In the last two decades Urban exploration, or as the cool kids call it, Urbex has emerged as a social media phenomenon. An entire global subculture has been created out of this activity. Thousands of social media accounts, dedicated to showcasing daring teenagers hanging off of cranes or doing backflips on top of skyscrapers, further reinforce the philosophy of our age; if it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen. No single definition of what constitutes urbex exists. However, it usually involves young adults climbing to the top of buildings, usually illegally, and taking selfies. Theo Kindynis, writing for the British Journal of Criminology, defined Urbex as “the practice of researching, gaining access to and documenting forbidden, forgotten or otherwise off-limits places, including abandoned buildings, construction sites and infrastructure systems.” Carrie Mott and Susan M. Roberts, writing for the peer-reviewed journal Antipode, argue that Urban explorers tend to be young, male, and physically fit. While for most enthusiasts it is merely a hobby some have turned it into a career, acquiring lucrative sponsorships and TV deals. Recently Red Bull TV made a documentary about urbex starring some of the world’s most famous urban explorers.
Philadelphia has never been a popular Urbex destination, most likely do to its lack of tall building. However, recently that has started to change. The recent development boom in the city has not only attracted rich people from New York and DC, looking for lower rents, but also thrill seekers in search of adventure. Famous roof climbers, such as Philip Marvin, Svvvk, REYVM, and, Oleg Cricket have all recently traveled to Philly to explore its urban terrain. Despite the recent global attention Philly has been getting from the Urbex community, Philadelphians have been exploring their city for years.
Ruslan Chekanov is a Philly native who has been exploring philly’s urban terrain for years. He says he got into climbing long before Urbex was a thing. “I don’t think I ever got into Urbex. When I was little I would always climb stuff. I’d go to the playground and climb to the top of the Jungle Jim. When I got older, I got bored of climbing the Jungle Jim but I never got bored of climbing. So I started climbing buildings,” He reflects. Chekanov says he is happy about all the recent attention Philly has been getting from the urbex community. “Before it felt like I was the only one climbing because Philly just wasn’t that great for Urbex. There weren’t to many places you could climb to get a great view. Then they started building skyscrapers like crazy, Now all the famous roof climbers are coming here.” He explains. Chekanov says it’s never been a lucrative enterprise for him but that he doesn’t do it for financial gain. “I don’t make much money doing this sort of thing, I do it because I love it,” he insisted. “ Once in awhile someone will contact me on Instagram and ask me to take some pictures. But mostly I just do it for fun. It’s just something I’m passionate about, he exclaims.”
The elephant in the room has always been the practice’s legality. As fun as it all looks and as cool as the pictures are, urbex, for the most part, is illegal. Chekanov admits that what he is doing is not legal but says that he has never had any problems with law enforcement. “I not sure it’s legal but I never had any problems with the cops, never got caught, so I guess i’m doing something right,” he jokes.
Declan Ziller, another urban explorer and Philly native, says that Urbex has gotten a lot harder in recent years. “There is more security now then there was before,” he admits. Authorities are now aware of this trend and have started paying closer attention. The new Comcast building, currently under construction, has security watching it 24/7. “Before we could just climb where we like. Its different now, we can’t climb the way we used to,” he laments. However, these challenges have not intimidated the urbex community. If anything it has made the bolder. Urbex is now more popular than ever. The more the police crack down, the more challenging it gets, and the more people want to prove that they has what it takes. “I’m Not going to stop, the more security there is the more of a challenge it becomes,” Ziller insists.