GQ Goes ‘Place Hacking’
Travel Blog • Eva Holland • 03.14.13 | 8:01 AM ET
In GQ, Matthew Power goes on an epic, multi-day, two-nation ride-along with a band of London-based “urban explorers”—a thriving subculture of folks who illicitly climb public buildings, plumb the depths of city sewer systems, and otherwise challenge our notions of public space. The unlikely leader of Power’s crew is Dr. Brad Garrett, who’s completed a PhD on the phenomenon:
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. They had commandeered (and accidentally derailed) an underground train of the now defunct Mail Rail, which once delivered the Royal Mail along a 23-mile circuit beneath London. They had pried open the blast doors of the Burlington bunker, a disused 35-acre subterranean Cold War-era complex that was to house the British government in the event of nuclear Armageddon. 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.
The catch-all term for these space-invading activities is “Urbex,” and in recent years it has grown as a global movement, from Melbourne to Minneapolis to Minsk. The Urbex ethos was, in theory, low-impact: no vandalism, no theft, take only photographs; as one practitioner put it, “a victimless crime.”
Read the whole thing. And don’t miss the slideshow that shares the unusual views urban explorers are privy to.