6 Ways to Hack a City
There are lots of different ways to hack a city. Here are six of our favourite…
This is the most basic way to hack. It’s a way of moving through a city that isn’t just going from A to B. Kind of like an intellectual / spiritual pub crawl. The key is to wander and wonder. How does the physical environment affect me emotionally, and why? What is it in me that responds to this place in the city this way? What is it about the construction of this city space that has that effect? This simple choice to be differently in a city breaks the habits formed by the dominant economy – to exist for either work or consumption. It reclaims the city as a Labyrinth of meaning.
Stories that already mean something to us are powerful ways of prising open city spaces. They might already have a strong connection to the place – for example, see our St George & the Dragon hack of the City of London – or they might be completely arbitrary. The value of hacking with a story is that it increases the range of ‘harmonics’, the resonance and dissonance of a place. The meanings of a particular space are expanded by telling another story within it.
Choosing a theme is like putting on particular glasses that mean you see the city through a certain lens. You notice things you might otherwise ignore. Maybe you’re looking for monsters, or monuments, maybe love, maybe death. Suddenly, unfamiliar settings emerge and familiar places mean something new. Hacking with a theme can make a city seem magical again, like it was expecting you. This approach to hacking can really let your imagination run wild.
Wakeful walking as mediation. A pedi-tation. See what we did there? This is actually a very meaningful spiritual practice, and is where Labyrinth began for us two decades ago. This type of hacking is particularly focussed on the personal impact of place. It’s less verbal, less overtly storyfied. It’s more about encountering the city beyond words. Often our best hacks start with peditation, and then we return another time to hack with a story. We find we can tell more convincing stories because we’ve already encountered the spirit of a place.
This is a fun alternative that creates a different kind of meaning – and a very different encounter with a city! An algorithm hack lays a code over the city for hackers to follow. It can be as random as a series of binary ‘left’ and ‘right’ commands the group follows. Or a different type of code, like following a map of Berlin in London, or an image drawn on a map and then walked out. The power of an algorithm hack is in submitting to some unfamiliar rule. It makes places significant that would otherwise get totally ignored, which can give you a totally different perspective on a city.
Not for the faint hearted! Hacking as a performance is a way of drawing others into the retelling of a story and making it a new event. Every time we tell a story in a city it is a new experience, but making the telling into a performance really puts the emphasis on this newness – on the one-time-ness of the experience. We have found that performances have a different way of drawing people in and shaping the stories we tell in surprising ways. We like to blur the lines between the performer(s) and the audience because everyone brings their story to the city.
Founder & Director, Labyrinth
Matt lives in Cornwall, an ancient kingdom in the far South-West of the UK, colonised long ago by the English. He is also the Founder & Director of The Alchemy Project, of which Labyrinth is a part. Matt can often be found drinking good coffee, reading Continential Philosophy, and playing in the sea with his family.