DANS LA RUE: Paris Urban Youth Culture


In France it seems that there's no question whether skating is hip hop.  B-boy competitions mix with BMX contests, Nas rhymes while Saint Denis youth grind.  Paris' skatepark at Bercy is just another iteration of this intertwining culture. 

Here the energy of young skaters is matched by raw Paris graffiti blanketing every available surface.  A skater's explosive aerial tricks compete for your attention with a graff writer's eye-popping aerosol colors.

Lying at the edge of Bercy's tranquil park and in the shadow of its Palais Omnisports, the skatepark is easy to overlook.  But once there, you become completely enmeshed in the grittiness of street culture.  It's impossible to focus your senses anywhere else.

Graffeur Jen, whom I met at Les Frigos, first told me about the skatepark, telling me it's another major place for writers to get up.  On the cold, dank afternoon I visited, I ran into PESCA who was in the middle of going over someone else's tag on the main wall.  Apparently, on these walls, there's no police intervention or fear of repercussion from rival writers. 

Bercy Skatepark in the early days, before it was graffitified
It's only when you go over someone on the illegal walls that you may run into problems.  It's like honor among vandals, rules that govern illegal activity.  At the park, it's all fair game.

Behind him, 8 or more skaters and skateboarders casually hit the ramps, taking smoke breaks in between tricks, chatting it up with their friends or their dog.  It felt more like a chill session than a training one.  They were young, mostly high school age, and the park was their hang out spot.

Ironically, Bercy is the site of the oldest known human occupation in Paris, dating back to 4000 BC.  In recent decades Paris has revitalized the area, transforming it into a commercial center and the home of the Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Industry. 

Yet nestled at its corner is this haven from any of that, a detached shelter for the city's expressive youth.  But perhaps that's the point, to draw the skaters and graff writers here and away from the public, keeping them off the city's beloved architecture.  Rather than police them, enable them.

It's history is unclear to me, but I do know the park has been around since at least 2006.  It was also temporarily closed in 2007 as they constructed a roof for it, providing a vital place for youth even during the crappiest of weather (much like this week's when I visited).

So there I sat with PESCA at the top of a skate ramp.  He told me how Paris writers stick to bubble and block letters mostly, some 3D, but rarely wild style.  I asked if he's ever been to New York, and he expressed that he wants to but like other writers here, he spends too much money smoking. 

During the conversation, one of the inline skaters sped up the ramp.  When he reached the summit, he launched into the air like a rocket and somersaulted over our heads.  Unphased, PESCA carried on as if nothing happened while I was still sweating for my life.  Here, the graff writers are used to the skaters.  To them it's all the same.

PESCA and TULE get up
04/12/2013 6:52am

Thank you so much for sharing such impressive article here about the urban life in Paris. The advancement in the living style demands a change in the culture and trend among the youths especially. I appreciate your effort to share this message around the world.

09/05/2013 10:58pm

Took the day off and was just reading up some blogs and thought I would post here

09/08/2013 9:28pm

For me, skateboarding is something I enjoy watching, but don't very much enjoy participating in.


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    Brian is a writer, dancer, activist, and general hip hop head from New York City. He is currently working towards his Master's in Global Communications in Paris.  


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