The Case for Graffiti Pier
Put simply: I LOVE this place – and one look at these photos of Graffiti Pier will tell you that many, many other Philadelphians do as well! So, why aren’t we doing more to support wonderfully organic space uses like this?
Not unlike most ‘abandoned’ places I’ve seen in Philly, Graffiti Pier has also become a bit of a mecca for graffiti artists and photographers alike. I use ‘abandoned’ in quotes only because it’s quite clear that people have not abandoned these spaces, but in fact people have found new uses for spaces abandoned by our city’s old industries.
I’d love for Philly to not only allow for more spontaneously occurring Free Walls, like the walls of Graffiti Pier, but for the city to encourage and support their growth. In my mind, spaces like Graffiti Pier are perfect opportunities for the city to cultivate a naturally existing culture. (A culture, it deserves to be mentioned, some cities would kill to have – and we have it in abundance!) An artistic one at that. And one flourishing in spaces that have otherwise been abandoned by Industrial Era businesses.
Philly has a bit of a history of making the wrong decisions when it comes to recognizing how its citizens use spaces too. Namely, the ban on skating in Love Park.
In the early 2000s, after more than a decade of ‘illegal’ skateboarding in Love Park, and after Love Park had become an outright mecca in skateboarding culture – even becoming an entire level in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, among other games – the city pushed skaters out with redesigned benches, buffers to make skating all but impossible, and steep fines to those who even tried.
Even Edmund Bacon, one of the park’s original designers, was “so impressed with the skateboarders’ ability to find a new use for the space he designed, that at age 92, Bacon skated in LOVE Park in protest of the crackdown.” –via 99percentinvisible.org
Could Love Park have continued to grow as a destination for skateboarders the world over? What kind of impact would that have had on our economy? While we can’t go back in time, we can certainly learn from this clearly missed opportunity when considering how we as a city embrace public spaces moving forward.
Austin’s Graffiti Park is a great example of a city embracing local culture to its own benefit. A naturally occurring graffiti Free Wall in Austin, the space was supported by the city as well as dedicated private investors, and it is now one of Austin’s most visited attractions! Undoubtedly bringing in a ton of money to the local economy.
Graffiti Pier is a chance for Philly to embrace a burgeoning local culture. It’s not 1971 anymore – people by-and-large love graffiti. Younger people love graffiti. People who travel love graffiti. And a huge number of Philadelphians love graffiti. Hell, there were at least 5 other photographers out shooting Graffiti Pier when I was out taking these photos.
This is a beloved art form for many. And, lucky for us, we have tons of it! Now, let’s support it in spaces like Graffiti Pier. It’s a win for the city: people are organically investing in spaces that have otherwise been left abandoned. It’s a win for graffiti artists, who seem to be getting buffed quite a lot recently. And it’s a win for people like me, people who love graffiti and who will travel to go see it in spaces like this – in all its glory. And if you’re not sold on that last point, maybe you should ask Austin how they feel about their Graffiti Park.
How can the city support Graffiti Pier? Well first, leave the damn graffiti alone! Perhaps help to clean up the grounds a bit; add some rails so that kids can’t fall into the water. But otherwise, just let it be!