A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

Multi-generational big ups to all involved in whatever capacity here – truly paradigm-shifting stuff.

Original Article from Free Skateboard Magazine

For a variety of reasons, Malmö, Sweden has been at the vanguard of a progressive approach to embracing what skateboard culture can offer to its host cities for well over a decade. This is not to say that Malmö is the only place foregrounding its indigenous skateboard community as a force for good beyond the confines of its participants, nor that what has been happening in Sweden’s third largest city is unique. What is undeniable though, is that Malmö absolutely punches above its weight in terms of global influence by creating an effective and symbiotic relationship between the city’s governance and the embedded skate culture. Regular readers of this magazine ought to be well aware of what this situation entails; from the pioneering work in the field of education undertaken by the city’s Bryggeriet gymnasium; to the work of Gustav Eden; through to the influence of Malmö natives like Pontus Alv, Jon Magnusson, Nils Svensson and many more in all of the mediums that they touch.
Due to this rich and innovative milieu, Malmö has been able to conceptualise and follow through with projects that would’ve seemed unthinkable back in the 1990s and is rightly celebrated (along with its Danish neighbours) as a forward-thinking city which understands and comprehends skateboard culture in a holistic manner.

Into this existing context came the announcement earlier this year of the LOVE Malmö project which, at first glance, seemed unbelievable even by the exalted standards of a city world-famous for its revolutionary approach to city space.
In his official capacity as Skateboarding Coordinator for the City of Malmö, Gustav has long made it clear that whilst skatepark provision is one aspect of his role, the other and arguably much more culturally significant one is to explore ways to incorporate skate-intended space into the fabric of the city itself. LOVE Malmö took this central ethos and ran with it so that not only was the plan to create a plaza space in an area of Malmö with deep roots in local skate history in honour of Philadelphia’s iconic but sadly demolished plaza, but to actually import salvaged materials from LOVE Park itself to do so.

LOVE Malmö, June 2024. Ph. Sam Ashley

“Malmö’s reputation as a skate-friendly city stems from how the skate community and the municipality have successfully collaborated in ways that benefit the city. A big part of this is about translation between different perspectives. Bryggeriet have shown how skateboarding events can be attractive to the general public, Bryggeriets Gymnasium have shown how the passion for skateboarding can be a driver for a good education and I have worked with how skateboarding, given the right context and design, can bring life and social value to the city.

For me, the translation has been about showing how skate spots become social spaces. Street spots where skaters need to negotiate and maintain relationships with the public fulfil a function that skateparks do not. Here skateboarding can add to and complement the life of the city, as opposed to being separated from it. Skate spots don’t divide users based on age, gender or demography or close at a given time. They also become cultural spaces where skaters exchange cultural information, create networks and instigate projects that can take the shape of everything from skate-videos, to companies, to exhibitions.

This happens organically and is rarely acknowledged outside the skateboarding world. Most citizens of Philadelphia would not be aware that LOVE Park was the stage for one of the most impactful expressions of skateboarding culture in the late ‘90s. If LOVE had been a museum or sports arena, you could point to the renown of the institutions or number of visitors, but with skateboarding, you need to be within skateboarding to realise what Ricky’s mic’d-up lines, Gall’s gap-50, Stevie’s style or Kalis’ tre over the bin (and the list goes on) means.

When LOVE was being redeveloped in 2015, this meant that one of the most iconic spaces in the culture would disappear. All the skaters around the world who were wondering what the flat and ledges were like would lose the opportunity to have that experience. That line on the bucket list would remain uncrossed.”

Whilst the premise seems reasonable enough within the context of Gustav’s previous work, the logistics involved and the ambition to not only create a plaza commemorating LOVE Park but to do so by importing the salvaged granite that LOVE Park was constructed from is on another level. It’s almost as if we’re entering new unchartered realms here that have as much to do with global communities, architectural conservation and recycling as they do with jazzing up a pedestrian area by adding a couple of nice grindable benches.

Gustav agrees, “When LOVE Park was being lost, I wanted to try and see if we could help to preserve parts of the space so that the history of LOVE Park could continue. Give skaters back the opportunity to experience the spot – from dimensions to textures. We also wanted to celebrate the skaters who gave the spot its significance and invite skateboarding into the city. An interactive monument of sorts.”

Monumentalizing the multifarious contributions of Philadelphia’s skateboard scene to the world in a Swedish city 4000 miles away might seem somewhat ironic at first glance but, as ever, Gustav brought historical and cultural sensitivity to the process. In less capable hands the whole enterprise could easily have ended up creating a Disneyfied replica with all the materiality but none of the soul of the original, but due diligence and an encyclopaedic passion for Philadelphia’s skate history has avoided these pitfalls. After all, if you’re trying to recreate a section of arguably the most influential city plaza of all time, the very last thing you’d want to do is make it feel like a skatepark, right?

This is where the established protocols that the city of Malmö have in place proved invaluable in so far as giving Gustav the ability to directly contact the city of Philadelphia as a verified employee of the Swedish state. Imagine cold calling a city 4000 miles away to inquire about buying granite slabs from a recently demolished city plaza without the benefit of being a recognized government employee. You’d be hung up on faster than a ‘have you ever been in car accident?’ cold caller. Instead, due to Gustav’s and Malmö ’s credentials, this ostensibly ridiculous request fell onto sympathetic ears and just over a year after LOVE Park was shut down and demolished (February 2016) Gustav was already taking delivery of salvaged materials from the greatly missed urban space.

Before we go into the logistics involved in doing the above, it’s important to explore the prehistory of this LOVE Malmö project as, without the intercession of certain Philly heads, none of what we’re talking about would’ve been possible. It seems safe to assume that most people outside of Philadelphia probably first discovered that huge amounts of the granite that made up LOVE Park had been ‘saved’ from Josh Kalis’ ‘Out There’ video. What that video didn’t do however was to explain how those piles of granite tiles and well-loved ledges ended up there in the first place. Cue Pat Heid of SkatePhilly to fill in the gaps…

Love Malmö under construction, April 2024. Ph. Gustav Eden

For those who are not already aware, SkatePhilly is a non-profit organisation advocating for skate culture in the Philadelphia area with a view to connecting communities across the city through skateboarding. (Once you’ve finished reading this, go follow them on Instagram at @skatephilly to keep up to date with the amazing projects they’re working on). In traditionally magnanimous fashion, Gustav was adamant about letting the Philadelphia scene speak for themselves on this aspect of the narrative.

Pat Heid was also keen to preface our conversation by explaining that his involvement in SkatePhilly began after the materials from LOVE were salvaged, removed and stored, as at that point he was still living in California.

“My involvement began around the time that the granite was being delivered to Gustav in Sweden. The early conversations that facilitated that process were with a city employee called Bob Allen plus Josh Nims and the Franklin Paine Skatepark Fund, (which was the precursor to SkatePhilly as it is now). I feel duty bound to add some detail here though as there are some crucial things that keep getting missed out of the story, which is really unfair and misleading.”

Brian Douglas, Brian Panebanco and Pat Heid at the Love ‘graveyard’. Ph. Zander Taketomo

These omissions mostly relate to how the granite was originally salvaged at the point where LOVE was being demolished. Pat continues:
“The way the story has been told so far has made it sound like the city of Philly took all this granite and deposited it in the storage yard but in reality, none of that would’ve happened if it weren’t for one specific person, who really deserves to be recognised.
‘Love Park Heather’ is the person who facilitated the granite being saved: without her donating a lot of her time and money on a volunteer-basis the materials that Gustav has, the materials that Kalis has, and the materials currently being used in numerous SkatePhilly projects would’ve ended up being discarded. None of the things that we’re discussing would’ve happened without her and I feel that she’s been missing from a lot of the conversations around this so far.”

Heather’s intercession to save what remained of LOVE post-demolition warrants further discussion despite the allure of mystery. Pat explains, “Heather was a skater who localised LOVE who we considered to be the ‘Godmother of LOVE Park’ in the final ‘Sabotage generation’. She was always there and was a big part of the downtown scene for a long time. She was also a successful lawyer who’d helped Josh Kalis get hold of some of the City Hall benches prior to this endeavour. Heather was nimble with figuring out the legal and logistical side of things and she also had the money to get things moving in a way that most of the other people involved didn’t. When all the LOVE stuff got taken to the storage yard by tractor trailer, she was there for a week overseeing the process. She hired a forklift to move things around, she labelled all the tiles and the other pieces, she had all the measurements and weights of everything and put all that information into spreadsheets. There’s this crazy inventory that she’d created that catalogued every single piece of LOVE that she’d managed to salvage. A pretty epic feat really.”

Looked at from today’s perspective with SkatePhilly involved in the redevelopment of another of Philly’s iconic plazas (more on that later) using these salvaged materials, and of course the LOVE Malmö project, it may seem unthinkable that Philadelphia might well have just discarded the LOVE granite, but it came very close to that happening.

As Pat explains, “The plan initially was that the city would just demolish LOVE and get rid of all the granite and features at the same time. This is where Heather came in, to stop the city just trashing everything. She hired a bunch of trucks to transport all the tiles and ledges and co-ordinated with Josh Nims and the Franklin Paine Skatepark Fund. She organised a day with the city to get approval to turn up with the trucks she’d hired to pick up the materials as LOVE was being demolished. Tiles were stacked up, ledges and significant pieces of the original layout were identified and put to one side so that Heather could orchestrate this whole thing. Josh Nims, Heather, Brandon John who owns Nocturnal skateshop, (and used to skate for Traffic skateboards) and a few other volunteers were the people who came together and ‘saved’ the material from LOVE in the first place.”

Volunteerism and collective action lay at the core of the initial drive to save what remained of LOVE for posterity, even if at that point there was no plan beyond stopping the footprint of America’s most iconic skate spot being dumped like trash.
It was at this point that Gustav first approached the city of Philadelphia to ask if there were any remnants of LOVE Park left.

The Love Park ‘graveyard’. Ph. Zander Taketomo

Love shut down in Feb 2016 and within the following months Heather had orchestrated this salvage operation and created this intensely detailed catalogue of what was there. I don’t think Gustav was expecting that at all,”explains Pat.

“Heather hadn’t bought the materials either, they were still technically the property of the city but the Parks & Rec’ Dept had agreed that if she coordinated with them to identify this storage site about 10 minutes outside of the city and sorted out the logistics, then the skate scene could keep it safe until someone came up with a plan of how to repurpose it. All this happened between the 2016/2017 period, so I personally wasn’t involved but after it had happened, I moved back from California to Philly. I’d moved back here and caught wind of this and started going to some meetings because I was concerned about what was going to happen with all this granite. I wanted to make sure that whatever it ended up being repurposed as was appropriate to the legacy of LOVE Park. But it turned out that not much had happened to be honest. The materials were safe but little progress had been made beyond that…”

This is where Gustav Eden entered the picture:

“When news reached me that LOVE was going, I immediately wanted to try and intercede in some way, not knowing yet that the skaters had already managed to salvage a huge amount of material. As a fellow council officer, I was in a unique position to understand the dynamics of public institutions and to work with the City of Philadelphia to navigate a potential reconstruction.
Essentially, I just called the switchboard of the city and was put through to the amazing Bob Allen who was extremely helpful. Overall, the City of Philadelphia was very open to collaborate and we’re very grateful for that support. They helped us chase down Vincent Kling’s original blueprints and the spot where the granite from LOVE was originally quarried.

As a parallel process, I was in touch with Chris Mulhern who I met filming in London years ago and he connected me with Brian Panebianco, as well as Josh Nims from Skate Philly. I happened to be in LA at this time and went to Philly to see them and to see if there was a path here to resurrect parts of LOVE.
It was very important to me and all of us that this project was about the Philadelphia skate scene and the history of LOVE. No one else can claim that history – it belongs to Philly. If we were to take on the responsibility of reconstructing a section of LOVE, it would need to be done the right way. Woven into the city. Built according to the original plans. Surrounded by other skate-spots.
When the spot opens, we want the skaters from Philly to know that it is a homage to them. Malmö has no claims – we just wanted to help bring the spot back to all of those who never got to skate it. We also hope that we can work with SkatePhilly in the future on bringing skaters from Philly out here to skate it.”

Gustav’s militancy about ensuring that the cultural meanings of LOVE Park would be preserved, regardless of what shape a Swedish rebuild project would take, raised an interesting, if slightly awkward issue. Would the skaters of Philly, particularly those outside of the advocacy work of the Franklin Paine Skatepark Fund and then later SkatePhilly, see the Malmö project positively?

Pat fills in the gaps, “It’s been a sore point periodically, especially in the earliest days. When the news first broke about the Malmö project using materials from LOVE, the reporting made it seem as though all the materials that were salvaged were going overseas, so there was some damage control needed there. The reality was that it was only a relatively small amount of granite that made it to Sweden – some tiles and some blocks. All the most significant features were never going to leave Philadelphia.”

Gustav’s sensitivity to the skate community that he was in some respects ‘plundering history’ from went a long way to allay those fears however, particularly due to him involving Brian Panebianco in the process of selecting which artefacts would and wouldn’t be appropriate for the LOVE Malmö project.

Pat again, “When Gustav came to Philly to pick the stuff, Brian Panebianco and Chris Mulhern were there too, to help Gustav and to document the process. Brian is the biggest nerd out of all of us as far as the LOVE granite goes. He spent the most time there as a member of the ‘last generation’. He went and advised Gustav on what he could take without us losing the most valuable stuff as far as the Philly skate community goes. This helped to foster a sense of collaboration between Gustav’s project and what we are working on with SkatePhilly.”

Gustav echoes that sentiment, “Once we’d spoken with Brian and co we agreed on what we could take without creating animosity or overstepping the mark. We have enough original tiles to create an authentic surface at the newly built spot. As to ledges, I didn’t want to take any that had been skated during LOVE’s heyday. That felt like too much of a claim – like the Center Block, (the one most people would associate with Wenning popping out) – that belongs in a full LOVE reconstruction or even a museum. Taking skated ledges didn’t feel right. We did take some trash cans and a lamp post, though. The granite will be the same, but not the actual skated ledges. So, it’s authentic, but it respects the history of the original space.”

Love Malmö under construction, awaiting the granite ledges to be added, 2024. Ph. Gustav Eden

This collaborative approach has paid dividends and has laid the foundations for mutually beneficial cooperation between Gustav and the hugely exciting work that SkatePhilly is undertaking currently. Serendipitously, (although perhaps not at first), during the process of Pat and co working with Gustav on the LOVE Malmö project, Philly’s final extant city plaza was fenced off and another redevelopment was announced. Muni had filled in the gaps left by the demolition of both LOVE and City Hall in the intervening years and had nourished the talents and careers of the next generation of skaters representing Philadelphia’s downtown skateboard scene. The irony of the city tearing down Muni with no advance warning whilst a city 4000 miles away was working on rebuilding a section of LOVE was not lost on Pat Heid and in some way fired him up to advocate for the inclusion of skateable space in whatever the proposed Muni redevelopment ended up being.

The unexpected nature of Muni’s demolition came as a huge shock to those already involved in SkatePhilly as Pat explains, “When the fences went up at Muni we were all dumbfounded as nobody had any idea what was going on and there’d been no communication at all from the city beforehand. We literally turned up one day to find fences up with a sign saying, ‘Phase 1 Thomas Paine Plaza Redevelopment Project’, so everyone was losing their minds. I’d been pretty connected to the city authorities through working on various projects with SkatePhilly, and we’d used some LOVE materials at a small skatepark already, so we were pretty connected in terms of being perceived as a credible activist group. I knew that communicating with the on-site project manager was probably the closest connect to try and figure out what was going on. So I was going down there a lot for the first couple of weeks after the fences went up, just trying to find people to talk to. Eventually I stumbled across the site manager and the architects who were on site talking granite, so I introduced myself and SkatePhilly and explained how we were interested in salvaging the benches and the dominoes, which then started a conversation with that organisation.”

Muni fenced off, Philadelphia, 2023. Ph. Zander Taketomo

Unsurprisingly, given what had happened historically with Philadelphia and the sense of betrayal the skate community felt after the 2001 X-Games debacle and the refusal of the DC million dollar offer to preserve LOVE, SkatePhilly’s expectations of the possibility of being included in the plans for the Muni redevelopment were far from optimistic. However, emboldened by recent successes with Front Street Park in South Philadelphia, (which uses some pieces of the fountain blocks from LOVE and some ledges that were previously situated on JFK Boulevard) and with Malmö happening in the background, Pat attended a public meeting and threw everything he had at it knowing that with LOVE and City Hall already gentrified and gone, this was the last chance to secure skateable plaza space in the centre of the city.

Asked whether SkatePhilly were able to use the in-progress Malmö project as leverage with the proposals for Muni, Pat was unequivocal.

“I used Malmö as the last slide in my original proposal on a kind of, ‘Hey I don’t know if you know this, but a lot of the LOVE granite got shipped to Sweden and they’re building this official plaza spot in Malmö in recognition of the cultural significance of our city’s skateboard scene.’ They didn’t have a clue originally, so it certainly surprised them in the sense of it being a little embarrassing that our city hadn’t been open to even think of it, whilst there’s a city on the other side of the world creating a plaza replicating a space from Philly with materials from our destroyed centrepiece. Not only was the final of Philly’s globally famous city plazas falling victim to yet another phase of redevelopment and gentrification but once again, the major stakeholders and users of that space, namely us, the skateboard community were not even considered or mentioned in the plans. I threw everything I had at that presentation: I went back to the Ricky Oyola and EE3 days, I showed video and photographs, I discussed the generational effect that those spaces (LOVE, City Hall and Muni) had for the inner-city youth of our city and how careers had been built there and how those opportunities kept progressive youth in Philadelphia rather than them moving away. I pointed out how skateboarders made these areas safer, particularly after office hours. I made every point I could and then just left it in their hands. It also didn’t hurt the argument that the Muni issue of Thrasher dropped right at the same time, along with Brian’s edit from ‘The Pit’ (the lower level of Muni), which garnered almost 900k views in a week or so. Everything just fell into place.”

Happily, after a couple of weeks of silence, the city got back in touch with Pat, clearly impressed by both his passion and by the indisputable fact that including skateboarders in the redevelopment process offered an organic way to ‘activate’ the space and to differentiate it from the redevelopments at City Hall and LOVE.

“A few weeks after that they called me back after thinking it through and talking to people at Muni about their thoughts on skaters and their responses backed up what I’d said in the meeting. People did feel safer when there were people skating Muni rather than the space just being full of crackheads. I mean, who knew? So, from a start point of being completely removed from the plans, SkatePhilly and the skate community have now been given almost a third of the space formerly occupied by Muni and been tasked with designing skateboarding into this space using salvaged objects from the original plaza. Quite the turnaround really…”

Saved Muni ledges loaded up onto a flatbed, 2023. Ph. Pat Heid

How do these two related but geographically disparate projects sit together as both move towards completion? Clearly the goals of both are similar: to construct skateable plazas within existing cities intended to function as urban space with skateboarders in it, rather than skateparks where non-participants are denied access. Likewise, both spaces veer towards new vistas related to the reuse and recycling of construction materials and the preservation of culturally significant city architecture.
Both Pat and Gustav utilise many of the same arguments too as both point towards the fact that skateboarding objectively makes spaces safer, particularly in terms of perception by other users and stakeholders. The responses that the city of Philadelphia received about the general public’s perception of the positive aspects of skateboarding being present in the city echo Gustav’s provable take on the benefits of designing skateboarding into urban space.

“People are less prone to engage in disreputable activities if they are exposed. As such, areas that are unpopulated tend to be attractive for those wishing to engage in activities they’d rather not have people see. Spaces that lack any reason for people to dwell in or engage with run the risk of becoming ‘blind spots’. By introducing an attractive skate-spot, skaters will populate the area, meaning that those spots will no longer be blind. That in itself is likely to reduce certain behaviours in the neighbourhood. Beyond this, skateboarders are not shy about claiming a space. This is sometimes more important than you think. For most people, entering an empty space and performing an activity is a big social challenge. Just stepping into a square and dancing, doing yoga or some other activity takes a lot of courage. It is a lot easier, however, if someone else is already being active in the space. If someone else is being active, it can provide an alibi for others to be active too.”

The granite ledges cut from the same North Carolina quarry as Love Park’s ledges have arrived, May 2024. Ph. Gustav Eden

There is of course another side to this and it’s important not to be myopic about the fact that city spaces such as LOVE Malmö and the Thomas Paine Plaza in Philadelphia are not intended to be solely for skateboarders. Ironically, if that was the case and an exclusionary mindset arose from the local skate communities then these spaces currently being championed as examples of a new and revolutionary way of creating and activating city space would end up just being skateparks, which is the diametric opposite of what both groups wanted. As Gustav sagely puts it, “There is a flipside to the wholly warranted self-congratulation of those involved in projects like the two we’re discussing. Skaters provide an alibi, but can also be dominant, claiming spaces and excluding other users. This means that any city must be careful about how skateboarding will work at a space so that it is not ‘given away’ to the skaters and ‘taken away’ from everyone else. Multi-use and multifunctionality are key concepts to pursue where skateboarding can exist, but not dominate a given space.
At LOVE Malmö, skateboarding is expected to be quite dominant. This is because of the cultural significance of the space and because the space had little value before LOVE was introduced. While this is true, the space is also expected to operate as a stage for the school or other users and a lounging-area. The point of LOVE Malmö is that it is not a skatepark and this cuts both ways – skaters need to be respectful too. It will be interesting to see the culture of the space evolve.”

Sarah Meurle, frontside nosegrind at LOVE Malmö. Ph. Sam Ashley

Pat echoes that sentiment, particularly as it relates to the problematic tightrope that anybody advocating for skateable city space inevitably exposes themselves to.

“We’re entering this period of trying to work out how you incorporate skateboarding into public space in the city. More and more places are starting to grasp onto this notion – New York’s doing all the stuff with the Brooklyn Banks, there’s the UN Plaza in SF, and then outside of the USA you’ve got places like Southbank, Malmö, Copenhagen, Barcelona – it’s everywhere now. I used all those examples to push the narrative on Philly. It’s starting to happen all over the world. The tricky thing is how you make these spaces feel natural and how you make them not be a skatepark.
That’s the biggest challenge for sure – how do you create these spaces in the city for skateboarding whilst retaining the vibe that made them significant in the first place? On the most basic level, in Philly we’ve all grown up running from cops. It’s going to be weird to not be running away from them to be honest. Maybe we need to designate some hours where skating isn’t tolerated just so we can retain that aspect of the culture. Maybe we could employ some security guards to hassle us to keep it authentic, haha.”

With LOVE Malmö due to officially open at the end of May and the final tweaks being added to the redevelopment plans for Muni, the intersection between the two projects looks set to continue and deepen. Pat and Gustav are already in talks to collaborate on activating the Thomas Paine Plaza once it’s completed using Gustav’s contacts and cachet as a springboard.

Early proposal plan for the redesign of Thomas Paine Plaza (aka Muni), January 2024.

“Gustav’s already suggested ideas like running a scholarship program whereby kids from Philly could go to Bryggeriet for a semester or something. Kids from here would never have that opportunity otherwise so the whole Malmö/LOVE connection is opening plenty of doors potentially. That’s the sort of partnership we’re thinking about, and we’re involved in the activations for the opening of the Malmö Plaza and adding our voices as representatives of the place being monumentalized in Sweden.”

Philly OGs: Roger Browne, Ricky Oyola and Sergei Trudnowski at the LOVE Malmö opening. Ph. Sam Ashley

Exciting times indeed. Even more so if you’ve caught any of the rumours about slated plans for a full LOVE Park rebuild at some point in the (hopefully) not too distant future utilising partnerships built through these current projects. (Not to mention Gustav’s contacts at the North Carolina quarry where all the original LOVE granite came from). For now, though, that remains a potentiality but one that seems a hell of a lot more realisable than it would have only a decade ago. If you’re able, get to Malmö for the opening, which runs from May 30th – June 2nd to skate and take in the numerous events set up around those dates (check @skatemalmo.se for details). If you can’t manage that then fire up any of Brian Panebianco’s ‘Sabotage’ videos and revel in the possibility of getting to skate what the world assumed were permanently extinguished plazas on the other side of the Atlantic. Follow @skatephilly to keep up to date with the Thomas Paine Plaza project and keep your eyes on Free’s channels for coverage of venerable marble getting the love it deserves.
Multi-generational big ups to all involved in whatever capacity here – truly paradigm-shifting stuff.

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