I have lived in the city of Philadelphia for most of my life. With the exception of college, a study abroad semester, and a brief 2 and a half year stint in Virginia, I’ve found my strongest roots will always be in the city I was born and raised.
Recently I’ve had a handful of friends move to Philly and have become friends with some of their new friends. Through them, I’ve been able to gain an entirely new perspective of my city than I had before: the perspective of a newbie. Through them, I have started to go to places within the city limits I would have never gone before.
Urban Exploring isn’t new, but the hype around it is. If you haven’t heard this term before, you’re not alone. Before my friends moved here, I had never heard of it either. Urban Exploring is, in the simplest terms, going to abandoned buildings in a city and exploring them.
While doing this is a super fascinating experience, explorer be warned: it is usually illegal to be on the grounds of abandoned buildings or to break into them. But the purpose of Urban Exploring is not to destroy or vandalize- it is usually to participate in some form of art. Whether that be photography or videography, there isn’t harm being done to these buildings that are already destroyed and completely left behind. Urban Exploring is bringing a new light to the old and ignored by using the spaces for things like filming a zombie movie (we ran into this happening and boy, was it an experience!) or painting stain glass drawings onto the broken windows.
Through Facebook groups, we were able to find some great locations to scout out with instructions on different access points around the buildings. You have to be a little savvy, but most of the time if you’re carrying a camera around with you, no one is going to stop you. Some of these abandoned spots have even turned into public spaces used to express art- such as Graffiti Pier in Philadelphia that can be accessed with a short walk and is usually crowded on the weekends.
Other locations are a bit trickier and require a bit of climbing to access. As we toured through, however, one of my close friends told what he knew of the history of the building. To know we were walking on bits of history was a fascinating experience. There are often cool things lying around, like large gears or operational tools. But my favorite part of most of my tours through the abandoned corners of the city was finally getting up to the roof.
Looking at the skyline of the city from the top of a place that has been forgotten and destroyed, and standing there on top of it with a sense of awe, brought a new life to that building. Despite the original purpose of the building, the people who explore it give it a brand-new purpose and reason for existing.
So what do we take away from Urban Exploring? Maybe we just need an outlet to express ourselves and the best place to do that is on an already graffitied wall. Maybe we need some photos for a class and this is the best place to take them.
Or maybe we need a little perspective. Maybe through the exploration of the deserted, we can gain new outlooks on life, or maybe just a new outlook on the city you grew up and didn’t know as well as you once thought.