Urban Pioneers: Malmo’s Skateboarding Coordinator

27 November 2023

The role of Malmo’s skateboarding coordinator, a position held by Gustav Svanborg Edén since 2014, stands as a hallmark of the city’s progressive approach to youth culture and urban space utilisation. This role, evolving from a two-decade partnership between the municipality and local organisations, showcases Sweden’s robust support system for non-profit initiatives.

In the latest interview for our Urban Pioneers series, Gustav presents his work – rooted in street skateboarding and inspired by the ground-breaking efforts of his predecessor Erik Löfvander – highlighting the close relationship between skaters and the city’s development. Under his guidance, skateboarding has transcended its status as a fringe activity, morphing into a vehicle for community engagement, spectacle, and safety in public spaces. His contributions reflect a nuanced understanding of how skateboarding can enhance urban life, advocating for designs that accommodate and celebrate this vibrant subculture.

What are you trying to achieve in your position?

Using public funds to work with skateboarding can be perceived as controversial. When supporting any user group in public spaces, the interests of all potential users need to be considered. Given this, we always try to add value for other user groups when investing in skateboarding activities. Our target audience is the general public as well as the skateboarders.

For example, when we adjust public spaces for skateboarding, we also make sure the skateable infrastructure does not communicate that it is exclusively made for skateboarding but for other functions too. We have introduced skateable furniture, sculptures that function as spaces to rest or abstract objects for kids to play.

What we are trying to achieve are spaces that are open to engagement, play and interaction between different urban users.

What’s your personal motivation to do this job?

My original ambition comes from being a long-term skateboarder who grew up skating in cities around the world. In my experience, there was always a gap between the skateboarding world and the public perception of what skateboarding is.

Skaters want to skate, explore and socialise, but people react strongly to the noise and the energy. This stands in the way of building an inclusive relationship for skaters with the societies they function in. However, if we design the right spaces and build inclusive relationships, we can transform friction into forms of integration that can help our cities evolve. I was, and am still driven to act as a translator of important values between these worlds.

Walk us through a day in your shoes.

Days vary in my job. Large parts of the year take the shape of traditional municipal work with correspondence, logistics, meetings and upholding the general structure of the municipality. Aside from skateboarding, I am involved in a range of other projects involved in urban development and am a union representative, so the meeting calendar can be a bit of a brick wall at times.

In other periods, we move into event production, which can mean on-site work coordinating grandstands and jumbotrons for one project, or granite sculptures for another. During the events themselves, I am responsible for site security, wearing the yellow vest and talking to security guards via radio. Working security for skateboarding events is something of a balancing act. You need to understand that the audience is part of one tribe and the security of another. For this reason, we always have skaters to liaise between security and the audience, which tends to work very well.

Overall, I am something of an enabler, so I tend to run around and bother people to see if we can make good things happen that we are not yet doing.

What are your main challenges?

I work mainly by myself within the city but have colleagues in similar roles. I also work closely with the skate organisation Bryggeriet. The Skate Malmo project is based on my role as a facilitator but is not founded on a skateboarding strategy or official policy.

In times of recession and other challenges for the municipality, this means that we always run the risk of losing priority. In this sense, our challenge is to stay relevant. On the flip side of this, it wouldn’t be right to invest public funds in skateboarding if we weren’t.

When was the last time you felt that your position had a positive impact on your city’s inhabitants?

I walk or cycle past spaces every day that have been infused with life through our efforts. It’s easy to default to the inner critic, but I try to stop and remind myself of all the people who have formed relationships with the spaces, the community and the city. Because we have translated the value of skateboarding to the municipality, skateboarding has been given the opportunity to give back.

I’m probably most humbled when I see skaters who have been immersed in the scene form their own crews, start their own projects, and pursue their own paths. Where skateboarding has opened their horizons to the world. People’s lives are shaped by the Malmo skate scene, and it’s a privilege to be able to facilitate that.

If you had a magic wand, what could significantly improve the way you do your job?

I would love to collaborate more with partners for research as well as applying what we have learned from working with skateboarding to other cultures and spaces. My task is activation and development, so it is a challenge to prioritise research. I would welcome more academic partnerships and opportunities to study the spaces we work with from a range of approaches. This is not to say we are not collaborating with academia, but I believe we could do more. Aside from that, we could use a more comprehensive skateboarding strategy to create a foundation for our organic approach.

Pitch your job to other local, regional, national or European governments.

Skateboarding is a global culture. This means that the impact of skateboarding generates resonance around the world. The skateboarding world is familiar with Malmo and comes here for our annual events, generating exposure, revenue and traditional events. Malmo’s skate scene is set on the global stage. In this sense, Malmo is woven into the global skateboarding network with all the benefits that means for our local industry, professionals and skateboarders.

When it comes to urban planning, skateboarding can be used as a driver of a broader range of activities. When designing public spaces, there is, of course, a tendency to hesitate to design functionality for specific users. This can be taken to mean we ‘give’ the spaces to that group. It is true that the dominance of specific user groups should be avoided, and public spaces must first and foremost be inclusive.

The skate spaces we have created tend to be populated by all kinds of other users who feel less exposed when blending with the skaters. This lowers thresholds for vibrant, active spaces to evolve. Skateboarders happen to be a good group to work with for this, but functionality can include everything from chess to ping-pong, to parkour or dancing. If you want people to be active, you need to work with a user group and really listen to and respect what they need.

What has made Malmo evolve as a skateboarding city is the fact that the municipality and Bryggeriet have learned to collaborate on events and activities. The skateparks and spaces are a by product of this path. After all, our target outcome is the subjective experiences of people living in our cities. What we build should always further this end.

It is an easy mistake to focus too much on physical spaces, as opposed to the relationship between the city and its people. But doing so is to misunderstand human nature. If you want a vibrant city with engagement between different groups, you need to have a strategy for working with people. If you just build it, they will not come. If you build with them, they will come. It is a mistake to see driven user groups as a problem we solve by giving them a box tucked away from urban life. They should be seen as an opportunity to help generate vibrant cities. The first step to facilitate this is through engagement and activation, not necessarily an impressive facility. I’m not saying that driven, passionate people should be allowed to dominate all urban spaces, but through engagement, their passion can add value for everyone.

This interview is part of ‘Urban Pioneers,’ a Eurocities series published every first and fourth Monday of the month, spotlighting innovative and original job positions in municipalities across Europe. Each article in this series highlights a job position aimed at improving wellbeing, health conditions, society and the environment in cities. From tackling the urban heat island effect to countering gender imbalances, to encouraging sustainable mobility, ‘Urban Pioneers’ showcases how cities are leading by example and breaking new ground in enhancing people’s quality of life. ‘Urban Pioneers’ jobs can inspire national, regional and EU authorities to create similar positions in their own structures, multiplying across Europe’s regions and nations the positive impact that started in cities.

Find the previous article here


Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer