Controlled spaces: my feature on urban exploration and the privatised city

I'm thrilled to be included amongst some sterling writers in the new issue of Arc magazine, Forever Alone Drone, discussing how urban exploration can act as a foil to the increasingly restrictive environment of cities. Public spaces are being sold off to private owners at an alarming rate, who can prohibit entirely legal behaviours and even exclude entire groups of people. In the future, simply getting from A to B might require a set of skills that currently only a few brave pioneers possess. Here's a short extract:

Elevators can be hijacked with triangular lift keys and sent to hidden floors, such as the penthouse flats atop luxury hotels.

Alarm systems can be disarmed. A juice bottle cut into pieces can coax open the deadlocks on fire exits. A thin layer of UV paint left on a keypad will reveal the code when you return a week later. Locks can be picked. That takes time, but once you succeed, the lock can be stripped from the other side and all but a single pin removed, leaving it functional but easily picked on a return visit. A key that opens one door can be reversed-engineered into a master key for the whole building with nothing more than a few blanks and a hand file.

All this makes real security enormously expensive and time-consuming to achieve. The pretense of it is almost as effective and far simpler. And the more obedient the society, the simpler it is. Sites in Asia are often secured by nothing more than a knee-high fence. “We feel it’s wrong to be on property that isn’t ours,” says Snaps. “In Thailand, I was caught by a cop. The simple act of stepping over that fence infuriated him, because we’d dared to go somewhere we weren’t supposed to.”

It’s intriguing that the comparatively liberal UK bristles with stern warnings, razor-wire fences and omnipresent cameras. Perhaps such measures are needed to keep a less tractable population on the straight and narrow. “If shit was going down, if there was a genuine mass protest, or if something like the 2011 riots really did get truly out of hand, the social compliance side of things would fall apart,” Snaps says. “And then people would see that the security was an illusion – that the city is a sieve.”

Included are interviews with some brilliant urban explorers - snaps of Adventure Worldwide, Moses Gates, author of Hidden Cities, and Steve Duncan of Undercity, and smart insights from Matthew Varnham, a legal observer with the Occupy movement.

Forever Alone Drone is on sale now.



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The on sale link doesn't work for me. Which is a shame.