Places and non-places

Many years ago I used to follow architecture blogs. Not because I had any expertise in architecture, but because at least two of them (I’d been led there when participating in a discussion group about the future of Energy – specifically, where are we going to get enough of it to carry on being a Civilisation) were honestly predicting some sort of imminent collapse, and I was keen to find out how best to avoid such a thing. Aren’t we all?

In the course of all this I learned about the first ‘electric cars’ and why they died (sabotage, and about a hundred years ago now), Oswald Spengler, Peak Oil, the USA’s ‘hardiness zones’ (basically, the way climate is classified for anyone who wants to grow things), and ‘non-places’.


There are an awful lot of non-places, and architects exercise themselves enormously on designing them – and trying to avoid doing so. They are the places where nobody wants to be – we just want to get through.

Airports. Car parks. Everything in a ‘shopping mall’ except the insides of the actual shops.

It had never occurred to me before but the main shopping street in our city (York) is a bit of a non-place – pedestrianised though it may be, and graced with proper trees. Two yeas ago there were even giant concrete lego-shaped bollards with ‘stay, shop, socialise’ emblazoned on them – until the virus came along and put the kybosh on that sort of thing. But it’s… kind of flat there. Even when they organise a farmers’ market on it, or (I kid you not) the occasional Viking tent.

But last week as I walked through, something took me by surprise. Something you’d never expect to find in a main shopping street.

I couldn’t get this in the picture but there were actually a pair of lads using one of them for the purpose Nature intended.

Genius – an instant transformation from a non-place into a proper Place!

My only regret was that I was alone, a bit tired and hungry after a shift at the bookshop, and that the next time I came into town the tables had vanished as mysteriously as they’d appeared.

However, there are still the ones in Rowntree Park…