Woods in Ealing by the Grand Union Canal. The view from Alexandra Palace, looking south across #London.

Ecological Urbanism comes to life…

Ecological Urbanism eBook Anticipate

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.

Exploration Revolution


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are where sparks of activity appear in countries, regions and neighbourhoods that were otherwise left uncharted or unpublished by governments and other organisations.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…


There was an accident on the M4 today so we were forced to leave the motorway at Slough and take the A4 back to Ealing. When we got to Heathrow we saw a sign for Colnbrook and Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centres, my wife’s research focuses on women, migration, detention, health and home… so we thought we’d turn off and have an explore. It was not just the barb wired buildings that look like they could be logistical distribution centres for a supermarket that struck me, but their positioning to and relationship with their neighbour…

The building on the left looks like it could be a detention and removal centre with it’s concrete walls, small windows and… if you look closely.. two-way surveillance including CCTV cameras and loud speakers. This is actually the Sheraton Hotel at Heathrow Airport. The building behind it is Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre. Separated by just 50 metres, the ‘visitors’ of each of these dormitories are so close and yet ‘worlds apart’. It looks like they may even be able to look out of their (in)secure bedrooms to one another.

Looking north, in this picture you can see Colnbrook on the left (and west) and the Sheraton to the right (and east). Check out this map.

In their own words, here’s a quick comparison of these two different establishments:

“This centre, near London’s Heathrow airport, holds up to 383 detainees on behalf of the UK Immigration Service plus a further 20 people on behalf of HM Revenue and Customs. Sheraton Heathrow Hotel’s 426 guest rooms are warm, inviting, and designed for your comfort and convenience. Whether you choose a Classic room, Club room, or suite, you will experience the celebrated “ahhhhh” of The Sheraton Sweet Sleeper™ Bed. Since it opened in 2004 – ahead of schedule and under budget – more than 40,000 detainees have passed through the centre, making it one of the busiest removal centres in the UK. Most detainees are awaiting removal abroad, with more than 30 nationalities on average being held at the centre for an average of seven days. Our third floor includes dedicated Starwood Preferred Guest Rooms, as well as Club Rooms. Club Rooms feature King-sized beds, bathrobes, slippers and LCD screen televisions as well as upgraded amenities, free bottled water, complimentary wireless High Speed Internet Access and fitness center access. The short-term holding facility within the centre is used to hold people immediately after their detention by UK Immigration Service. They are usually only held in this facility for 72 hours. Colnbrook also provides a separate custody service to HM Revenue and Customs. Club guests have special access to the Club Lounge. A relaxing, upscale space, the Club Lounge offers complimentary breakfast, afternoon hors d’oeuvres and a variety of beverage options. Take advantage of the private Club Lounge where you can connect with friends, meet with your team, or simply relax by catching your favorite TV show. The majority of those detained are suspected of smuggling drugs inside their bodies into the UK.The centre was designed and built by Serco and operates on an eight-year contract (with the possibility of a two-year extension) with the UK Immigration Service. Need to get some work done? A copier/fax/printer and complimentary office supplies, internet access and computer stations are ready to go. We pride ourselves on providing the best possible environment for our detainees.”*

*The bold extract is quoted from Serco’s Colnbrook website (1 July 2012) while the words in italics are on the Sheraton’s room description page for their Heathrow Hotel.”

Urban Earth, reborn

remote walk through LondonFor over a year the Urban Earth website has been offline as I’ve focused all of my attention on Mission:Explore.Net. The time has come to bring the network of urban explorers back to life. Over the course of this month I’ve been facilitating a number of explorations across London. So far these have included (un)violent and remote walks. This image was taken in north London during the remote walk. Tomorrow we’re going to be following (un)healthy routes through areas of London that suffer most from depression and suicide.

The last of this series of walks is on March 10th. This is going to be an exciting event involving around 100 people. Split into around 20 groups, we’re going to start in different places outside of London and work our way in to the city’s centre. The Urban Earth website is the perfect way for people to meet, plan and share their explorations.. and so in the next few days reborn it will be. Beyond this big exploration of London my hope is that the community will use the site to organise more inspirational and innovative ways of exploring cities.

Watch this space.

(un)violent exploration of London

I’m very excited about the series of Urban Story walks that I’m organising with The Geography Collective.  Starting a week tomorrow each walk explores social, cultural, economic and other landscapes. The first will navigate through peaks of peace and through valleys of violence. The walk itself will start in Grove ward, Kingston. During 2010/11 this ward in SW London experienced the highest rate of violence against the person (78.7) beyond the central London wards of West End and St James’s where the reaches its destination. These three wards also had the highest rates of reported sexual offences.  Just a short distance from Grove and close to the start of the walk we will pass through Village ward which had the lowest crime rate (4.7) during the same period.

The route is being planned using London’s Ward Atlas and the MurderMap will be available to us too.

SW London Violence Against the Person map extract from the 2010/11 London Ward Atlas. Highlighted in orange is Village ward while Grove is the brightest blue. On this map darker shades correspond with higher rates of violence.

The walk is an opportunity for professional and personal development, meeting new people and creating a memory that you will not forget for a long time. Over 30km we’ll develop new thinking on violence and the city and may decide to create something to (re)present our experiences.

Taking part is free and you’re very welcome to join us. For full details click here.

Mission:Explore 2.0

I’m looking forward to the next week. After months of work Mission:Explore 2.0 is going to be set free on the world. It’s something I’ve been working on with The Geography Collective and The Workshop. On Tuesday we will be showcasing www.missionexplore.net at the royal opening of the new Ordnance Survey building in Southampton. We’ve been invited because of our long term links with GeoVation, Ordnance Surveys innovation programme, who have helped us ever since we took Mission:Explore digital.

When it launches the new site will have less challenges on it than the current site, but loads more features and functionality. We’ll then be adding missions each day and bringing new partners into the site on a regular basis too.

Watch www.missionexplore.net this week for the gentle switch-on.



URBAN EARTH is a project that I started back in 2008. The project involves walking across urban areas like this short video explains. It was shot by SUSO* in 2008 shortly after I arrived by from walking across Mexico City, Mumbai and London along with a number of cool people who joined me. I’ve just got permission from SUSO* to put it up. I hope you find it interesting.


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