Abandoned Places, Ghost Towns, Urban Exploring, and Ethical Codes
Note: This post does not condone or endorse urban exploring and/or potential illegal behavior (including trespassing) associated with it.
Were you a teenage Weird NJ addict, waiting with baited breath for the latest issue full of stories describing trips to the Garden State’s wide variety of abandoned locales? Do you spend your Friday nights cruising the Abandoned Pics or Abandoned Places Twitter feeds (@AbandonedPics and @AbandonedPlaces), surfing for the latest pictures of Pripyat or the New World Shopping Mall? You’re not alone! From aesthetic beauty to historical interest to the thrill of exploring the unknown, abandoned places appeal to a wide variety of people for a wide variety of reasons.
We’ve still got some summer left, so if you’re interested in exploring abandoned places (maybe a Southwest ghost town or mall or amusement park), but are unsure of best practices and behavioral guidelines for your visit, consider checking out some codes of ethics for visiting abandoned places or for engaging in urban exploration. Codes of conduct have been developed by individual organizations or websites, such as Ghost Towns of Washington or the Legendary Ghost Towns section of Legends of America. Blogs and old forums have tackled ethical behavior at abandoned places through crowdsourcing. Additionally, Howstuffworks.com also has an interesting article entitled “What are urban explorers?” which includes a section on “The Origins and Codes of Urban Exploration.”
While none of these resources will provide you with a uniform set of ethical (or legal!) recommendations, the ethical codes they’ve developed provide some ground rules and many of these codes share similar points. The commonalities between the websites, articles, and forums listed above include not removing “souvenirs” from sites, respecting the rights of property owners, and preserving the sites for future visitors. An FAQ entitled “Is there such a thing as "urban exploration ethics"?” on Abandoned-places.com states that “the old Sierra Club 's motto ‘Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints’ very much applies to the urban exploring community.”*
In the commonalities between codes, two values are the most pronounced: respect and responsibility. Several articles on abandoned places also reference the need for respect. Respect as an underlying value is evident in the idea of respecting the rights of the homeowners, but also in the respect for others that comes from preserving the abandoned place. Many abandoned places come with rich history or represent darker periods in American (and global) history, such as the many abandoned asylums in the United States. Treating these sites with respect honors both the people affected by the sites and the history of the sites themselves. Responsibility is another value that unites many of these suggested codes, manifesting itself in ideas like self-restraint (not taking anything from sites, not entering sites that are forbidden by law) and stewardship (preserving the sites for future exploration).
While these may not be the only relevant values for exploring abandoned places, they provide the groundwork for reflection on how ethical codes for exploring abandoned places have been developed and how they may be strengthened in the future. By engaging in best practices, this may ensure that these sites are preserved for future learning, exploration, enjoyment, and can serve as reminders of our historical legacies.
Do you have any favorite abandoned places or abandoned places Twitter feeds/blogs? Let us know in the comments!
*The origins of this phrase have been the subject of much debate, it may not be the Sierra Club that originated it.