How to make use of a public space to welcome involvement, experimentation, and open bridges between generations.
*This piece was originally written for RUA+ — a participatory design exercise promoting the autonomy of the inhabitants in improving their streets, by creating the capacity for initiative, organization, and implementation — a project we are developing in Peniche, Portugal.
Teens and youth are some of the most uncatered age groups.
Most often, their requirements when it comes to public spaces are unmet.
Streets are the most immediate form of public space, where people meet, interact, socialize and get to discover common passions. Public spaces need to go beyond being open and accessible to the general public.
Streets are where we can exercise our shared right for more livable, healthier streets and cities.
If youths' interests and energy tend to create shock and conflict, with limits being stretched and tested constantly, and if disruption and challenge are a part of identity discovery, they can often find themselves marginalized.
When channeling this energy process through something like skateboarding, it becomes more than just sports; it becomes a culture, a way of life that embodies freedom, creativity, and individuality while also giving a sense of belonging and purpose.
But what if there are no safe, accessible, dedicated spaces for these activities?
In Peniche, the conditions for the practice of this sport are very poor.
But meanwhile, it is possible to create temporary solutions that answer to the motivations of the community.
André Filipe brought his passion for skateboarding together with videography and proposed to organize an event - the Skate Video Festival ON THE WALL! - with not much more than his own drive and some of the resources gathered by the RUA+ project.
That's how, for a few hours, a space was created where skaters, often on the periphery, were placed firmly in the spotlight, showing that every culture, every subculture, deserves acknowledgment and consideration.
In the residential neighborhood of Sant'Ana, the streets became full of people with common feelings as they were sharing two roles at the same time, those of being both guests and hosts, entering and leaving on even standing points.
The proponents and attendees of the event showed how they use and see the public space, while neighbors were sharing their home and facing this new, different, contrasting way of being in their streets. Different levels of knowledge, age gaps, capacities, sharing the same space in a friendly open rink where everyone was welcomed, encouraged and mentored by each other in a skate jam session.
Neighbors, spending time in this host role, observing and experiencing it all, were looking past the disruption, the noise, the differences and started admiring the diversity, passion and recalling their own youth.
With each fearless jump, a bridge between generations boosting understanding, empathy and care between those who might not have this long interaction otherwise.
At the end of the day, the video competition projection, videos produced by skaters themselves, was another window into their minds, perspectives, diversity and complexity. The presence and engagement of the hosting community, watching and voting on their favorites, raised another level the proximity of the two groups. More than just observation, there was active participation and validation.
The sum of all this, made it harder for anyone to see each other in black&white.
In the end, it wasn't about skates; it was about turning resistance into vulnerability and curiosity, about seeing conflict as a device for supporting diversity and facilitating understanding and compassion, celebrating the essence of what makes us human.