“Parkour offers a way to actively engage in the city physically, emotionally and socially”

Mohamed Eid Abed al-Hawwari, a Libyan man from Benghazi, practices his Parkour in May 2015, at the archaeological site of the ancient Greek city of Cyrene. Image: Getty.

Parkour, as we know it today, stems from the activities of nine young Parisian men. The Yamakasi group, as they were known, trained together in what they called “l'art du placement”: a spectacular, regimented and controlled way of moving.

But that was at the turn of the 21st century. Now, parkour is a global phenomenon, with traceurs – those who practice parkour – running, jumping, climbing and rolling their way through cities around the world, and in places such as Gaza.

Appearances in Hollywood films and TV documentaries have boosted the profile of parkour, impressed millions with its grace and dynamism and given rise to a global movement of like-minded people, all wanting to learn how to move in these incredible ways.

Awesome. Image: Charlie Scott/creative commons.

Today, parkour is a recognised sport, with many institutions offering training camps and regular courses – some have even built specially-designed parkour “parks”. In just over a decade, it has gone from a niche activity – which many city officials regarded as anti-social – to an internationally recognised (not to mention, highly lucrative) sport.

Playful politics

Of course, parkour has always contained a political element. Like other “anti-social” urban activities which have been widely adopted across the globe, such as skateboarding and graffiti, parkour can still offer traceurs a sense of rebellion against “the establishment”. Indeed, some city authorities still seek to prosecute traceurs, while action-packed blockbuster films play up parkour’s more subversive side.

But in fact, the people who practice parkour are engaging in urban politics in a very playful way. This sport actively encourages people to see the city as a playground. Traceurs will often talk of having “parkour eyes”, which allow them to see the city as a child would: as a playground to explore rather than a system of containment.

Jumping over bollards, climbing up walls or rolling over concrete roofs; these spectacular movements show what the human body is capable of – but they also highlight how the city can be navigated in very different ways. In early films and videos, traceurs' spectacular physical movements are deliberately contrasted with parts of the city which are static, fixed and enclosed.

The freedom to move that parkour enables was, and still is, a fundamental part of its philosophy. It’s also what makes parkour inherently political. Moving across the city in ways that it wasn’t designed for is a liberating experience.

Parkour is very much a reaction to the increased restriction of movement in modern cities: it allows traceurs to rediscover their cities in an entirely new way, while also traversing architectural restrictions such as walls, fences and stair wells.

The politics of parkour are perhaps “softer” than other subcultures, such as skateboarding or graffiti, which have more subversive histories. In fact, there are plenty of comparisons to be drawn between parkour and martial art philosophies; particularly when it comes to practitioners' dedication to training the body and the mind.

But for all this, parkour is no less politically potent: it offers a way to highlight the city’s systems of control, by creatively navigating the urban environment.

A social network

What’s more, parkour is an inherently social activity. While most of the videos and images of parkour focus on individuals, traceurs actually train and practice together in groups. This social aspect is an important check on the temptation for self-promotion. They may gather in sanctioned parks (which often charge an entry fee), or more regularly in “hot spots”: urban spaces which inadvertently provide the perfect architecture.

Team sport. Image: AgenciaAndes/creative commons.

One such place was the Vauxhall Walls in London, which was a concrete garden for a nearby tower block. Despite residents continually asking traceurs to leave, the spot became one of London’s prime parkour locations. But in 2016, the site was “beautified” with landscape gardens and water features, and it is no longer suitable for practising parkour. This process feeds into other urban issues, such as gentrification – something London’s Southbank skateboarders have also had to contend with.

The social aspect of parkour extends beyond training, too. As well as scoping out sites and developing new moves, traceurs often film videos of each other that are posted online. The virtual community of parkour is hugely important. It enables the sport to spread to new locations, by allowing people to watch videos of traceurs from the other side of the world, connect with them and adopt or adapt their moves.

Freedom from oppression

Parkour gives people the chance to express a freedom of movement that pays little attention to the instructions of the city. It’s a highly social activity, which brings like-minded traceurs together and gives them a chance to be physically, but also politically active in their cities.

This is perhaps why it is flourishing in areas of the world that are under extreme social or political pressure. For example, there is a thriving parkour group among the disenfranchised youth of Gaza. And in Iran, where women’s rights are often oppressed, parkour is gaining huge popularity among female participants.

Parkour offers a way to actively engage in the city physically, emotionally and socially. It requires nothing more than a pair of hands, an able body (which of course, makes it inaccessible to some) and a willingness to explore the city beyond the one your told to behave in. Parkour is an inherently political practice.The Conversation

Oli Mould is a lecturer in human geography at Royal Holloway.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.



As EU funding is lost, “levelling up” needs investment, not just rhetoric

Oh, well. Image: Getty.

Regional inequality was the foundation of Boris Johnson’s election victory and has since become one of the main focuses of his government. However, the enthusiasm of ministers championing the “levelling up” agenda rings hollow when compared with their inertia in preparing a UK replacement for European structural funding. 

Local government, already bearing the brunt of severe funding cuts, relies on European funding to support projects that boost growth in struggling local economies and help people build skills and find secure work. Now that the UK has withdrawn its EU membership, councils’ concerns over how EU funds will be replaced from 2021 are becoming more pronounced.

Johnson’s government has committed to create a domestic structural funding programme, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), to replace the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF). However, other than pledging that UKSPF will “reduce inequalities between communities”, it has offered few details on how funds will be allocated. A public consultation on UKSPF promised by May’s government in 2018 has yet to materialise.

The government’s continued silence on UKSPF is generating a growing sense of unease among councils, especially after the failure of successive governments to prioritise investment in regional development. Indeed, inequalities within the UK have been allowed to grow so much that the UK’s poorest region by EU standards (West Wales & the Valleys) has a GDP of 68 per cent of the average EU GDP, while the UK’s richest region (Inner London) has a GDP of 614 per cent of the EU average – an intra-national disparity that is unique in Europe. If the UK had remained a member of the EU, its number of ‘less developed’ regions in need of most structural funding support would have increased from two to five in 2021-27: South Yorkshire, Tees Valley & Durham and Lincolnshire joining Cornwall & Isles of Scilly and West Wales & the Valley. Ministers have not given guarantees that any region, whether ‘less developed’ or otherwise, will obtain the same amount of funding under UKSPF to which they would have been entitled under ESIF.

The government is reportedly contemplating changing the Treasury’s fiscal rules so public spending favours programmes that reduce regional inequalities as well as provide value for money, but this alone will not rebalance the economy. A shared prosperity fund like UKSPF has the potential to be the master key that unlocks inclusive growth throughout the country, particularly if it involves less bureaucracy than ESIF and aligns funding more effectively with the priorities of local people. 

In NLGN’s Community Commissioning report, we recommended that this funding should be devolved to communities directly to decide local priorities for the investment. By enabling community ownership of design and administration, the UK government would create an innovative domestic structural funding scheme that promotes inclusion in its process as well as its outcomes.

NLGN’s latest report, Cultivating Local Inclusive Growth: In Practice, highlights the range of policy levers and resources that councils can use to promote inclusive growth in their area. It demonstrates that, through collaboration with communities and cross-sector partners, councils are already doing sterling work to enhance economic and social inclusion. Their efforts could be further enhanced with a fund that learns lessons from ESIF’s successes and flaws: a UKSPF that is easier to access, designed and delivered by local communities, properly funded, and specifically targeted at promoting social and economic inclusion in regions that need it most. “Getting Brexit done” was meant to free up the government’s time to focus once more on pressing domestic priorities. “Getting inclusive growth done” should be at the top of any new to-do list.

Charlotte Morgan is senior researcher at the New Local Government Network.