Urban and Moral Decay.

I have some serious disclosure to offer forth, and you good people will be my makeshift confessional. It’s a big responsibility, so I hope that you’ll still respect me in the morning. No matter– I’ll tell you anyway. It would only come out eventually, and perhaps in more compromising circumstances than within the benign rantings of an online journal. At least here I can hide behind pixels and filtered .jpgs, maintaining some semblance of mystery and effete pride. So here it goes.

I’m addicted to the thrill and adventure of Urban Exploration, but I have not the balls to venture forth myself and actually carry out the dangerous expeditions entailed within. Much like the study of war and psychological behaviour in combat situations, many people are fascinated by it and compelled to surround themselves with artifacts of militaria and old, dusty tomes to relive the drama and adventure from afar, but when it involves actually donning that webgear and cocking that rifle, it would take a crowbar and a jar of axle grease to pry the armchair general from the safety of the sturdy ol’ door frame.

The Internet is a blessing when it comes to things like this, and surely these brave new electronic worlds may spread the appeal of first-person shooters and adventure games dealing with historical and fantastical situations where one would rather leave the real danger and discomfort at home. The same goes with the Urban Exploration Webring. There is no claustrophobia from your Ikea desk chair. There are no guard dogs, rusty nails, broken glass, or trespassing charges. No residual Cold War-radioactivity or carcinogenic fluids waiting to splash into your mucous membranes. But there is still adrenaline, and lots of it. It’s a voyeuristic affair, really. And I’m thankful for it, and thankful to the lads and lasses more fortitudinous or foolhardy than I that are willing to risk their safety and reputations to take a closer look at the rotting, dying remnants of human civilisation and the temporal brevity with which we so blithely dance.

That’s the appeal, really. That very little of what we create lasts more than a hundred years, and much of it can barely survive half that time without constant upkeep and tender care. You can be in the middle of a teeming metropolis and there’ll be a slew of massive buildings jutting forth from its centre that are completely abandoned – completely dying – and you’d never know it. From the outside they look perfectly normal, but in fact they’re totally vacuous and stinkily rotting on the inside. They’re like tumors on the skin of the City. And one can’t help but feel a notion of remorse for them. The juxtaposition of youth and age, nurturing and abandonment is too strong, and it signals to us our own impending death and decay. It reminds us of our own eventual downfall and neglect. It’s an inevitability.

Why is that so alluring?

This empathy goes far beyond simple buildings. If humans made it and it’s dying, it makes the list. Subway tunnels, abandoned hospitals, churches, untended graveyards (decay upon decay), old military installations, and any areas of habitation slowly being reclaimed by Time and Nature. Each targeted locale is a snapshot in time, reflecting the undeniable remnants of a generation or an era, now sadly kitsch in the lens of rumination and ruination. You can tell by looking at the mouldy carpeting, the tattered wallpaper, and the crumbling decor. Language on signage and forgotten documents or photographs left behind. There are so many stories to be found within, and perhaps the foremost question on your mind when you witness these foreboding places is this:

Will someone be looking at my belongings and living space fifty years from now and wondering what I was doing, and how that space was used? Will I simply be a dusty, sundered museum exhibit to those with a keen sense of adventure and a disregard for self-preservation?

Is it anything more than Urban Anthropology? Yes, because the buildings themselves are the deceased, diseased, and dying. Humanity becomes the subtext, and the buildings themselves are the focus. The people that gave birth to these structures and nurtured them for years or decades may still be alive somewhere, or at least their descendants surely are. But the cenotaphic shells that they leave behind do not propagate or repopulate. They just rot. And some people go to pay their respects, and to ponder their own mortality as reflected in the very brick and mortar of these monumental effigies, and this is what I love about Urban Exploration.

But it’s all too much for me sometimes, and I’m quite happy to enjoy the experiences of others – and the wonders that they find within – from afar. And I don’t get splinters, or tetanus, or dogs sicced on me by contemptible, unappreciative property owners in defiance or retribution for going where one should not go. As if these places were theirs to dictate this law. That’s where usufruct comes in.

Having established this, I wanted to advocate a few virtual destinations that might help offer a better explanation than this as to what it’s all about. As well, not a few hair-raising articles may be perused, and it is henceforth up to you whether you accept or refute this hobby/sport/passion. I’ve been a deviant for years now. Do enjoy, and please watch your step.

Dark Passage
Dead Places
Northville Tunnels
Abandoned Memories
Nailhed Raven’s Photos
The Wraiths
Ohio Trespassers
Subterranea Britannica

There are tons more, of course. Most seem to be from Detroit. 🙂

In closing, I thought I’d offer a teaser of a set of corpses I’ve recently run across. Having never been in the Thames estuary, I’d had no idea they even existed, but there is no getting around the brilliance (then) and desolation (now) of what used to be the Maunsell Sea Forts. Created by the British army and navy during World War II, these artificial islands proved effective in helping to protect shipping from the threat of Axis intervention. Their history didn’t end with the war, however, as the forts enjoyed another period of inhabitation during the 1960’s when some were used as platforms for Pirate Radio shows, just outside the regulatory arm of British communications laws.

Now they are wholly abandoned, but still they rise from the sea like dead husks of military vigilance. And now they function as rusting reminders of how all things decay – even good ideas that fulfill more than one function during their short, half-a-century-lives. And yet they are still younger than many of us. Neglect is a bitch.

What was once this…

Soon became this.



18 Responses to “Urban and Moral Decay.”

  1. viscera Says:
    June 5th, 2004 at 4:55 am

    Mmm, really odd you posted this, I was just wondering whether infiltration had been updated at all recently.
    I ran with a local branch of the Cave Clan a couple of times, but it lacked a sense of something intangible to me, while the exploration itself was awesome, i've become more used to direct confrontations of the activist variety, so sneaking around corners lacks a certain something when you know there isn't a security guard or someone who really doesn't want you there around it. More off the topic of exploration, but it lacked the edginess I was used to.
    Ahh, I miss being cemented into roads sometimes.
    Perhaps if i've been fucking around in a silo I couldn't get out of without a crane it'd have been different.
    It's 5am and i'm drunk and rambling. Great post 🙂

  2. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 7th, 2004 at 10:33 pm

    As long as you're not 5am drunk urban-exploring, it's okay with me. 🙂
    I imagine the sneakiness factor might be easily outshined if you've done a slew of activist stuff. Hm…perhaps we could figure out a way to converge the two into one big, happy sport!
    Urban Exploractivism?
    Ignore me, I'm a fool…

  3. viscera Says:
    June 9th, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    As long as you're not 5am drunk urban-exploring
    Does falling into the neighbours hedge and/or rosebush count?
    And what's wrong with being a fool?!

  4. pisica Says:
    June 5th, 2004 at 5:08 am

    Have you read Jennifer Toth's The Mole People? It's about people who allegedly live in abandoned railway tunnels in NYC (though an expert on the subject pokes a lot of holes in her research). And I think there are websites about no-longer-used Underground stations. Those things are cool. Thanks for posting this stuff – I will check it out when I have more time. 🙂

  5. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 7th, 2004 at 10:35 pm

    Y'know, I heard about that once, and I think there was even some sort of documentary produced on a similar subject, but I don't know if it was also in NYC or Chicago or somewhere similar.
    I'd love to see either or both, and I will definitely look into it. Thanks for the heads-up.

  6. pisica Says:
    June 8th, 2004 at 7:17 pm

    J. has just bought a copy, so he might well be happy to lend it.

  7. grahamb Says:
    June 12th, 2004 at 2:05 am

    Re: documentary
    Might have been "dark days" <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0235327/” target=”_blank”>http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0235327/
    I would lend you my copy, but it's in storage at the moment.

  8. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 12th, 2004 at 4:59 am

    Re: documentary
    Yah, this would be the one. Thanks!
    Saw you walking past my flat earlier today with S; was gonna shout obscenities and throw some rocks, but I like you too much.

  9. zotz Says:
    June 5th, 2004 at 5:31 am

    Did you have a look at the pictures of the Barnton Quarry bunker? I think they're linked off the SubBrit site.

  10. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 7th, 2004 at 10:36 pm

    I'll check that out right away. Thanks.

  11. ubernacht Says:
    June 5th, 2004 at 8:15 am

    Oh man….those are amazing. I had no idea they every existed! They look very orcy btw…
    Let's rebuild them when you get back…

  12. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 7th, 2004 at 10:37 pm

    You bet. Just show me the Plastruct.

  13. lilitufire Says:
    June 5th, 2004 at 8:45 pm

    I hae a secret addiction to this stuff too. Barnton Quarry is pretty interesting, but sadly a no go area because of asbestos. Armchair surfing is probably safer 🙂
    The sea forts are excellent though, if a bitch to get to work from. *covets*

  14. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 7th, 2004 at 10:37 pm

    What's a little asbestos between friends?

  15. thedarkcyde Says:
    June 7th, 2004 at 2:19 am

    happy post happy post
    *cheesy grin* this is my secretpassion…… i thought i might be the only fool in america that takes interest in the death & subsequent death of architecture and the waste of humanity on a built environment that would last about 20 years….if left to the elements.
    i'm excited. you should get out there!! i do. i do stay away from danger zones tho. anyplace i might meet my death i try to take a the notes from afar.
    that's what i should do[publish a book of this work] hence i'm soooo fed up with architetcture these days and it just gets worse everyday…..<small>even though i just got a side job to do a remodel out in brentwood, near antioch.. nice house. but, i'll just make it a whole lot nicer.</small>
    *pixie dance pixie dance*

  16. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 7th, 2004 at 10:40 pm

    Re: happy post happy post
    I had no idea, darlin'.
    This makes me extremely happy, and I should have figured with your architectural background that you'd be totally interested. So where do you like to go in the Bay Area? Are we going to have to organize a little expedition?
    Ever thought of remodeling a house to make it look like it's decaying? I imagine that the market value of a place like that wouldn't be too extreme…

  17. parnasus Says:
    June 9th, 2004 at 4:42 am

    I just wanted to let you know that I am spying on you…
    Well that's what it feels like when I look at someones journal who is not on my friends list. So I always try to let people know I've been there.
    You keep popping up on comments pages on Dougygyro's journal, so I peeked.
    So now it's informed spying…

  18. FunkyPlaid Says:
    June 9th, 2004 at 8:36 am

    Re: Spying
    Aren't you just the cutest?
    It's a pleasure to meet you, and thanks for hiding behind the doorway and taking a brief look in. Do add me to your friends list if you think you can take the meandering anti-prose forever germinating within.
    And just make sure you knock before coming in after 11:00 pm or so. I tend to do strange things with cantaloupe and knitting needles…

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