risk, of collision with pedestrians and of people suing them. I feel that the removal of risk from our urban environments make them less exiting and inspiring places, leading to the mentality confirmed by the answers of the above question.
Interestingly, when I asked members of the public, this is what they said:
Over half of the people I questioned found it really exciting, good to watch and felt it encouraged young people to come into the city, not only from the surrounding towns, but from across the country. You may be forgiven for thinking the crowd that I interviewed were mainly young people, but actually the vast majority of the people I questioned were over 35, with a large proportion over 50.
The second biggest answer is worth mentioning as it indicates that there is a feeling of fear that permeates. Some people felt that allowing skateboarders into the city centre would encourage drinking on the streets by large groups of young people and unwanted graffiti. Also that they could hurt themselves or other people. I feel that if these people were exposed to the realities of skaters in the city, as in this excellent video from Australia, some of their fears might be dispelled and replaced by a sense of fun, entertainment and spontaneity that active young people can bring to an area.