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Eric Smillie is a freelance journalist covering art, culture, food, technology, and travel.



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23 October 2012 @ 7pm

Ecodisaster tourism, Land use

Is a city a disaster?

Elevated highways crossing each other with train tracks below

What about those abandoned or otherwise forgotten spots that get squeezed between developments, or covered over by highways?

I’m catching up with the radio show 99% Invisible and I liked the episode about New Public Sites, a project by Graham Coreil-Allen to come up with a typology of overlooked and left over features of the urban environment. Stuff like vacant lots and traffic triangles, except that by Coreil-Allen’s definition, the former is a void or possibly a distribution pit, while the latter might be a pastoral island, a triangle crossing, or even a lost space.

There are lots more handy names there for things city dwellers look at every day, yet don’t always see. But my favorite part of the radio segment is when Coreil-Allen justifies calling these spots beautiful. I like it because they’re not places or vistas that we usually consider pretty or even interesting, except perhaps in a punk or ironic kind of way. Coreil-Allen’s definitions of these elements are a bit tongue in cheek, but he’s entirely earnest in his defense of their value. We have to love them if we want to adopt them and activate them as democratic spaces. In other words, if we want to reclaim these places from the urban lost and found bin and make them our own or put them to use, we cannot look away and ignore them.

Of course, some people might rather not to reclaim them, and I think that’s sad and a waste. Which is how I felt about the spots in my disaster tourism guide, spots that are much larger than a threshold periphery.

And what could possibly come of these places? For just one example, I just saw a great story on the Keret House, a narrow home built in the empty space between two buildings. The interior is just 35 inches wide.

Give the 99% Invisible episode a listen:


Posted by
Graham Coreil-Allen
8 November 2012 @ 2pm

Excellent piece and thanks for the support. The Keret House is clearly appropriating a Vertical Squeeze for its narrow living arrangement. Infinite freedom lives on…

Posted by
8 November 2012 @ 2pm

Awesome! I was wondering what that space was called…

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