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Bring the X Games to Charlotte

by Decker Ngongang

June 7,2008

With everyone initiating a campaign to bring his or her favorite sport to the center city, I suggest we bring ESPN’s X Games skateboard competition to uptown Charlotte. If we can effectively embrace skateboard and street culture within this big suburb called Charlotte, maybe we can bring some creative balance to uptown and change the way we engage the many young people living here.

There is little doubt that we have built an amazing city which has buildings and potential as high as the sky they point towards; yet our next big battle is not building anything new, but spicing things up to provide the needed context for creativity and personal expression that will allow us to embrace the many unique and talented young people who come here for school or work. The X Games in Charlotte would be a bold statement about how we embrace youth culture and would show other big cities that we are “as cool as you are.”

Years ago Philadelphia hosted the ESPN X Games and that event provided a huge boost to the economy and the culture of the city. The creative, entrepreneurial spirit that birthed the sport provided coolness that the city has enjoyed long after the event left. In all the hype about bringing baseball uptown and whether the Bobcats have helped the center city, I think we could use a shot in the arm that would affirm our commitment to the underground creative community that exists in the shadows of our city; specifically, the skateboarding and street culture whose home base is ironically situated just outside the mainstream (Tryon St.): the Camden Avenue corridor right outside of uptown. Bringing to the forefront the popularity of this culture and embracing it through this large event can bring a good healthy edge to a “comfortable and sometimes bland city.”

I used to live in NODA and I saw how the growth of the creative infrastructure of the community helped the city become a lot more conscious of creativity and embracing of its elements. Much like the current arts community, the Street/Skateboard culture is an intergenerational one. It is as much about fashion, music, and art as it is about coasting down the street on a skateboard. It thrives on creativity and empowers participants to create their own visions of cool.

Perhaps partly due to this focus on individual creativity, skateboarding has become an important part of international arts culture in the past years. I often visit the Skate/Street culture shops like Flava Factory, Niche and Blacksheep in South End. Not only are they stores, but more and more they are transforming into an art gallery, a DJ booth, or a community center for groups of kids who skateboard around town.

The power of this culture is something that can unite the impressive student population of this area. So many young people complain about a city built to entertain bankers. Aside from academic reasons, many students choose a school based on its proximity to culture, entertainment and cool places. Uptown Charlotte and the surrounding areas are growing more affluent, but losing a lot of the authentic culture that has attracted many young people to the area.

The growing focus on the creation and support of "student retention" programs in Charlotte will benefit from being able to point to cool, hip opportunities for young people influenced by our efforts to support this culture. Though I would love to have the X Games, this is more about supporting a growing lifestyle that will provide young people the opportunity to achieve professionally and academically, but also whet their appetite of creativity.

Skateboarding culture has become a predominant cultural aesthetic and a recreational activity for many of our community’s creative and energetic people. The City of Charlotte has managed so many things about our growth successfully. Perhaps our next big challenge is empowering the skater dudes and creative folks who live next door to make Charlotte cool.

Let’s capitalize upon a golden opportunity to recognize and retain this talented and vital creative class in our city and let them show us how to be a cooler, more hip place… skateboards and all.

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