Every city has hidden stories that quietly enforce the rules we live by. A City Hack uncovers those stories so that together we can rewrite the rules.
Hidden in plain sight, hard-baked into architecture, street design, and public art, every city holds memories in its steel and stone. Layer by layer, those memories reveal stories – about the past, but also about our present. Labyrinth is a community learning to read cities and their stories, and City Hacking is the way we do it.
How to hack a city?
Step 1: Select a Hack
There are many different ways to hack a city. And they each affect where you go and what you look for. Choose the kind of hack you’re going to do and then find a walkable place that you think will work for it. Remember, you can’t hack the whole of ‘London’ or ‘New York’, they’re too big! Choose a few streets, some monuments, a cityscape, public art – some markers that will provide focal points for your experience. They might be well-known and central, or unknown and out-of-the-way.
Step 2: Walk it
To hack a city you have to actually go there and walk it. But not the type of walking that gets you from A to B, you need to wander instead. Before anything else, hacking a city is about experiencing it, slowly, purposefully. Notice things as you walk – a symbol here, a road-marking there, the way those buildings make you feel. Wonder about them, question them. Who put that there? Why? What does that symbol mean? Who designed it, and why? Who lived here, worked here, who owns this place? What has happened here, who won, who lost, who still won’t concede defeat? It’s the questions that make the hack interesting.
Step 3: Story it
Tell a story from the place you’ve walked. There are lots of ways to do this but every City Hack involves harmonics – that’s encountering both the resonances and dissonances of a place. If the architecture of this building and the story behind that sculpture have a similar theme, then that creates resonance. If the history of that building and the symbol on its roof are at odds with each other, then that creates dissonance. Resonance and dissonance create the intrigue in our stories. We often bring other well-known stories into the mix as well. Have a read of our Storying Cities post for different ways to draw out stories from places.
Step 4: Share it
Don’t keep it to yourself – get others in on your story. Send us your photos, words, video and we’ll publish them on the Labyrinth blog – or if you publish them yourself, shout us with a link. The stories we tell together about the places we live are powerful. They are often kept hidden, so we want to get them out into the open. That’s often how change really begins. Read our blog post, Why telling the stories of a place really matters.
And while it’s perfectly possible to hack on your own – and we sometimes do – we believe in the power of the hack community. We just can’t discover on our own what we see together. We need each others’ eyes and ears and experiences to tell the best stories.
Why is it called ‘Hacking’?
We like the three definitions of hacking. They are all part of what we do in cities.
- We hack open the meaning of spaces. Sometimes, at least to begin with, we’re hacking cities as bluntly as if we had just set upon them with an axe!
- We hack to gain unauthorised access. At the most fundamental level we are forcing open the symbolism of a city so that it gives up some of its secrets – because we each need more agency in the cities that shape our lives so much.
- We hack to create alternatives. By rewriting the official stories of a city we imagine new ways of life within it.