Tag Archives: infrastructure

Opening Spatial Secrets and Closed Spaces: Urban Exploration

by Fiona Ferbrache

Urban exploration 0001Robert Macfarlane (author of The Old Ways and other adventures on foot) focused his attention on Urban Exploration last month with an article in The Guardian.  Macfarlane’s piece opens as “a guide for the uninitiated”; a little like a job application with a list of essential criteria for those wishing to pepper pot manoeuvre the architecture and materiality of urban spaces.  Following Macfarlane through a “strange world of urban exploration”, the reader is introduced to a land of porous infrastructure where spaces deemed to be closed off, secret and securitised are opened up by the urban explorer.

Geographers reading Macfarlane’s article may decipher urban exploration as a critical engagement with space.  For example, he writes that “the usual constraints of urban motion, whether enforced by physical barriers or legal convention” do not necessarily restrict the urban explorer.  In another way, street level is interpreted as “a  median altitude” in urban exploration, as accessible spaces penetrate downwards through sewers, bunkers and tunnels, and upwards via skyscrapers and cranes.  Perhaps this is proper space exploration as well as urban exploration?

Macfarlane is guided through his urban initiation by experienced explorer (and geographer) Bradley Garrett.  From Macfarlane’s conversational introduction to urban exploration, readers can gain a more theoretical perspective from Garrett (2013) in an early view TIBG paper.  Here, Garrett refers to urban exploration as “recreational trespass” and explores explicitly some of the challenges to spatial engagements that are implied by Macfarlane: “urban exploration as a practice that speaks directly to past and present debates around space, place, subversion, surveillance, community and urban life within geography” (p.2).

The two articles are written for different audiences, thus offering young geographers useful insights to purposeful writing.  For the more experienced geographer, Garrett’s paper sets up urban exploration in the context of political action, and will be of further interest to those concerned with deep ethnographies.  For explorers, it may be the physical infrastructure of the local town that seems the most intriguing.

books_icon  Garrett, B.L. 2010 Urban explorers: quests for myth, mystery and meaning. Geography Compass 4,10 pp.1448-61

books_icon  Garrett, B.L. 2013 Undertaking recreational trespass: urban exploration and infiltration. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographer. DOI: 10.1111/tran.12001

60-world2  Macfarlane, R. 2013 The Strange World of Urban Exploration. The Guardian

“On Yer Bike”: Sociotechnical Perspectives of Cycling

Jen Dickie

Complex Cycle Lane Markings. I'm glad I was walking! At the junction of City Road and Middle Street, Beeston.  The copyright on this image is owned by David Lally and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Cycling hit the headlines last week when David Cameron announced that £94 million would be invested across eight cities and four National Parks to promote cycling in England.  The scheme, described by the prime minister as the start of “a cycling revolution” is reported to be the largest single injection of public money into cycling in England.  Whilst pro-cycling campaigners welcome this investment, they argue that more funding, spread consistently over future decades, is needed if Britain is going to “transform into a continental style ‘Cycletopia’”.

Haroon Siddique and Peter Walker report in The Guardian that the fund will pay for both upgrades to existing cycle networks and create new ones in a bid to make it easier and safer for people who already cycle, and to make cycling more appealing to those who don’t.  The government is encouraging local councils to “up their game” to deliver cycling-friendly infrastructure from the design stage, and will assist this process by cutting the red tape that “stifles” cycle-friendly road design.  The government’s press release outlines a wide variety of improvements that will be implemented as part of this scheme, including; expanding the network of 20 mph zones in urban areas and 40mph limits in rural areas, the introduction of ‘Trixi’ mirrors at junctions so that HGV drivers can see cyclists more easily, contraflow measures so that cyclists can use one-way streets, mini-signals at cyclists’ eye height, filter signals, trials of different roundabout designs and options for larger advanced stop lines at junctions.

Before implementing any changes, the government should perhaps look at experiences of similar schemes, such as the Launceston Bike Network in Tasmania, Australia.  In their paper for Area, Roger Vreugdenhil and Stewart Williams describe how this scheme became subject to “intense community conflict” or “white line fever”, whereby the seemingly innocuous white lines depicting the cycle lanes were likened to acts of vandalism, causing confusion to road users and were seen to increase territorial ‘them and us’ behaviours.  They argue that cycling and infrastructure should be reconceptualised as an “urban sociotechnical system” and that by recognising this, transport policy and planning may be able to overcome such resistance in future schemes.

The public response to the English scheme has been interesting; the BBC published a report outlining the details on Monday 12th August, by Tuesday morning there were 1051 comments posted from the public.  It is well known that there is conflict between road users, particularly car drivers and cyclists, and this is well reflected in some of the comments.  There are, however, some who show a more balanced view, recognising that a cultural change is needed and that all road users need to be more educated if we are to become a cycle-friendly country.

books_icon Roger Vreugdenhil and Stewart Williams, 2013, White line fever: a sociotechnical perspective on the contested implementation of an urban bike lane network, Area, DOI: 10.1111/area.12029

60-world2 Government shifts cycling up a gear, Government press release, accessed 20th August 2013

60-world2 Cycling groups welcome announcement of £77m government fund, The Guardian, 12th August 2013

60-world2 Cycling gets £94m push in England, BBC, 12th August 2013