Collective values save urban arts

By | News & Politics
Celebrations start for campaigners of Long Live Southbank. Credit@Southbanktwitter

London’s Southbank along the River Thames has progressed into a community empire of local interests and cultural art. Developed from uninhabitable marshland 200 years ago to a creative hub of iconic buildings such as the Southbank Centre, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the National Theatre, the London Eye, the Globe and the Tate Modern, the progressive development has evolved with interest from local communities through the years.

In recent times, the undercroft of the Queen Elizabeth Hall has organically transformed into a popular urban arts scene for skate-boarders, BMX riders, street writers and performers, completely free and accessible to all. Southbank’s undercroft grew into an internationally known arena to practise urban arts and meet like-minded individuals in the local communities. This free and accessible platform of local interests was challenged 17 months ago when the Southbank Centre submitted re-development plans to build over the undercroft and relocate skateboarders further down the River Thames under Hungerford Bridge. Since this proposal was announced there has been an extensive campaign from local, national and international individuals in aid of preserving the undercroft.

The campaigners, Long Live Southbank, acted collectively with local communities instigating a petition and awareness of the Southbank centre’s intentions. With intentions to build retail units in place of the undercroft the Long Live Southbank campaign launched a petition to protect the space as “a recognised area of cultural heritage and communal importance.” 

The Queen Elizabeth Hall's undercroft. Credit@twitterLongLiveSouthbank

The Queen Elizabeth Hall’s undercroft. Credit@twitterLongLiveSouthbank

Over the 17 months the aims of supporters have been to voice the interests of local communities and preserve cultural history and in doing so have gained national awareness. Thousands of individuals signed the petition in favour of the undercroft remaining available for the use of arts, gaining the attention of the Mayor of London Boris Johnson who openly agreed that Southbank Centre’s redevelopment might be “at the detriment of the skateboarders” and acknowledged the area as part of the “cultural fabric of London”.

Last Thursday the Southbank Centre and Long Live Southbank announced a progressive agreement with Lambeth Council formalising the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercroft as “the long-term home of skateboarders and other urban activities”. With respect to the planning agreement for the skate-park undercroft to remain unmoved, the Long Live Southbank campaigners withdrew their legal actions. The real success of the protest and final agreement has been a triumph of the united values shared by local communities and national interests. These united interests imply that there remains an appreciation of urban activities in modern society which can exist alongside a respect for heritage. This respect of heritage sprouts from reverence for tradition and cultural history belonging to communities that the Southbank Centre’s redevelopments may have fallen short on.

The Long Live Southbank campaigns success in achieving their goal and uniting national interests could be a source of inspiration to others; by uniting individual voices in a community, quiet opinions are enabled in being collectively heard.  Hence, it may be evident that the drive towards creating a sustainable community may lie in traditional and cultural values rather than being primarily driven by economic progress. Similarly, the beliefs of Long Live Southbank are that the proposed Southbank Centre’s developments would be considered unbeneficial to the prosperity of the local community, regardless of anticipated revenue generated.

This progressive agreement to keep the undercroft as a space for urban activities may represent the national support for cultural facilities that encourage art. Economic redevelopment may also be seen as productive; however progress might still be achieved by balancing local interests with sustainable growth. It has been a victory for the Long Live Southbank negotiations, achieving a celebrated outcome, protecting cultural heritage and preserving the identity of the community, illustrating the possibilities achievable when individuals act as a collective.

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How do urban arts cultivate local and national communities in society?


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