Just read a amazing piece on "Place Hacking" on Savage Minds. A conversation between Adam Fish and "reformed archeologist" Bradley L. Garrett, it takes us through words and photographs into the world of urban exploration, a hobby whose enthusiasts "choose to spend their weekends and time off of work exploring landscapes [instead of] sitting in front of a television or drinking at the pub." I am instantly reminded of the work of Harvard professor John R. Stilgoe, who has, for decades, been teaching classes in which assignments include such topics as locating the date and manufacturer of all the manhole covers in a neighborhood or tracing the routes of abandoned train lines. It also recalls a not-yet-implemented project that Ruth and I have often discussed, tracing the history of the stairways we use to climb up and down the hills of Yokohama. We know that many follow historic routes that date back to the Edo Period, when most travel in Japan was on foot. We also wonder, however, how, when, why and by who the decisions were made to install the concrete stairs we traverse on our hikes around the city. We would like to know more about these bits of modern history that are literally inscribed in the landscape.
Has anyone been doing this sort of thing in the cities where they reside?
This reminds me a little bit of a comment which Carolyn Steele once made that she likes to start to trace the constuction of a city as a food-system object by getting a map or a list of street names and mapping out the obvious 'Mill Lane' 'Frying Pan Alley' 'Fishmarket' and so on, then digging a bit deeper and going to see what followed on from the old uses.
Just tried google for an example - http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=37597
As to making a non-place a place, once when I lived in Sheffield I decided to see if I could determine the highest building in the city - the edge is all hills, and a residential area with no obvious high building-contenders. My vague intention was to ask the occupants if they realised they were the highest, and maybe see the view from their attic window. When I came to the terrace house in the middle of a street which I thought would be the one, however, there was already an incongruous white pole with an ornate tip, such as you might see as a high point marker on a peak - stuck on the roof of the house. Nothing was indicated at ground level.
Someone else had evidently thought to similarly commemorate this obscure honour - it was 'already a place' ! I wish I had followed on from this to find out the history of who, and when, but that day no-one was home.