The latest edition of Ecological Urbanism is terrible doorstop. The first edition is 655 pages, smells good, weighs 2kg and keeps most of my other books in their place. Despite its strengths, it can’t do video… something the latest version on the book can do. The original hardback book by Mohsen Mostafavi and Gareth Doherty features hundreds of photos that I took while walking across Mexico City, Mumbai and London for Urban Earth, a project in urban exploration that I started in 2008. Out today, the new version splits the book into digestible chapters and includes over 15,000 photographs within the 3 Urban Earth films that I made by taking pictures every 8 steps while crossing these massive cities. You’ll find the films in volume 2, Anticipate, and are accompanied by a short piece of text that Kye Askins and I wrote. I’m delighted to see the films come to life in the book. I hope you enjoy it.
The Ecological Urbanism project has a Facebook page that you can follow here.
I’m currently planning to take Seb (my 9-year-old son) on a series of adventures to explore Britain. I would love to know where you think we should go and what we should do.
Is there a fantastic place that we should discover or an adventurous way of getting away that we should try? Is there a story or a creature that we should find? Where could we have the very best of experiences?
Please do share an idea or two with me. Many thanks.
A good friend, Brendon McConnell, shared The Rapha Continental films with me this morning. We’d been chatting about a small adventure I went on this weekend with Seb (my son) to go hill rolling beside the Uffington White Horse. 110 metres long and around 3000 years old, it’s a great place to roll down ancient hills and to top it off, the landscape itself is called ‘rolling downland’. It was actually a confused conversation because Brendon was thinking about the Westbury White Horse in Wiltshire (a baby in comparison at just over 200 years old) that features in this film by Rapha, who make clothing for cyclists.
There is a whole series of poetic and beautifully made videos that manage to record and represent different senses of places. This film of the Icknield Way, including the Westbury White Horse, contrasts country with urban life so strongly that I actually felt a physical reaction when I watched it. These videos are such great examples of the importance of place(s) in our lives, and how exploration can deepen our understanding and enjoyment of them.
Can you imagine living for a month entirely on things that can only be found within a day’s walk of your home? This is what Jess Allen did over the last month and I’ll be asking her why she did this on Twitter tomorrow night.
Jess describes herself as a “stereotypical dreadlocked-vegetarian-eco-feminist-environmentalist-caravan/yurt-dwelling aerial dancer, walking artist and academic hedgesprite with a horse” She’s currently doing a second PhD in performance, developing the practice of tracktivism with a President’s Doctoral Scholarship from the University of Manchester.
I’ll be asking Jess some questions about her work and experiences on Twitter using the hashtag #guerrillageography from 8pm (London time) tomorrow. I hope you can join us.
A couple of days ago I asked a few people on Urban Earth and Twitter if they would be interested in taking part in #Urban100, a project that I’m calling an open expedition because it’s going to last a year and anyone can join in. The idea is simple, to collaboratively explore urban places by taking 100 photographs over a 500 metre walk. Using the same stop-motion approach that I used in the Urban Earth films we’ll be able to create films that zoom through the urban landscapes, creating a unique representation of our urban habitats.
We’ve asked that all photos submitted #Urban100 are under a creative commons license so that anyone can edit their own versons of the films.
So far collaborators have said that they’ll be doing #Urban100 explorations in Bristol, Bangkok, London, Glasgow, Falmouth, Toulouse, Porto and Edinburgh with more being added and suggested all the time.
Being an explorer is inherently risky. Asking questions and venturing into the unknown is fraught with dangers, but by overcoming our fears we create seemingly endless opportunities to learn about ourselves and the world around us. Danger is a relative term though. Our perception, knowledge and understanding of “hazards”, our ability to asses and mitigate their risks as well as our motivations for (not) overcoming them vary massively between each and everyone of us. What feels like a comfortable walk in the (world’s largest national) park to one person can feel highly adventurous for another.
This sense of relativity is what convinces me that we are all explorers who go to extremes and accomplish death defying acts (from the likes of this and this). Your extremes may not be to venture to the Earth’s freezing poles, but in our everyday lives we perform experimental and extreme acts that put at risk our jobs, relationships, time and money. My latest gamble was on Sex and the City 2. Despite my best risk assessment I ended up losing part of my life to that film, something I’ll be mourning for days to come.
We are all explorers and as we venture through our life-journeys the best things we can do to increase our chances of survival are to trust aggregated review sites and to learn some basic first aid. I think this video from St Johns Ambulance is extremely powerful.
Getting on a First Aid course is a great idea. If you’ve got a smart phone then I highly recommend this app by the British Red Cross. It’s one of the best ways to become a death-defying explorer, like me.
I’m always fascinated to discover the reasons why explorers and adventurers do what they do. In November Ben Saunders (@PolarBen) gave a TED Talk in which he described his amazing solo trek across the Arctic (from Siberia to Canada) and explained his main reason for the journey.
“One of the magical things about this journey however is that because I’m walking over the sea, over this floating, drifting, shifting crust of ice that’s floating on the surface of the arctic ocean is that it’s an environment in a constant state of flux. The ice is always moving, breaking-up, drifting around, re-freezing.. so the scenery that I saw for nearly 3 months was unique to me. No one else will ever, could ever, possibly see the vistas that I saw for 10 weeks and that, I guess, is the finest argument for leaving the house.”
Ben’s story is inspirational and his reason for leaving the house is certainly captivating, but I’m not convinced that the exclusivity of experience or sole ownership of it are the best reasons to explore. No doubt taking such an extreme trek is geographically (in location, distance, scale, environment and human isolation) beyond what most people would do, but surely no one else will ever, could ever, possibly see the same vistas for any period of time? Growing trees, moving cars, changing window displays, rotating kebabs and dogs running in the park are all always changing and so are our gazes and our opinions. If the finest argument for leaving the house is to have a unique experience, all we have to do is be semi-conscious of the fact our experience is unique. We don’t have to travel to the ends of the Earth to have sole ownership of our experiences on it.
That said, I’m curious about the reasons why, as a tourist, traveller, explorer or simply someone bothering to leave the house, I enjoy a place or event because I’m the only one who has experienced it compared to experiences that are, to some degree, shared. When does sharing heighten, intensify or improve and when does it dilute, obstruct and corrupt? Clearly is depends entirely on the situation.
I enjoy the music festival scene in the UK and go to several major events each year. Something that’s often described is a tipping point where the festival organisers have sold too many tickets and the community feel of the event is lost. In the case of Glastonbury, the UK’s biggest festival, the organiser’s themselves have complained of there being an imbalance in the age of their audience… it’s ageing. Those who have been going to Glastonbury for sometime often complain that it’s become too big and too mainstream. That said, the feeling of being part of a massive drifting, shifting and moving crowd is often just as important as the band on stage. Everyone who is present creates the geography of the moment, the atmosphere that creates the place and so the destination that everyone has come for. Are these camping festival survivalists who brave the elements to enjoy this unique location any less an explorer because what they seek is music together rather than snow alone? I don’t think so.
We are all explorers, or as the poet Kate Tempest (@katetempest) would say, we are the Brand New Ancients.
I love this short film by the Light Surgeons.
I’m looking forward to speaking at a National Geographic event at the Wellcome Collection tonight ahead of the 125th anniversary of the organisation. The evening for commercial supporters of National Geographic in the UK is called the “New Age of Exploration”. In my short presentation I plan to (re)frame what ‘geography’ is (much like in this recent interview with Geographical Magazine) and then touch on an ‘exploration revolution’ that is taking place. Technology is not only changing how we conceive, plan, organise, conduct, share and review our explorations, but the number of people who can engage in them.
I love this short video by ito! showing four years of edits on Open Street Map. It’s an awesome example of collaborative and open exploration that involved over 750,000 registered users and shows collaboration at its best. For me, some of the most exciting cartographic ‘events’ in this video are where sparks of activity appear in countries, regions and neighbourhoods that were otherwise left uncharted or unpublished by governments and other organisations. It all demonstrates that places are not just discovered once, they can be discovered and rediscovered millions of times as they change and new people and other animals visit them. It’s a video that shows an Exploration Revolution that you are unavoidably part of…
…when your exploring on a skateboard.