Explore Everything

September 12, 2014

‘The age of discovery is not dead it lives on in urban explorers.’ Deyo and Lebowitz

Adventure fuels the human spirit.  It excites us, inspires us, challenges us to push the boundaries so we learn and grow as people and as a society.  Today we live in a world where every inch of the planet has been explored and charted; leaving us thinking that there is nowhere left to go.  What adventures are left, especially those that everyday people can take part in? In an increasingly urbanised world, where rules exist to provide order, structure and safety, how can we feed our thirst for adventure? 

The answer is blindingly simple - rediscover the world around us.  Look at the landscape that we take for granted with fresh eyes.  The streets we walk down every day, but never really notice. Question everything! What lies behind that door, under the street, around the next corner? Open that manhole and jump…. literally.

This was the focus of the Melbourne Writers Festival talk: ‘Place Hacking the City’.   

Bradley Garrett, an archaeologist, social and cultural geographer took us on a journey into the world of Urban Explorers – touching on philosophy, politics and the ultimate adventure.   Revealing some of the awe-inspiring and downright scary places hidden under our noses.

Urban Explorers are navigating the forgotten tunnels, unfinished buildings, and structures that have fallen into decay. Rediscovering areas of our cities that have been left behind, forgotten or are simply ‘out of bounds’, cut off from the general public but calling out to have their secrets revealed.

They are breaking free of social norms.

Taking back the right to explore and interact with our everyday environment and in doing so they make the seemingly impossible possible.

One such LLC Crew adventure uncovered a lost relic: London’s Mail Rail built in 1927, mothballed, and long forgotten.  The first hint of its existence came from a video of a Halloween rave in 2010.  Ravers had occupied a derelict Royal Mail building – which had pictures on the wall of a miniature rail system.  All it took was some research on Subterranea Britannica’s website, some wiggling through small spaces and a bit of climbing and they were in.  It was vast.  6.5 miles of tunnels with miniature trains, built to transport London’s mail across the city.  The lights were still on, and the trains worked!


Image: London Mail Rail

Source: Explore Everything, Place-Hacking the City by Bradley L. Garrett

One of the societal premises they are denouncing is the need for expertise to try something new.

Today most activities have inbuilt safety nets. Teachers and guides surround us; stifling our willingness to take a leap and learn of our own fruition, making discoveries simply by giving it a go, and doing it without the fear of failure. 

Prompting the thought.. Can adventure exist in a world without risk?

In the bid to make the world a safer place have we forgotten how to truly test our limits? 

Urban exploration is in no way safe and that is what makes it truly exhilarating.  They are mavericks, even anarchists.  They are not experts in their field; they don’t always use tested and accepted equipment or follow the rules, some might say the law, but they face a problem head on and use the tools before them to solve it.  

They reinterpret signs - ‘off limits’ simply means: beyond this point there is no public liability. They are responsible for their own safety. Like children at play, carefree and open, they are willing to find a way through.

‘Guts’, one of the London Underground Crew, eloquently summed it up when he said:  ‘You can’t buy real experiences anymore you have to make them.  Rights to the city are not offered you have to take them… Experiences like these are what quality of life is all about.’

I think we can take inspiration from these mavericks.  Challenge ourselves to use our brands as a vehicle to help people re-experience the world around them.  Help them to open their eyes to everyday wonders, even to encourage people to break the rules, not to be disruptive, but to experience the joy of true discovery.

Imagine if your brand activities left your users with the lasting sense of freedom that comes from knowing that life can take many paths.   That your brand is a counterpoint in a world where real adventures are limited, helping our users take back what they didn’t even know they’d lost: true adventure.  I know I would come back for more!

Image: Telecommunications Cables under London

Source: Explore Everything, Place-Hacking the City by Bradley L. Garrett


Thumbnail Image Source: Front Cover of Explore Everything, Place-Hacking the City by Bradley L. Garrett