No Tresspassing: The Morality of Urban Exploring

If you have a curious or adventurous mind, you may have been drawn to that abandoned church on the corner of your street, or the old insane asylum just a short drive down the freeway. Maybe you watch too many tacky ghost TV shows and couldn’t help but admire the chaos that ensues when nature encroaches on our domain. If so, you’ve probably considered or even partaken in urban exploration. 

For the uninitiated, urban exploring is a hobby that involves going into to forgotten or abandoned buildings, either to take photos or discover things that have long since been forgotten; it essentially gives the phrase “concrete jungle” a whole new meaning. Whether drawn by the beauty that can be derived from entropy and decay, or by the adrenaline fix that comes with the inherent danger and illegality of entering an abandoned building, urban exploring can be pretty rewarding to those willing to take the risk. But while it is typically illegal, one question remains: is it wrong to partake in your own urban excursions?

To some out there the answer is undoubtedly yes. Trespassing is illegal after all, and the city fences off these locations for more legitimate reasons than to stop us from having fun. These places can still have owners, even if the property is just used for storage or hasn't found a new owner yet. On top of legality, the inherent risks involved can be as serious as they are hidden. Forget the more obvious dangers like possible falling debris, and traversing unstable infrastructure, there’s some dangers that have a larger element of surprise like asbestos, animal-droppings, gas leaks, even squatters or guard dogs have been known to be problems to explorers. The fact of the matter is, from a purely rational standpoint, the odds are stacked against you. At the very least, this is not a hobby for the faint of heart. 

But then again, is there anything inherently wrong with it?

Sure, people break and enter for vandalism or drug use or a whole host of other reasons, but that isn’t really urban exploration. UrbanExplorers.net has, written at the footmark of their site, the same unspoken rule many nature photographers adhere to: “Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.” This essentially states the level of respect you should have for abandoned locations. You should never go around breaking or defacing anything, nor should you leave your litter. You should always respect the property as you would a national park. After all, whether you want to admit it or not, a skyscraper is just as much part of nature as a bee hive. 

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It’s also important to note that urban exploration is not an inherently illegal activity. Just because a location is abandoned, doesn’t mean it’s classified as trespassing to enter. In fact, the majority of places I have had the pleasure to explore had no fences and even some unlocked doors. Liken it to my subconscious morals or me adhering to the unwritten rule; I never have brought myself to get into a location any way that involves the “breaking” aspect of “breaking and entering.” Even Sunken City and the storm drains I’ve explored have had little to nothing stopping you from exploring them. A fallen patch of fence and honest intentions of photography have earned me nothing more than warnings, though perhaps I have just been incredibly fortunate.

Following the unwritten rule shouldn’t result in any legal discourse, yet this is not always the case. Perhaps it should stay that way too. There are countless risks involved, and some people may be willing to accept them to gain the benefit of the experience. This is not a hobby for everyone, and perhaps that is the exact reason why urban exploration so exhilarating. One part beauty, one part danger, and a pinch of questionable legality: the urban explorer’s perfect cocktail. Coming from the perspective of someone who has been taking photography for a long time and considers himself an adventurous person, the most memorable shots and times in life always have some risks involved. 

Of course, there are always museums and historical sites to discover and explore the past, but going on guided tours through restored locations can't compare to the mutilated, gritty honesty decay has to offer. After urban exploring, museums can feel contrived and can be extremely limiting with endless rules. Don't get me wrong, I love visiting historical sites and would never be against restoration, but there’s still a certain magic about exploring without limitation. Discovering a little slice of our history, frozen in time since the day the last human stepped foot there can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your entire life. So maybe the laws are justified and the dangers truly extreme, and who knows, maybe they’re not. 
Regardless, those who disregard the risks involved and find enjoyment in the beauty of these hidden places know that there will never be anything wrong with some under-the-radar, hands-on exploration. 


How do you feel about Urban Exploring? Is it just over-glorified breaking and entering or is it falsely being lumped together with criminal activity when it's something different entirely. Let us know you opinion in the comments below. I'd like to know what other people's stance on this is.