With fellow artists Ann de Forest, Sam Wend and Adrienne Mackey, I set out to discover the city that I live in by walking its full perimeter.

Originating through a Knight Foundation-funded Cross Pollination residency with Swim Pony Performing ArtsWalk Around Philadelphia began with one of the most joyous weeks of my life.

From dawn to dusk over 5.5 days in 2016, we walked 102.7 miles around the city while staying as close to the perimeter as we were able.

Walk Around Philadelphia then evolved into a narrative performance event built around the map at the Philadelphia History Museum, activating the space in a new way and drawing sold-out crowds.

In sharing our stories, we created a space for participants to connect to points on the border and to their fellow participants as they engaged with the map together.

In 2017, I undertook a second walk around the city’s perimeter as a personal pilgrimage following my father’s death, and a third in 2018.

Walking the perimeter has become a yearly tradition for me. Ann, Sam, Adrienne & I are also seeking other ways to build on this project and share this experience with others.

The Residency

Cross Pollination:

Swim Pony Performing Arts’ Cross Pollination residency pairs artists of different disciplines to spend a week working together with Swim Pony’s Artistic Director Adrienne Mackey for an open-ended creative exploration, with Swim Pony’s Artistic Associate Sam Wend joining us to document the process.

Through this framework, I was paired with writer Ann de Forest, whom I’d never met before. In preliminary meetings, many themes of interest came up including neighborhoods and stories, pilgrimages and processions, games and role reversals.

When inspiration struck, we decided on a plan that would end up incorporating all of our ideas in ways that we couldn’t have expected as we set out to walk around Philadelphia.

All the way around Philadelphia.

The Walk

The premise was simple:
walk the city’s perimeter.

Not knowing what to expect, we set out on a walk that we thought would take sixty-something miles over four days.

The complete circumnavigation of Philadelphia took us 102.7 miles over 5.5 days.

We found our way home each evening via public transit, and resumed our tour from the same location the following morning.

Along the way, we shared discoveries, encounters, conversations, silence, laughter, blisters and more.

We confirmed the accuracy of the proverb that states, “There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing,” and I am not kidding when I say that it was one of the most joyous weeks of my life.

It was an amazing way to discover the city from a new perspective, no longer focusing on the tall buildings at the center but rather encompassing the vastness of all that is held within Philadelphia’s edges.

The Performance

As our adventure around the city perimeter came to a close, we began talking about how we could share Walk Around Philadelphia with others.

While the Cross Pollination residency was technically for an open-ended creative exploration and didn’t require a finished “product”, we were inspired to share it in some sort of report-back to the community.

Partnering with the Philadelphia History Museum, whose walkable map of the city was the perfect setting for such an event, we designed a quasi-theatrical storytelling event that shared highlights and reflections from our pilgrimage while also creating exercises and opportunities for neighbors to connect through discovery of their city’s perimeter.

The free event promptly “sold out”, so we added a second night, which promptly was filled as well. An accompanying visual exhibit of photos & artifacts from the walk, connected to route markings taped on the floor, shared the experiences with the Museum’s regular visitors when we weren’t there.

We’ve since adapted our presentation to share with both college students and business executives, and would be happy to bring it to your community as well.

Solo pilgrimage

In the week following my father’s death in February 2017, I walked the city’s edge again.

I’d marked my calendar to keep a week free for another potential perimeter walk the following year after we’d completed the first one in February 2016. It had been the week after my birthday, and I thought that it might make a good period for yearly reflection.

When my father’s life came to a close suddenly on February 7th, it was an unexpected blessing that I already had an open schedule the following week, and completing a second perimeter tour on my own was a perfect way to create space to process all that had happened in the prior weeks of his illness.

On the last half-day segment, a few friends joined me to walk with me and welcome me home.

In the end, we all walk our own life paths alone, but it’s the people whose paths cross or align with ours along the way that make life worth it.

(Thanks for being here right now, joining me for this little moment of it!)

What's next?

Walk Around Philadelphia captured the city’s imagination and invited new conversations about civic space. We’d love to build on its success.

With our newfound status as perimeter-walkers, Adrienne, Ann, Sam & I are interested in discovering other cities by walking their edges.

We are also actively seeking to create infrastructure to open the walk for others here in Philly.

If you would like to partner on a perimeter project, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Contact us
Photo credits

Walk & performance documentation by Adachi Pimentel for Swim Pony Performing Arts  •  Walking through tall grasses photo by Risa Waldoks  •  All other photographs © JJ Tiziou