Having banned skateboarders at Justin Herman Plaza, San Francisco officials are considering a ban in Union Square. Some urban experts, however, think that the skateboarders fulfill a philosophical need.
In an essay in the design magazine Metropolis, Marc Spiegler- who calls San Francisco's Embarcadero Center "the Chartres Cathedral of skateboarding"- notes that the open plazas created by architects in the International Style are natural turf for skateboarders. Their presence, Spiegler writes, bridges the gap between the public and what critics have called "relentlessly austere, even inhumane" modern structures by architects such as Mies van der Rohe.
Most skateboarders were in their own neighborhoods until techniques in the sport grew more sophisticated. "Three years ago," said Brian Hadaka, editor of the skating magazine 312, "Chicago's skateboarders started hitting the Loop a lot because cruising around the school yards with their street curbs and rough, flat surfaces just doesn't cut it anymore. For the type of skating that's going on today, downtown is the place to be." The polished marble planes of van der Rohe's plazas are Mecca to Chicago's skateboarders.
Most American downtowns are empty at night, writes Spiegler. "In a sense, nighttime skateboarders represent a rare example of people using the downtown at night... But the skaters represent more than just secondary users; they essentially redefine business and governmental spaces"
Spiegler quotes Jesse Neuhaus, a former professional skateboarder who owns a sandwich shop in downtown Chicago; "The corporate types see their structures as powerful and strong," he said. "I see them as something I can enjoy, something I can manipulate to my advantage."