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Imagination in Urban Wildscapes

sara.gladwin's picture

A word that kept coming to mind while reading these essays about urban wildscapes was imagination. Although it was not used as a key term in the essay, I felt that one of the important aspects of ruins as spaces of play was in the imaginative potential offered through the rich and diverse environment. When I was younger, I spent a significant portion of my playtime on a 24-ft decrepit sailboat that my parents kept in our backyard. Before I was born, they were avid sailors, but stopped sailing once they began having children. What used to be their form of “play” then turned into my playhouse. Central to this play was the sense of “ruin” that the boat had- it was basically falling apart, and hosted a variety of creatures hidden in its nooks and crannies.  When on the boat, I could imagine the space to be whatever I wanted; making up the uses for different tools I came across or pretending that the crawl space running from the main cabinet to the bow of the boat was an unexplored cave tunnel. Ruins allow us to insert ourselves into the space through the combined elements of mystery and imagination. We have freedom to invent in a space that can never be completely known to us. As different people experience and alter the space; it seems like there becomes more potential material for someone new to imagine a past for the space and further change the space for future visitors. I experience this even when I am simply viewing graffiti on the side of a building; there is always an element of the “unknown.” I probably will never know who created the piece or under what circumstances produced it; but I can imagine and interpret in a way that allows me to insert myself into a space. Ruins are interesting because despite not knowing what “really” happened to a space; the past is still evident in what is left behind. The ruin becomes a monument to change; as the effects of that change are visible throughout space.


What I also find interesting is that this is clearly not play in which children are engaging in, but play for adults. The language suggests that adults need spaces in which they continue, “playing” as a form of learning and discovering. This seems to fit well with the assertion that people can “actually find themselves” (11) in urban ruins. I think that it is this freedom of imagination which allows people to explore the parts of themselves that are contradictory to acceptable standards of behavior in society.