Coming through Stratford City shopping centre around 9 pm last night, I saw a small group of skaters – boards, roller and in-line – exploiting the smooth floors for their tricks and weaves.
I'd been tipped off about the spectacle by Eleanor Fawcett at OPLC, who regularly walks through the mall in the evenings. She tells me there can be as many as 20 skaters on some nights: male and female, different ages, and a culturally diverse crowd too (reflecting this part of East London).
Apparently the route through the mall is a 24-hour public right of way. The site security seems relaxed about its nocturnal uses. This may be all to the good. It is certainly Eleanor's view that they make the place feel safer for her, as someone who often has no choice but to come through the mall late at night on her way home.
Much as I love this example of flexible use, I can't quite see it catching on in a shopping mall near you - unless like this one, your mall has to stay open 24/7 and is thinking creatively about how to animate the space. I am not holding my breath for evening slalom runs in the nearby Westfield mega-mall. But park and public space managers can surely learn some lessons from the Stratford skate scene about what creates social safety. Here’s hoping the OPLC itself – my most recent client, as it happens - takes some inspiration from the playful use of public space that unfolds on its doorstep most evenings, in its plans for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.