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“But what a strange geography lesson I was given!”

-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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“Volatile and extraordinary … a gonzo road trip.” – Robert Macfarlane, Guardian

You might wonder what a 50+ year old armchair explorer like me, someone who’s passionate about unearthing the secret history of an old narrow boat, or making connections between time and place and people, would find exciting about a book about a very modern phenomenon – urban exploration (UE) – or ‘place hacking’.

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Well, Bradley Garrett’s Explore Everything succeeds in throwing a spotlight into a secret world I’d previously only vaguely been aware of and it’s a world I suspect 30 years ago I’d have rather liked to have been part of, swopping my years of rural caving for Urban Exploring.

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I don’t suppose now that I’ll ever know what it feels like to find the city’s edge, or to explore its tunnels and scale skyscrapers high above the metropolis. Happily, Bradley L. Garrett, has done it and recasts the city as a place for endless adventure.

For many, urban exploration is a quest for a more personal sense of the past, one that has been steeped in the present – a kind of history work that resists nostalgia. Like related activities such as parkour, skateboarding and street art, urban exploration is about temporarily occupying and reimagining the spaces of the city. p8

He invites us to critically engage with questions around the public and private, increased surveillance and control over our urban environments and offers us a radically new way of perceiving space and the cities that we live in.

It might be assumed that every inch of the world has been explored and charted; that there is nowhere new to go.

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But perhaps it’s the everyday places around us – the cities and towns that we live in – that need to be rediscovered? Perhaps the extraordinary is right there in front of our eyes and all around us – if only we look up and see it?

The kind of knowledge and experiences that urban explorers seek and find, hidden in plain sight, is exciting, empowering and ultimately has less to do with fetishising the aesthetics of decay or embarrassing forces of social control, and more to do with creating a new type of relationship with place, one not offered but taken. Urban exploration is an effort to connect in a meaningful way to a work rendered increasingly mundane by commercial interests and an endless state of ‘heightened’ security. p240

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Plotting expeditions from London, Paris, Berlin, Detroit, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Bradley L. Garrett has evaded urban security in order to experience the city in ways beyond the boundaries of conventional life. He calls it ‘place hacking’: the recoding of closed, secret, hidden and forgotten urban space to make them realms of opportunity.

Urban explorers are interested in quarrying spontaneous finds through embodied experiences in derelict and abandoned places to create a new location, they become one of the ingredients of the mixture of the place, melding themselves into its fabric and capturing transitional moments within it. p64

Explore Everything is an account of the author’s escapades with the London Consolidation Crew, an urban exploration collective. The book is also a manifesto, combining philosophy, politics and adventure, on our rights to the city and how to understand the twenty-first century metropolis.

These are some of the things that are uncovered through the little cracks we can pry open: pictures, personal notes, clothing, toys, computers, tools, furniture and equipment. […] The cracks we can access them through – what urban explorer Michael Cook has called ‘vanishing points’ – reveal a city less as a solid entity and more as a collection of fluctuating particles constantly swirling as people attempt to stall the natural collapse and decay of the built environment. p32

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Don’t be put off by the espionage-style cover, or the sometimes over-academicised writing style, there’s verve and adventure between the covers of Explore Everything and snug in the safety of your own warm duvet it’s a thought-provoking and challenging read. And if the text becomes too much, well the images that illustrate the book are stunning!

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Reviews:

“It’s hard not to admire these explorers. Or Garrett himself, who says he wrote part of the book on a laptop while sitting in a crane overlooking Aldgate East.” – Sukhdev Sandhu, The Financial Times

“A no-nonsense, high-adrenaline, fast-twitch report that requires us to think about the city in new ways. This is a provocative challenge to received dogma. An inspiration to get out there, to go over the fence. To see with our own eyes.” – Iain Sinclair, author of London Orbital

“Urban exploration is… a way of renegotiating reality, transforming the moment, turning the city into a video game. Except that, in this game, you only have one life.” – Evening Standard

“For Garrett, physical exploration is merely the outward manifestation of a deeper philosophical inquiry. The theoretical DNA of much of his work traces back to the concept of “psychogeography.” – GQ Magazine

Further Reading:

If you’d like to see know more just put the words ‘urban exploration’ or ‘place hacking’ into a search engine or have a look at any of the following…

52 breathtaking images of ‘forbidden places’
placehacking.co.uk
bradleygarrett.com
Review in rumpus.net
Review in review 31.co.uk
Robert Macfarlane article in The Guardian


Crack the Surface Episode 1. A Short Documentary focusing on the Culture of Urban Exploring


Crack the Surface Episode 2.

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One thought on “Book Review: ‘Explore Everything – Place-Hacking the City’ by Bradley L. Garrett

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