Urban Exploration and the Democratization of Property


In our modern society, we value property over almost anything. We are intent on drawing boundaries around what we own, on protecting what we feel is ours. Especially in urban spaces, it feels that property is something sacred.

‘No trespassing’, ‘private property’, ‘do not enter’. Those are signs we are used to seeing in our everyday lives, almost everywhere we go.

How often though, do we think about who draws those boundaries and who owns this nebulous property that we are not supposed to enter?

Private or Public Space

In his TEDx talk, Bradley Garrett talks about the privatization of public spaces. Especially in his home, London, where video surveillance is increasingly being used to monitor the behaviour of people in public spaces. He states, however, that research has confirmed that there is no correlation between countries with a lot of video surveillance having less crime.

Nonetheless, he says places which rely heavily on monitoring their citizens, often experience fewer public gatherings, less diversity and bad relationships between neighbours – of course, because who wants to befriend a neighbour when they are told that everyone around them is a potential threat to their safety and, most importantly, property?

The Value of Exploration

Exploring our surroundings is an innate human need. We want to know what is around us. However, as we get older and more mature, we are more acutely aware of the law and the boundaries around us. We grow accustomed to what is socially acceptable and what isn’t.

Thus, we become primed to suppressing our need to explore. An increasing number of people though, are questioning these norms and boundaries we are so accustomed to. Urban exploration, an activity where one basically trespasses into private property to explore modern ruins or otherwise abandoned places, is a rather popular hobby among younger people. Many of them have started trespassing as a way to release the pressure enforced upon them by society.

The Politics of Public Space

We live in an increasingly privatized world. Everything belongs to somebody; barely anything is still public and, therefore, common property. In some places, even water is privatised.

This is not a development which will benefit us in the long run. We are losing sight of values like community, yet at the same time, creating a homogenous culture which stifles some forms of creativity. Cities, which are supposed to be places of diversity, are becoming increasingly private property meant for profit. Behaviour is strictly regulated and monitored.

Overcoming Borders

Of course, trespassing is still unlawful in most places. However, Bradley Garrett states that, while it is not recommendable to actually break the law, it is important to become aware of the boundaries drawn around our everyday lives.

We must understand that we live in a firmly regulated society, with ingrained rules for how we are supposed to behave, even if those rules may not be written out or otherwise articulated. This is something we must question every step along the way. After all, borders are something which do  not exist physically – they live only in our minds, and thus, we can overcome them.

Header image by Echo Grid on Unsplash

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About Marie Krebs

Marie is an English student with an interest in anything to do with culture. When she's not writing, she likes to read, cook and dance (preferably not all three at the same time).

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