Urban explorer


John leads a double life.

As a local journalist, he writes for a living, with a byline that allows all who read his work to know it belongs to him. And then there’s the identity he keeps secret from co-workers, friends and family. As the anonymous author of Detroit Blog, John comments on area news and chronicles his adventures exploring this city’s abandoned buildings.

The anonymity, John says, helps protect him from city officials who started cracking down on urban explorers a while back. His site attracts a fair amount of attention, and John worries that he might become a target if his name were to get out. Sure, the derelict skyscrapers and other structures he explores are clearly abandoned, but entering them is still considered trespassing.

His anonymous blog also provides something his day job doesn’t: Freedom.

“The blog gives me total freedom to write what I want, how I want,” he explains. “The news writing I deal with at my regular job is strictly tailored to very limited subject matter. On the blog I can hop from topic to topic regardless of whether it makes sense to do so. And it allows me to be open and honest and not couch things in softened terms. If I want to say on the blog that the mayor is a sleazeball, I can say it, whereas that’s just not possible in mainstream news writing.”

But it is often the accounts of his urban explorations, and the photos that accompany them, that make his blog particularly compelling.

John reckons that he’s gone into almost 200 abandoned structures over the past two years, exploring skyscrapers, warehouses, factories and old apartment buildings. The blog, he says, started on a whim. He didn’t intend to dedicate so much of the blog to urban exploration, but says that since most of his spare time was spent in abandoned buildings, “It kind of worked out that way.”

“I grew up around here, and I always saw these amazing buildings. I always wanted to get in,” he says. “So one day, I tugged on a door and it opened. I couldn’t believe my luck.”

Over the years, John has developed a pretty rigorous code of conduct for exploration. He won’t remove anything other than paper from buildings, and won’t damage a building to get in. He says he’s actually left buildings sealed more tightly than he found them.

He’s had run-ins with crackheads and scavengers, and even encountered a cop once (he wasn’t arrested). There’s also the time his exit was blocked by people having sex in the room that led out of a building. He started to meet other bloggers, he says, mostly from running into people in abandoned buildings who were carrying cameras. They’d exchange e-mail addresses, he says, and over time his site became a part of the larger blogging community.

He didn’t expect his blog to garner a wide readership, but the site registers about 13,000 hits a month from people interested in seeing Detroit from his perspective.

“I love Detroit,” he says. “I love everything about Detroit. I love the deteriorating neighborhoods as much as I do the new developments in the downtown area. I think the decay is as beautiful in its own ugly way as the well-preserved buildings. I want to document them before they’re gone forever. And I’ve got to share it with someone. You can’t just keep it to yourself.”

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