Friday, August 15, 2014

Unruly Places

The title: Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies
The author: Alastair Bonnett
Publication: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
Got it from: The library

In this unusual book, author Alastair Bonnett dives into the psychology of those places considered to be "unruly."  What makes a place unruly?  It is the spaces we overlook, the borders that aren't quite there, those islands we can't quite get a hold of.  The author uncovers both the micro (a local fox hole, gutterspaces) and the macro (the vanishing Aral Sea, Leningrad.)  In a world increasingly overtaken by Blandscapes, unruly places draw us to the unknown.

There's a lot of entries in this book, so I'll touch on a few that spoke to me.  There's a small garden in New York City that began as an art project in the 1970's which grows plants that would have been native to the city before it was a city.  There's a town just outside of Chernobyl that has been left exactly as it was abandoned in 1986, complete with a half-finished amusement park.  And if you're super-rich, you can buy an apartment aboard a luxury liner that travels the world.

Beyond the descriptions of these varied places, what I enjoyed most was the author's psychology of space.  Places have meaning for us, one that we should embrace because it makes us human.  The yearning for a space of our own, familiar and reassuring, is in our nature.  But place is also unique: it changes based on time, from person to person, from mood to mood.  All spaces are shifting and ephemeral.  Appropriately, he saves what is perhaps the most ephemeral space of all for last: the places of childhood play.  Reading about his childhood experiences playing make-believe in an alley, I suddenly felt click of connection.  No one transforms a space like a child: a clump of trees becomes a fortress, a palace, a home.  This is where we learn to shape our world.  Unfortunately, like everything else in this book, it is being lost to a digital touch-screen childhood.  If we lose it completely, we will lose an important part of ourselves.

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