Hello, wonderful readers! Today we’re changing it up from some of the travel content I’ve been posting and discussing “Urban Exploration” or “Urbanex.” Forgotten places possess an indescribable beauty and a tremendous amount of history. However, not all people seeking to discover these places appreciate history or beauty. “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints,” is a common motto among urban explorers. Vandals, on the other hand, take everything but the kitchen sink and leave nothing but ruins. Exploring is a harmless hobby, meant to discover, photograph, and memorialize abandoned places. In fact, before the dawn of social media, many explorers didn’t photograph or film their adventures. But the hobby has morphed over the years, and most explorers double as photographers or videographers. The development of social media is great because it allows explorers to share their discoveries with the rest of the world.
Vandalization is detrimental to the urban exploration community for several reasons. First and foremost, vandals ruin everything. There are endless accounts in the community about explorers returning to a spot they discovered only to find the place has been trashed. We’re not talking about quality street art here, we’re talking about crappy tags, dicks, and swastikas. We’re talking about ornate alters and stained glass windows being reduced to rubble and shards. We’re talking about broken bottles, cigarette butts, and broken chairs. These people don’t see the history, beauty, or potential in these abandoned places. All these people see is an opportunity to scream into the void. I remember watching a video by Rare Earth called “The Bay of a Thousand Names,” which is about Grama bay in Albania. In the video, Rare Earth purports that the hundreds of historical inscriptions (aka, carvings in the stone) are people’s attempts to “leave a little reminder that they existed.” I wonder if vandals are simply people trying to leave a little bit of themselves everywhere they go. Moreover, I wonder if vandals don’t want to see history in each spot for fear they will realize the fleeting insignificance of human life.
Vandalization is vanity. With every piece of wreckage left behind, vandals attempt to make themselves part of “something greater.” However, vandals rely too much on seeing their piece of the puzzle rather than how it fits into the big picture. They believe that their destruction is the “something greater,” but this philosophy is selfish. What about what others left behind? What about the people who praised in that church, or worked in that factory, or lived in that house? What about their legacy? And what about everyone else who travels to these locations? Vandals don’t care about who came before them and who will come after them. It’s all about them, and it’s all about now. They live in the moment because nothing really matters anyway. These people have looked into the void so long they are desperate to grab onto anything tangible. If nothing matters, then the only option is destruction because it makes an impact they can see.
Vandals are not the only ones who see the impact of their destruction, and their impact doesn’t end with the physical destruction of property. Urban Explorers are only able to enjoy what’s left of these places, and have rightfully adopted preservationist attitudes. Urban explorers are happy to share photos of glorious abandoned structures, but not the geographical location. Over the internet, and even in person, it’s difficult to determine a person’s intent. Explorers who were once willing to share locations have realized the ugly truth: they may be sharing a spot with a fellow explorer, or they could be signing off on a death sentence. In many cases, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Of course, there are other reasons why explorers don’t freely give out locations (after all, the hunt is part of urban exploration), but I’d wager vandals are near the top of the list.
On top of distrust within the community, vandals negative skew public perception of urban explorers. Perception is a powerful tool. There’s nothing greater than being given the benefit of doubt, but vandals leave people feeling jaded. No doubt, there are plenty of people who hate any type of trespasser. I’m not here to debate the legality of urban exploration because I’m more concerned about intention. As I mentioned previously, the end goal of exploration is discovery, and once again, vandals deprive others of that opportunity. It’s easier to explore when nobody is watching, but vandals will always draw unwanted attention. Places that were once ignored become subject to patrols. Buildings that were once accessible are boarded up and surrounded by fences. Property owners who were once lax start waving around shotguns. Explorers reap the consequences of vandalization regardless of their participation.
Urban exploration is risky enough without the added obstacles that vandals create. And what is to be gained? The only reward vandals receive is a band-aid on their existential crisis and a couple of cheap thrills. There is no meaning in their actions, yet they cause an extensive amount of damage. I know I’m not telling anybody anything new. “People suck” is a common and historical narrative; it’s part of the human condition. However, the impact is not reduced by acknowledging this trend. Vandalization erases history with indifference, and while nothing lasts forever, these places deserve a dignified death.