Unruly Places

lost spaces, secret cities, and other inscrutable geographies (2014)

If you like pouring over old atlases or scrolling though Google maps, you will probably like this book. The author is a geographer, not a travel guide, and this comes through in the tone of the book as well as subjects covered.

The connection of what makes each of these places so strange is human intervention, either through physical occupation or mapmaking.  The book’s first entry is about Sandy Island, which was neither sandy nor an island. But it was on maps for centuries.

Bonnett divides his entries into various themes. Hidden Geographies includes a labyrinth subterranean city under Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as Hog’s Back Lay By, which is a spot in the English Countryside reserved for public sex.

Lost places are include cites that have been changed and therefore hidden by the current party in charge. These include Leningrad/St. Petersburg and Mecca, which is now basically big shopping mall.

There are floating islands like the country called Sealandia, which is built upon an oil rig. There are dead cities like Pripyat, which housed 30,000 people before the tragic events at Chernobyl.

Krasnoyarsk 26 remained populated, instead of emptying out, after the fall of the Soviet Union. It was built as a community to service a top secret nuclear reactor. Now it is a gated community. The people preferred staying anonymous. Other cities, sometime called “ghost cities” were built to house communities in areas of new growth that turned out to not attract people. China has numerous examples, including Ordos, which was built for one million people, but remains nearly empty.

Another empty city is the fake city of Kijong-dong in North Korea. It was built on the fringe of the DMZ and always has lots of lights blazing to lure those in the south to the “luxury and prosperity” of the north.

These are but a handful of the places the author brings to light. Each chapter is only about 5 pages long and so the book can easily be read in “chunks.” The geographical coordinates of each location are included above the title of each chapter for the cartographically inclined.

This book is more than a collection of conversational trivia, although it is that too. It is “human geography”- looking at the relationship between place and the human psyche.

 

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