How to escape quarantine without going outside

Virtual ski-ing! Ooooh. Image: Google Streetview.

Across the UK, people (or at least, the people who can) are isolating or quarantining. Even if you can go outside, we’re all being encouraged to do as little travelling as practically possible. 

If you can’t face a fourth day of arguing about which thing on Netflix you least don’t want to watch, or wish your horizons were still slightly broader than touring the local shops in search of a tin of tomatoes, there’s at least some virtual respite. If you can’t get out into the world, bring the world to you!

It’s time to turn to Google Street View (alternatives are available and, hey, you’re in quarantine, no-one can mock you for being a Bing guy now!), and go for a virtual adventure in the world that was!

Relive the Park Life

Although the bulk of Google Streetview’s imagery is of, well, streets, it does go off-road occasionally (courtesy of someone wearing a special cyber-backpack with a massive camera coming out of the top of it), and has documented quite a few trails through London green spaces. 

I just spent 10 minutes “wandering around” Richmond Park trying and failing to find a deer! Can you find one, and then explain to the children what an “animal” was?

Visit the British Museum

All the museums have closed, but you can still visit at least one of them: the contents of the British Museum were captured in Google Street View back in 2015, so you can still ‘walk around’ their collections. 

So exhaustive was the image capturing process that when I dropped the little yellow Google person into the museum I appeared in... an empty locker room. Maybe it is actually an exhibit and the British Empire robbed some yellow lockers off somewhere they invaded?


Travel back in time!

Google Street View was launched in 2007, and had covered much of London by 2008. The ‘Time Machine’ feature allows you to flip between images from each trip Google made through your area (near me they’ve made seven visits to date).  

That means you can now track about 12 years of changes in many streets: shops changing hands, car parks becoming new build flats, pubs becoming new build flats, new build flats becoming newer build flats, etc. Entertain your kids by pretending it’s really interesting to know which local businesses were replaced by Pret a Mangers shortly before they were born.

Pretend to live out your footballing dreams on the pitch of Wembley Stadium

Legend tells us that before the dark times when there was something called “football”. And you can relive those days by taking a virtual walk around the pitch at Wembley, before it was converted into a farm or a prison or a gravesite.

Go for a hike

If you feel like really going for it, stuff a rucksack with supplies, grab your boots, then sit down at you computer and load up a virtual version of the North Downs Way. There’s been an ongoing project to represent the National Trails in Street View and several others are also now available in full – the Cleveland Way and the Cotswold Way among them.

The truly hardcore can also order an exercise bike and some virtual reality equipment, then attempt to recreate this guy’s journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats through a virtual UK constructed out of Street View imagery.

The TARDIS

If you need to step the escapism up a bit, “walk” the virtual streets of London until you get to Earl’s Court tube station, find the Police Box outside, and click on it* to be transported inside Doctor Who’s TARDIS. Well, the last Doctor Who’s TARDIS: this now quite an old gimmick. 

Sadly it can’t actually be used to e.g. travel back in time and warn anyone, but if for some reason you’ve spent most of your child and adult life investing far too much emotional energy into a quite rubbish TV show, you might find looking at the pictures vaguely reassuring for reasons that you can quite elucidate or justify.

(This seems to work a bit haphazardly these days. Here’s a direct link.)

If you really wanted to, you could look at some things that are not in or quite close to London

Other cities are available, it’s rumoured. You can also go skiing in the Alps (see above!!), or even raft down the Grand Canyon

But as someone who spends quite a lot of time wandering round strange bits of the capital and is in the short term going to… not do that, it is quite pleasing to realise quite how much of it Street View has captured over the years. (Big thanks especially to user Uy Hoang, whoever they are, for apparently single-handedly documenting vast swathes of stuff including much of the Thames and Lea paths.)

But under absolutely no circumstances will I be visiting Cyber Swindon.

All images courtesy of Google Streetview.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.