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Skateboarders and the City

Public Space and Beyond


Jenna Aujla

SFU Affiliation

Graduate Student, Urban Studies Program

Areas of Research

Public space, built form, DIY urbanism, diversity, community

My ethnographic research seeks to understand skateboarding in Vancouver as an urban activity, and community. Through my research participants I have gained insight about how skateboarding is comprised of a diverse community that engages in an activity that acts as a mental health outlet, a bridge for societal racism, and a creative interaction with the urban environment.

I can see my research being impactful for policy around public space design, advocacy around "right to the city" initiatives, and community engagement. Skateboarders are a creative community that interacts with the urban environment in unique but consistent ways. Gaining insight about their hobby and skate presence in the city has brought up topics like DIY urbanism, right to the city, race, sport and leisure, and community space planning.

In the effort to design inclusive cities, the field of urban planning seeks to understand communities through public consultation, surveys, and grassroots research. Skateboarders exhibit innovative ways to use public and private space in the city that extends beyond the space allocated to them in the form of the skatepark. Through my research, I have gained insight about how the urban activity of skateboarding transcends race, age, and class, and promotes positive mental health, especially during a global pandemic.

"In this photo im skating back from buying flowers to hand out to people with children from my local park w/ my brother. We did this to spread positivity around the time the BLM movement was really causing trouble last year. This photo means alot to me because in this photo you can see by my smile that im joyful. what skateboarding means to me is pure happiness and bliss and to share skateboarding with others is to share joy and passion through the art of skateboarding." (Photo and quote from research participant)

"This photo means a lot to me because it was the first photo I’ve ever gotten published in a magazine. The thing I like about skateboarding is the unexpected moments. This was on my birthday and I didn’t know my friend was even shooting the photo. A few days after I got a text and saw the photo then by the end of the year it got published in a magazine." (Photo and quote from research participant)

"This photo represents why I skateboard in several ways. It is taken on a snowy day in an underground parking lot underneath a Best Buy. During the Winter in Vancouver, there are not many places to skateboard that are covered. Many skateboarders (myself included) spend the Winter months seeking out places to skate. I find skateboarding to be the perfect activity for me to do to maintain my mental well being, exercise, have fun, and challenge myself. I decided this Winter to write ‘PMA’ on my skateboard, which stands for Positive Mental Attitude. I did this because I find no matter what is going on in my life, skateboarding can take me to a positive and stress free place where my only objective is to enjoy myself. Even though this photo showcases me skateboarding in a less than ideal environment (a parking lot with some flat ground and a wall I can try to ride up onto) I still choose to take the time to go do it because it makes me really happy and takes me to a positive place." (Photo and quote from research participant)

About the Researcher

Jenna Aujla

Jenna Aujla (she/her/hers) is a fourth-generation Canadian with Punjabi roots. She grew up in Delta, BC, where her great-grandparents settled upon immigrating in the early 1900s. She majored in Environment + Sustainability (UBC BA 2014), and has a keen interest in social sustainability and public space. She's lived in Vancouver for 10 years, and has two children.


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