Tagcities

Long Article on Urban Exploration (Urbex)

urban exploration

Matthew Power on the urbex subculture:

Despite his scholarly bona fides—his doctoral work in geography at Royal Holloway, University of London had garnered wide acclaim—Garrett scarcely looks the part of an academic, neither tweedy nor fusty. Thirty-two years old, with a trimmed goatee and a mop of straight brown hair hanging over black plastic frames, he grew up in Southern California and ran a skate shop before deciding to pursue a doctorate. His face, which is frequently lit up in mischievous, eyebrow-raised delight, still bears the pocks of over a dozen piercings he dispensed with in the interests of maintaining some veneer of academic respectability.

But it was his doctoral research itself that was perhaps most punk rock. 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.

Full Story: GQ: Excuse Us While We Kiss The Sky

(via Wayne)

See also:

Garrett’s thesis

Garrett’s site, Placehacking

Previous urbex stories on Technoccult.

First Algae Powered Building Goes Up In Germany

world's first algae powered building

From the press release:

A 15-unit apartment building has been constructed in the German city of Hamburg that has 129 algae filled louvered tanks hanging over the exterior of the south-east and south-west sides of the building—making it the first in the world to be powered exclusively by algae. Designed by Arup, SSC Strategic Science Consultants and Splitterwerk Architects, and named the Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) House, the building demonstrates the ability to use algae as a way to heat and cool large buildings.

Full Story: PhysOrg: First Algae Powered Building Goes Up In Hamburg

See also: Are Algae the DIY Answer to Fuel & Food Crises?

Kowloon Walled City Infographic

Now this is the sort of infographic I can get into:

Kowloon Walled City, located not far from the former Kai Tak Airport, was a remarkable high-rise squatter camp that by the 1980s had 50,000 residents. A historical accident of colonial Hong Kong, it existed in a lawless vacuum until it became an embarrassment for Britain. This month marks the 20th anniversary of its demolition.

From: South China Morning Post

(via Adam Greenfield)

Previously:

TAZ History: Kowloon Walled City

Video: Kowloon Walled City Documentary

Counterterrorism Agency: Urban Exploration Helps Terrorism

Some Places Know All the Right Things to Say

Spencer Ackerman writes:

Some people are into spelunking through the urban ruins and crevasses of unfamiliar cities. The National Counterterrorism Center has a term for these sorts of people: terrorist dupes.

“Urban Explorers (UE) — hobbyists who seek illicit access to transportation and industrial facilities in urban areas — frequently post photographs, video footage, and diagrams on line [sic] that could be used by terrorists to remotely identify and surveil potential targets,” warns the nation’s premiere all-source center for counterterrorism analysis. […]

Urban exploration is not typically the reconnaissance mission of al-Qaida. While it’s not crazy to think that terrorists might be interested in studying an urban landscape, the vanishingly few cases of domestic terrorism in the post-9/11 era typically involved shooting up places like Fort Hood or leaving a would-be car bomb in Times Square, rather than recon from the top of a bridge or the depths of a subway tunnel. Such tips aren’t even a part of the DIY terrorism advice column in al-Qaida’s English-language webzine.

Full Story: Wired Danger Room: Urban Exploration Helps Terrorism, Counterterrorism Agency Warns

Previously:

Crack the Surface: Free Documentary Series on Urban Exploration

Government Proposes to Forbid London Urban Explorers From Speaking To Each Other for 10 Years

Photo: Nick Fisher / CC

Thomassons: Hyperart In Urban Space

a Thomasson

What is a Thomasson?

Have you ever seen … say, a telephone pole which no longer carries a line, but still stands on the sidewalk? Or maybe you’ve seen a second story doorway in the outside wall of a building that didn’t lead to a landing — or to much of anything — anymore. Ever seen a “stairway to heaven,” a staircase that goes nowhere, or awalkway that ends abruptly in midair? These are Thomassons.

More: Hyperart Thomassson Index Form

(via Interdome)

Technoccult Interview: Psychopomp Author Amanda Sledz

Cover of Psychopomp by Amanda Sledz

Amanda Sledz

In her series Psychopomp, author Amanda Sledz takes a literary approach to writing about urban shamanism, magical thinking, tarot, telepathy and other themes usually reserved for the fantasy genre. The series follows four characters: Meena, a woman who has experienced a break with reality; her parents, Frank and Esther; and Lola, a teenager who is becoming a shaman whether she wants to or not.

The first book in the series, Psychopomp Volume One: Cracked Plate, explores mental illness, empathy, our differing experiences of place, immigration and cultural identity, and the way our experience of family shapes our identity — without resorting to the cliches of genre fiction or descending into boring academic prose.

Amanda was raised in Cleveland and now lives in Portland, OR. She is self-publishing Psychopomp, but her work has appeared eFiction Horror and various small literary magazines. You can also check out some of Amanda’s works in progress on her site.

An excerpt from the first installment is here. You can buy the book from Amanda here, from Powells Books or from Amazon here.

I recently caught-up with her to talk about Psychopomp, self-publishing and more.

Klint Finley: I understand you wrote a first draft of the first book in college — can you walk us through how the book evolved?

Amanda Sledz: I started working on it during my last semester of graduate school. I’d finished the entirety of an MFA in nonfiction writing, and thought I’d try my hand at fiction before escaping the clutches of academentia. There were a lot of subjects that I wrote about in my master’s thesis that were perceived as being unbelievable, because magical thinking as a means of interacting with hardship was described as a natural way of operating. The tone of the thesis (which was a memoir) became very self-conscious, with the over-awareness of the audience that’s required for decent nonfiction writing. I found myself longing to write something uncorked that still utilized the same themes.

I finished the first draft, which consisted of a shorter version of each section, very quickly. The editing and perfecting and development of repetition took a long, long time.

I abandoned it after wrangling it and getting sections of it published in small literary magazines. Then just over a year ago I was cleaning off my hard drive and thought doing nothing with it would be a waste.

And, in a way, as Grant Morrison might say I had myself locked in a hypersigil. I’m fairly certain my writing career would be permanently stalled if I didn’t let it escape.

Continue reading

Transhumanist Urbanism GURPS Supplement Co-Written by Anders Sandberg

Transhuman Space: Cities on the Edge

Transhuman Space: Cities on the Edge is a supplement for GURPS and Transhuman Space written by Waldemar Ingdahl and legendary transhumanist Anders Sandberg. It’s meant to be a legitimate piece of futurism in addition to being an RPG supplement:

Tomorrow’s towns in Transhuman Space have certainly evolved from eras past, and there’s no doubt that they’re still vibrant, exciting places. Cities on the Edge is your guide to the dangers and delights to be discovered downtown.

Written by noted transhumanist and futurist Anders Sandberg, with science journalist Waldemar Ingdahl, this gigantic guidebook includes:

  • A tour of cities in 2100, from an overview of what they are and have become, to a look at what makes the towns of tomorrow tick. Unearth the allies and enemies of urban areas. Learn how police, health, disaster management, transport, and trade in the cities of Transhuman Space work. Discover how they’re run, and what happens when it all goes wrong . . .
  • A look at the bleeding edge of advanced architecture. Ultra-modern metropolises include mile-high skyscrapers, giant arcologies, biological buildings, high-density communications, and more!
  • Insight into urban culture: gray-collar crime, animated graffiti, urban AIs, self-configuring hotels, and other elements that make downtown dynamic.
  • A huge worked example: Stockholm in 2100! Visit the capital of Sweden, where eco-engineers discuss the restoration of the Baltic in trendy bistros run by Russian refugees; surrendering your privacy is so last year; and flaunting your naked brain in public is the height of fashion.
  • A sample scenario: “In the Walls,” a murder mystery that centers on Stockholm. Whodunit, and how?

The future is a foreign country, and there’s perhaps no better place to witness the wonders of the world than by visiting the grandest of the global villages. With Cities on the Edge, you’re at the center of excitement!

(via Justin Pickard)

I’m told Sandberg has contributed to a number of RPGs over the years.

See also: Indie Game Designers Luke Crane and Jared Sorensen on Transhumanist RPG FreeMarket

Turning Cell Phones into Urban Supercomputers

Giant cell phone

Another one from me at ReadWriteWeb:

One of the primary ideas behind IBM’s Smarter Planet concept is a web of sensors all over the planet, leading to a data explosion. But what if that web of sensors was more directly under the public’s control? Strategic forecast consultant Chris Arkbenberg hits on an interesting idea in a recent blog post. He muses on the idea of using mobile phones for grid computing, a la  SETI@home, to create massive distributed supercomputers for processing all of this data. “Consider the processing power latent across a city of 20 million mobile subscribers, such as Tokyo,” he writes.

Arkenberg takes the idea further by suggesting that sensors could be built into mobile phones that could monitor air quality or act as a sort of distributed surveillance system. The possibilities are endless. “Consider what could be done with an API for addressing clusters of mobile sensors,” he writes.

ReadWriteCloud: Turning Cell Phones into Urban Supercomputers

See also:

My interview with Chris Arkenberg

Green Cities and the Urban Operating System

Photo by Daryl Mitchell

Long, New Interview with Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock

In contrast to the rural decencies of Tolkien, Moorcock’s writing belongs to an urban tradition, which celebrates the fantastical city as a place of chance and mystery. The wondrous spaces of M John Harrison, China Miéville, Fritz Leiber, Gene Wolfe and Alan Moore are all part of this, as are Iain Sinclair’s London, Judge Dredd’s Mega-City One, the part-virtual cyberpunk mazes of William Gibson and the decadent Paris of the Baudelarian flâneur. Like these other urban fantasists, Moorcock delights in a kind of sublime palimpsest, in imagining an environment that through size, age, scale or complexity exceeds our comprehension, producing fear and awe. Crucially, the city isn’t a place of moral clarity.

Moorcock’s dislike of authoritarian sentiment has led him in many directions: Jerry Cornelius’s ambiguity is sexual, social and even ontological; one of Moorcock’s most popular heroes, Elric, was written as a rebuke to the bluff, muscular goody-goodies that populate so much fantasy fiction. Elric, a decadent albino weakling, is amoral, perhaps even evil. As a not-so-metaphorical junkie, Elric allowed Moorcock to revel in unwholesomeness, and helped return fantasy to its roots in the late romanticism of the decadents, a literary school close to Moorcock’s heart. In a recent introduction to The Dancers at the End of Time, which is set in a decadent far future, Moorcock claims to have sported Wildean green carnations as a teenager, not to mention “the first pair of Edwardian flared trousers (made by Burton) as well as the first high-button frock coat to be seen in London since 1910″. Elric, much less robust than his creator, who admits his dandyish threads gave him “the bluff domestic air of a Hamburg Zeppelin commander”, is part Maldoror, part Yellow Book poseur and part William Burroughs; within a few years of his first appearance in 1961, British culture suddenly seemed to be producing real-life Elrics by the dozen, as Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and others defined an image of the English rock star as an effeminate, velvet-clad lotus-eater. Moorcock was very popular among musicians, and it’s tempting to see him as co-creator of the butterfly-on-a-wheel character, which still wanders the halls of English culture in guises ranging from Sebastian Horsley to Russell Brand. I ask him whether he felt at the time that the 60s rockers were living out a role he’d imagined. He’s too modest to agree, but tells an anecdote that seems to sum up psychedelic London’s openness to fantasy of all kinds. “I’m in the Mountain grill on the Portobello Road, where everyone used to meet to get on the tour buses. I’m sitting there, and this bloke called Geronimo is trying to sell me some dope. He says ‘have you heard about the tunnel under Ladbroke Grove?’. He starts to elaborate, about how it’s under the Poor Clares nunnery, and you can go into that and come out in an entirely different world. I said to him, ‘Geronimo, I think I wrote that’. It didn’t seem to bother him much.”

The Guardian: When Hari Kunzru met Michael Moorcock

Richard Florida = Lyle Lanley

Lyle Lanley

Willy Staley writes:

The Plot: Springfield comes into a few million dollars from Montgomery Burns, who had been fined by the EPA for dumping nuclear waste in city parks. At a town hall meeting to decide what to do with the funds, Marge suggests they fix up Main Street, and the people of Springfield appear ready to agree on that, until Lyle Lanley steps in from nowhere and sings a song about the benefits of a monorail. Long story short, Lanley sells Springfield a faulty monorail and skips town with the profits. It turns out—like Florida—that he had been doing his song-and-dance routine all over the country.

Now I am not suggesting Florida went from town to town deliberately scamming people just like Lanley did (MacGillis stops just short of doing so). But, his product—shiny and new as it is—simply isn’t a fit for every community, just like Lanley’s monorail.

As MacGillis points out, a “tautology lies at the heart of Florida’s theory that has limited its instructive value all along: Creative people seek out places that draw a lot of creative people.” Worse yet, Florida is now admitting that this is true, and by doing so, he “has now taken this closed-loop argument to another level by declaring that henceforth, the winners’ club is closed to new entrants.” And yet before taking this stance, Florida spent years selling his brand of economic development to places like Elmira, New York and Sackville, New Brunswick.

Next American City: Richard Florida’s Monorail

Staley goes on to cite approvingly Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft on economic development.

My thoughts on Florida, and his rival Joel Kotkin, are here and here.

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