Place Hackers Explore Urban Space to Reclaim It

Matthew Power profiles Bradley L. Garrett, Ph.D. and his "research subjects," who are active participants in the urban explorer movement, which aims to "rediscover, reappropriate, and reimagine the urban landscape."
Pierre-Henry Muller / Wikimedia Commons

As Power explains, Garrett has a close relationship with his academic research. "His dissertation in human geography, which he had defended the previous year, was entitled 'Place Hacking.' The title came from his argument that physical space is coded just like the operating system of a computer network, and it could be hacked—explored, infiltrated, re-coded—in precisely the same ways."

"He conducted a deep ethnographic study of a small crew of self-described 'urban explorers' who over several years had infiltrated an astonishing array of off-limits sites above and below London and across Europe: abandoned Tube stations, uncompleted skyscrapers, World War II bomb shelters, derelict submarines, and half-built Olympic stadiums. . . .The London crew's objective, as much as any of them could agree on one, was to rediscover, reappropriate, and reimagine the urban landscape in what is perhaps the most highly surveilled and tightly controlled city on earth."

Not only is Garrett an observer of "Urbex" - as the urban explorer movement is called - he's an active participant. "He sees this kind of unsanctioned reclamation of space as the best means to regain freedom in a society that is utterly cordoned and securitized. He carries sheets of stickers that read explore everything, which he affixes as a sort of calling card everywhere he goes."

Power tags along with Garrett and his "project participants" as they explore off-limits sites in London and Paris.

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