Urban exploration

At Victoria’s first Car Free Day, many of the visitors to the “Walk On, Victoria” table voted “exploring my neighbourhood” as one of the top reasons you walk. So, Walk On wants to encourage you to explore your urban environment and bring your friends. It’s a great way to connect with your community and you’ll be part of a long tradition of urban exploration. This post will suggest activities for people of all ages that you can do alone or as a group–maybe you’ll even inspire others to explore!

The most famous urban explorers* in recent history are (debatably) the Situationalists who explored Paris in the 1960s. They used techniques they labeled collectively “psychogeography” as a new way to map and explore the city. Now you know the Situationalists were on the right track as the Situationist International formed at a “conference,” attended by a total of eight people, in an Italian bar.

Like many of us, the Situationalists noticed that when walking with no purpose in the city, you may feel pulled along different streets to new areas as if by an unseen river. They thought by following these currents in formal walks and recording their results, they could uncover new information about the city. Unfortunately, these early psychographic walks didn’t go anywhere (literally) and eventually the Situationalists moved on. Find out more in Psychogeography (2010) by Merlin Coverley.

The Situationalist changed how we explore the city and now you can pick up a map and begin where they stopped. Walking the city still has the potential to create new paths and connections, especially when you bring groups of people together to do it. This has been done, quite well in Canada by Shawn Micallef and recorded in his book Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto (2010). Don’t worry, you don’t have to write a book to join in.

You can participate in urban exploration today! Now! Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram make it easy to connect with others who want to join you and share your experience. Technology has the potential to create huge, continuous walks!

To get you started, here are some ideas for kids and adults:

  • Meet once a week or once a month with friends and friends of friends. Walk along a street. Tell each other stories about your history on the street and the streets history. Stay focused on where you are. (Idea from Stroll)
  • Trade “cool spots” with a friend. Share your secret spot with a friend, then visit their spot. Swap stories too.
  • Grab your camera and go for a photo walk with friends and share your photos. My friends like to do this!
  • Make a map of somewhere based on what you smell, hear or touch there. Start by drawing an extremely simple map of your location with lots of blank space. Then, mark where you sensed something. You can even rub textures right onto the map. Don’t forget to make a legend for the map so others can interpret your drawing. Pass the map along to someone else and see if they can navigate where you went.
  • An original psychogeography technique can be fun too! Put away your smart phone and use a paper map of somewhere else to navigate the place you are. For example, I’m going to explore Vancouver with a map of San Francisco. Explore a place you’ve always wanted to visit but never had a chance.
  • Use a different kind of map like a topographic map or map of buried streams. Visit the top of hills you’ve never noticed!
  • Activity especially for kids: write ideas on slips of paper for challenges that can be done on short walks. You might write ‘pick up 5 leaves bigger than your hand,’ ‘jump on one foot for a whole block’ or ‘spot one creature smaller than your front teeth.’ Have the kid(s) you are walking with pick a challenge out before you go. See if you can complete the challenge!
  • Join in the Instagram scavenger hunt I’m having following me on Instagram at @planningtoride. If I use the hashtage #canyoufindit on a photo, see if you can find it. Most of my photos are in Vancouver, but there are some in Victoria. (I marked the city with a hashtag as well.) You can even join in and tag your own special finds with the tag #canyoufindit.

A couple more thing before you set off!

  • Wherever you explore, remember whose land you are exploring. Almost everywhere you’ll go in Canada is on unceded territory that was explored by Canadian Aboriginal People before you ever took your first step. Be respectful of sacred spaces and traditional hunting/gathering/cultivating spaces wherever you go.
  • The term “urban exploration” is also used to describe a specific subculture full of people who like to explore off limits or hard to get to places, like the tops of bridges, unused subway stations and big storm drains. I would encourage you NOT to do this type of exploring as it is dangerous and could get you arrested (although I won’t tell anyone if I see you doing this). If you do choose to do this type of exploration, DO NOT bring kids and DO your research. If you’re curious about this subculture, I’d suggest Moses’ Gates “Hidden Cities” (2013).

Okay, you’re ready to set off! Good luck!


“satellite images/maps and blueprints/of the whole world,/of every city//we could look it up and know what’s there/in someone else’s words,//or we could get wicked drunk/and just go.” – E Horne and J Comeau, A Softer World 340

Cail Smith is a Masters Student at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning and would rather walk than wait for the bus. Contact Cail through planningtoride.com