[Image: Policetown: the £50m mock-up / Telegraph, 2008. Click here to enlarge photo.]
Real quick, here's an aerial shot of one of the largest police training facilities in the world hunkered down in the luscious green pastures of Gravesend, Kent, where England’s formidable Metropolitan Police force tackles hypothetical anarchy in a lot that looks like a amusement park more so than a staging ground for urban unrest and abatement. The 9,250 square meter site (38-hectare) was opened back in 2003 by the private company Equion, according to the BBC “through the government's Private Finance Initiative, using both public and private money.”
Like several of its architectural relatives, this mock conflict training facility is in essence an entire town unto itself designed in true British fashion, with “mock roads, houses, shops, a bank, a pub, a nightclub, a football stadium, a life-size section of a plane and train and underground stations with full-size carriages”, as well as “classrooms and lecture theatres, an abseil tower, stables for 10 police horses and accommodation for more than 300 people.”
These urban replicants always fascinate me, I guess for their sheer artificiality and hybridity, and that quintessentially postmodern sense of non-placedom they occupy, shrouded in secrecy, assembled like some bizarre mock Hollywood blockbuster film set that begs the curiosity of a future global tourist brigade fiending for an endless spectacle of war play, sparking like black magic at the end of the state’s multifarious arm of control.
I have to admit, I’d love to travel around for a year to go check out these eerie simulations just sitting out there in the countryside. What do these pop-up combat zones look like close up suddenly shedding their disguise in the landscape? How does power operationalize architecture this way, for the purposes of practiced and perfected warfare? Creepy surreal craziness, but titillating nonetheless. Someone is getting paid to do this, to take a kind of tour of 'the desert of the real,' meandering around the outbacks of the world, counting the notches in this great global gun belt of urban imaginaries and ‘othered’ netherworlds of violent simulacrum and pretentious planetary conflict. It sure isn't me...
Whatever. It is, after all, just a small scrappy hint of a city standing on the planet for one purpose: to be rioted, hijacked, trashed, held hostage, sacked, and overrun by thousands of chaotic scenarios, only so that it can be reclaimed, retaken, re-propped in circuitous loops of more dazzling proto-militant exercise, stormed by a thousand coordinated boots for eternity, targeted by hundreds of synchronized crosshairs of both lethal and non-lethal weapons; it is a silly little city that lives to paradoxically sustain conflict and its own remedy. How can you not want to go check out a place like this? It's like some new theater of the absurd, if you ask me. I'd like to stand off to the side, as explosions are ignited, hail storms of bullets are hurled into facades, and read over some loud speaker extracts from Gravity's Rainbow. Stand up on my petty little soap box and conduct the functional madness with some Pynchonian wisdom. "...a million bureaucrats are diligently plotting death and some of them even know it..." Or, give the dicey air there a good old dose of some Hunter S. What a tour guide he would have made for this plasticene playscape.
There is now apparently a new plan to add a £90 million firearms training center that would feature a larger mock-up airport terminal and new London Underground train carriages to the facility, clearly expanding the training capacity of this place from mere urban chaos control to full-on anti-terrorism tactics, timed nicely as the 2012 London Olympics begins to climb over the horizon.
Anyway, add “Policetown” to Subtopia's tourist geography of globalized private military training battle arenas that I’d one day like to somehow visit and document in a nifty little travelers' brochure for all you itchy footed heads out there who are just as curious as I am about this strange space lurking in the world's shady corners.
[Related: Blackwater packs it up in Potrero; Tracking Blackwater in Potrero; Resisting Blackwater Sprawl; MOUT Urbanism; Peering into the Arenas of War; The "Village"; Sim Baghdad; War Room; Peripheral Milit_Urb 5; Cities Made by War; Good Buildings, Bad Buildings; A miniature city waiting for attack; War Play]