Graffiti Pier Offers Mix of Art, Grit, Fish and Swimming
If you travel up the Delaware past the failed condos south of Sugar House Casino, past Penn Treaty Park, past the PECO power station and the overgrown weed-filled lots to the north, you'll find a grouping of cars parked outside a overgrown single lane road with a chain preventing access. Park there and follow the road. You'll find a wonderfully odd amalgam of grit, grime, graffiti, and groups of people that have claimed a forgotten space as their own.
I explored this pier with Conrad Benner of the popular Streets Dept photoblog that covers street art in the city. (Check out his photos here) While there we ran into fellow photo fiddlers like ourselves, but also graffiti artists themselves, men fishing, a family picnicking and even some teenagers swimming in the Delaware. This is an unsanctioned, de-facto public space and its informality lends an interest that a curated, highly designed experience cannot.
The space IS included as "Ore Pier" in the Central Delaware Plan, with desire to keep the surrounding land as open space. Port Richmond is just beyond the wall of I-95 that cuts off these large industrial plots from the rest of the city. For now Graffiti Pier is far too north to interest significant investment. So far the only project that's come fairly close is the aborted Wynn bid to build a cookie cutter gambling palace further down the river. In 2007 some Drexel students studied the area and Brad Maule wrote about and snapped some nice photos of the site as well.
These unsanctioned spaces are rare and quite fun to explore. Long term preservation of at least the pier as an informal lab for graffiti artists to test their meddle would be great. It would continually evolve with each layer of paint and artist who comes after. In a way the pier is a metaphor for the city: a layer of built form that continually adapts to the generations that follow, despite it's original use. Let's hope its massive nature is what preserves it in the meantime. Perhaps one day we'll recognize it's value and write the pier into the park system while redeveloping the massive amount of acres surrounding the site.
Correction: This originally ran as not being part of the Central Delaware River plan. It is in fact part of the plan that you can find here.