Philadelphia “Dead Space” Nomination: Exploring Graffiti Pier

by Zachary Roumaya

Along the Delaware River in the Port Richmond section of North Philadelphia, Pier 18 stands unused and brightly covered in vast murals of street art and graffiti. A destination for street writers, local inhabitants, fishermen and hikers, the area has been lovingly dubbed as Graffiti Pier.

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According to this Philly Mag article, the property has been owned by rail service provider, Conrail, since the mid-1970s. The pier is not used for any industrial purpose and has been left in the hands of the people. That being said—it is technically illegal to trespass, but that doesn’t stop people from visiting because the pier has almost no security guards or police activity.

Part of the draw of Graffiti Pier is in the name. Street artists have a wide selection of untouched canvas to use and, due to the lack of surveillance, an almost unlimited amount of time. Commonly referred to as “tags,” each design is a calling card of a different artist. The tags themselves run the spectrum from common street art to highly involved murals that tell personal stories. The intricacies of some of them reflect the raw talent behind graffiti artists.

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On any given day, Graffiti Pier is visited by all kinds of urbanites of almost every age. Those who use the pier are there for various reasons. From stopping to fish in a very quiet setting, to people just trying to enjoy the nature or look for a cool place to have a drink, the pier itself offers a lot. On top of the concrete skeleton, the view of the Delaware River is picturesque. The sides even have a small pocket of trees and trails.

The combination of abandoned urban property and nature is there for the taking. All it needs is a bit of positive attention from the public, but sometimes, open spaces that are left completely in the hands of the public can be harmful. Case in point, Graffiti Pier is littered with waste. Abandoned property, paint cans and beer bottles make up the majority of the area that is spotted with ash circles of old fires. There are also apparent spaces where homeless people have set up semi-permanent camps.

graffitipier5Most find the grittiness of the pier to be a large portion of its charm. You can go there to do a number of things and not be bothered. Graffiti Pier is a safe bet for an interesting time and some low-risk urban exploration.

One could say, the fact that this place does have a bit of a wild side makes it a true “Philly” spot to go and explore. I would agree. My only advice is to be smart about venturing out there after dark. Otherwise, have fun and enjoy exploring!

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