It is filthy and crumbling, its foundations cracked on the faulty promise of equal opportunity. The idle, vacant factories, the abandoned homes, the burnt-out, broken-in storefronts. It’s so gritty and real… It’s another world, and I’m a born adventurer. It should be a playground for urban exploration. But I can’t bring myself to enter many of these shells…
Oh, it would be easy – the boards have already been plied away, the windows broken out, the locks forced – but I am scared witless to go in. An unknown someone has already been here. It was no historical Lincoln or long gone nineteenth century seminary student. Even the brave developers of the self-styled, Metro-branded “NoMa” (est. 2004) haven’t ventured this far up New York Avenue. Yet.
Maybe television has taught me hysterics and paranoia, instilled in me a falsely inflated fear of neighborhoods like these. But even the local police precinct has a twelve foot razor wire fence around it. And thirty six hours after my visit, a drive-by across from the “safe,” gentrified Metro stop wounds thirteen.
The people who have blazed trails into these bombed out structures weren’t here to play or make money. They were here because this is where they’ve found themselves. Looking for a quiet, relatively safe place to rest, shelter from the rain, reprieve from predators, be they in uniforms or in imaginations they can’t quite control. The people who found their way inside these buildings were almost certainly victims and survivors of one kind or another – the marginal looking for cover from the next raid. They were the poorest, the most disturbed, the most disadvantaged inhabitants of the most blighted neighborhoods in our city.
Urban exploration throws light upon the darker side of capitalism – the dimension of economic and social disparity that lets me have fun in someone else’s part of town and then go back to my cleaner, safer side before the sun goes down. It’s a dramatic enactment of the economic and social forces that govern our very divided communities. Those forces allow me to go back to my high speed internet connection in order to upload these photos as a trophy of my brave foray to the wrong side of the Amtrak.
We all have free will, sure, but so much of life still boils down to the accident of where you are born. Our system perpetuates itself. To what degree we are passengers or agents of change within that system, I don’t know… But not everyone on New York Avenue is just visiting.
1400-2000 blocks of New York Ave, NE
Abandoned Washington DC by Thomas Kenning