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The Case for Graffiti Pier

June 26, 2014


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

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!




17 Comments leave one →
  1. Brendan permalink
    June 26, 2014 11:41 am

    I completely agree about leaving it the way it us with some TLC on top, but wondering how do you control what goes on the walls? I wouldn’t want a great piece to go up that some idiot ruins.

    • June 26, 2014 12:47 pm

      I don’t think you control what goes on the walls at all! There is already stuff on the walls, and it’s constantly evolving. That’s the nature of graffiti/street art: it’s ephemeral. Letting Graffiti Pier continue as a free space for graffiti artists to do what they like with is what keeps it exciting. You can go one day, then a month later parts of it are completely different! I love that.

    • June 26, 2014 1:11 pm

      At Hope Gallery in Austin (to which Conrad links here), there are no rules. People come from all over the world to write graffiti, some of them creating elaborate pieces that take days to complete. Over time, it regulates itself with the more impressive stuff staying up a little longer and everything eventually getting painted over. It’s actually pretty cool the way it changes completely over time.

    • thalrg permalink
      July 4, 2014 1:12 pm

      This is the nature of graffiti and street art, everything goes, and at that, everywhere. You can’t make such rules, this would only sufficate the whole thing.

  2. June 26, 2014 2:16 pm

    Definitely, definitely agree with this. We sought out Austin’s graffiti park, and it was amazing. It was a great space, there were tons of other people checking it out too. We’d be idiots to not do something like that here, in a city with such an amazing street art community.

  3. Fishtown Native permalink
    June 26, 2014 4:24 pm

    The natives of fishtown called it “Jack Greenburg’s” or “Back Jack’s.” It is where we would throw kegs when I was in high school.

  4. June 26, 2014 6:10 pm

    I guess it’s less about what the city thinks and more about what the owners of the land think. I ride mtn bike, fish, have hang outs etc out there….but, it is still illegal to be out there, though the rail company does not seek to police the area…

  5. thalrg permalink
    July 4, 2014 1:14 pm

    This is just beautiful! One of many paradises on earth. Sorry for being sentimental, but just wow..This is awesome!

  6. TrashVamp permalink
    December 23, 2014 4:30 pm

    hah. It’s kinda cool to see that some of my attempts at spraying made it on here.

  7. August 24, 2015 8:13 am

    You love this place, because you did not get mugged at gunpoint here, like others have. You’ve been warned.

  8. Gillian Plizak permalink
    July 26, 2016 9:52 pm

    As a native fishtowner, I love this place. I drink here with my friends and sometimes just come to be young and dumb. But, I don’t think this place should be cleaned up and made into a legal place to be. There have just been so many murders and its history is some what dark and I just feel like it should stay the way it is (“abandoned”). This is no place for children, even though I am only 14 myself. It’s just not one of those places where you can clean it up and add in rails so no one falls in and just forget all the murders and robberies. I believe it’s beautiful the way it is, with its dark past.

  9. May 19, 2020 4:03 pm



  1. Druf Explores Graffiti Pier At Night | Streets Dept
  2. Streets Dept’s Top Posts of 2014 | Streets Dept
  3. Eraserhood’s Goldtex Building Pays Homage to Its Abandoned/Graffitied Past, Supports Artists in the Process | Streets Dept
  4. Celebrating #StreetsDeptTurns5: An Interview With Conrad Benner | Geekadelphia
  5. We Need to Talk About Graffiti Pier | Streets Dept

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