Exploring Place

One of the elements of geography that I really like is its implicit focus on exploration. It is based on a fundamental desire to understand the world around us, how it functions and how we interact with it. While in academic terms, this process can be most professional and complex, the core ideas are accessible to all. Particularly, in the ways we can all explore places.

All places, even everyday normal places, are filled with interesting elements, awaiting discovery. It is relatively easy for anyone to start thinking ‘geographically’ and begin exploring places.

For example, urban areas have architectural features, especially above street level, which we rarely see, or how many streets do we walk down without knowing there names, or what/who is that monument dedicated to?; while rural areas have a multitude of rich hidden aspects, including rarely travelled roads, wildlife and rare flora, and antiquities.

I would encourage everyone to engage with their local places and landscapes, to seek out the multitude of features, to appreciate their worth and to tell others. This exploration can be a purposeful encounter, or it can be something you incorporate into your routine. The important thing is that we carefully consider the world around us, in all its richness.

Simple Explorations:

  • Observing an urban space: Find a spot you can comfortably sit or stand and observe for about 15 mins. Remain relatively stationary and look at everything that is around you (the physical and human-made landscape) and all that is happening around you (activity, weather, movement). After a few minutes, you will notice things you’ve never seen before; they’ve always been there, you just didn’t notice.
  • Re-routing: Try and take a different route than you normally would for a journey. We all get so used to travelling certain ways and can forget about streets and passages which may be different or even slightly longer, but may be more pleasant or may even prove to be more efficient at some times!
  • Who’s about (and who’s not): When you’re moving around – out shopping, at work, in school, socialising – look at who is around you? Is it all people your age? People from the same area as you? People who look, move and act like you? Are there more or different people? If not, why not?
  • Visit your place: Be a tourist for a day. So many of us have never been to the main tourist attractions in our own cities! Take an afternoon to visit that place, check it out.

Suggested readings:

Place Hacking 

Placehaking or Urban exploration is a research type, a hobby and an interesting feature of contemporary urban living. It involves ‘recreationally trespassing’ into derelict sites, or, as they can be called, T.O.A.D.S.: temporary, obsolete, abandoned or derelict spaces.

Bradley Garrett, who completed his PhD thesis on urban exploration in the Department of Geography, at Royal Holloway, University of London, is among the foremost proponents of Plachacking. His excellent blog Placehacking illustrates the richness and insight which this activity offers. Furthermore, the blog shows how the integration of different media can offer a fuller experience of place on line.

Check out highlights from the blog:

London Underground 

Places & Spaces

Adventurers’ Club 

Other articles on Placehacking from

The Guardian, the Shortcuts Blog from The Guardian and GeoDirections Blog:

For more or similar, see:

Promise of Place: A document that offers tips and techniques for exploring place, from Promise of Place, a place-based education organisation.

Mental Mapping 

National Geographic’s Guide to Mental Mapping: How to use mental maps to organise information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context.

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