Theses Master's

Spatial Ethno-geographies of ‘Sub-cultures’ in Urban Space: Skateboarders, Appropriative Performance, and Spatial Exclusion in Los Angeles

Giamarino, Christopher Daniel

Today, street skateboarding has transformed from a subcultural pursuit to a mainstream urban endeavor, as more than 50 million people partake in the activity globally. Cities respond to skateboarders’ spatial movements by imposing contradictory legal prescriptions and physical design barriers in public and private spaces. The point of departure for this thesis is that planning reactions provide subpar public skate spaces while imposing regulations that ban/stigmatize skateboarding outside of these sanctioned skate spots. A sizable population is denied their full right to the city, proscribed from partaking in the everyday organicism of democratic spatial experience and life. These exclusionary planning/design practices/regulations warranted further investigation. The purpose of this research was to undertake an ethno-geographic inquiry into skateboarders’ performances and transgressions in two public skateparks and two privately-owned plazas in Los Angeles, CA. My research questions were: What can planners learn from a ethno-geographic analysis of a subculture in space? Are current planning practices and engagement strategies allowing skateboarders to have citizen control and dictate how spaces are designed in order to provide quality, designated skate/recreational facilities? What planning tools and policies can provide multi-use, just spaces that celebrate diverse, cultural consumption and the social production of space? I conducted mixed methods research (i.e., field observations, interviews, photography, behavior mapping) following an actor-network theory (ANT) framework, rejecting the separation of humans/nonhumans, embracing materiality, and seeing space as a heterogeneous assemblage of constituent fluid realities/forms. I analyzed my findings through Lefebvre’s trialectic conceptualization of space. Skateboarders’ artistic spatial performances provide spectacles, reinterpret the functionality of objects, and transgress planned regulatory/physical boundaries. Ubiquitous handrails, stairs, and ledges as well as challenges posed by exclusionary spaces motivate skaters to blur traditional binaries of appropriate/inappropriate users in public/private spaces. Motivated by Sandercock’s (2004) challenge for more imaginative planning and Beauregard’s (2003) call to incorporate diverse storytelling and discursive democracy to build bases for collective planning action, I encourage planners to expand their politics, be creatively audacious, and adopt therapeutic tools for planning in 21st-century cities. I recommend one strategic occupation tactic for skateboarders to performatively represent themselves and engender planning responses. Using traditional planning tools (i.e., zoning incentives, engagement workshops, programming), I recommend four policies for cities to plan, design, and celebrate equitable, vibrant spaces where diverse publics can produce social space, create spectacles for cultural consumption, and represent themselves as legitimate actors in everyday urban life.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for GiamarinoChristopher_GSAPPUP_2017_Thesis.pdf GiamarinoChristopher_GSAPPUP_2017_Thesis.pdf application/pdf 13.3 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Beauregard, Robert
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
May 12, 2017