photo: Lisa Marie Patzer / University of Pennsylvania

The next iteration of Walk Around Philadelphia runs September 10 – October 3rd, and there’s multiple ways to plug in:

photo: Faustine Sun

This 10 x 10 version of the walk is split into ten segments of roughly 10 miles each, which should be a little bit more accessible than those intense ~20 mile days in snow and ice from last February.

Capacity for the organized groups is limited, so register now via Fringearts.

Participants in last week’s retreat preparing to undertake a segment of the perimeter pilgrimage…

You can also see below for a recap of the Walk Around Philadelphia experience that I facilitated for the University of Pennsylvania’s SNF Paideia Program last week – it was pretty spectacular and I was delighted to see these adventurous groups of students, faculty & staff set out to circumnavigate the city together.

Kaitlyn & Bailey help set up the space

As we prepared to host the retreat, we were fortunate to have a great team…

… and a great space thanks to the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral at 38th & Chestnut.

With a projector and some masking tape, we marked out the city’s perimeter on the floor. The light green lines here are Market St & Broad St, and the yellow splotch represents the university campus.

When you’re first arriving at college, that campus can feel like the whole world, and one hope was that this experience might put it in perspective & relationship to the vast complexity of the city…

This centerpiece on the floor set up for an ‘in-the-round- experience was of course inspired by the first Walk Around Philadelphia storytelling performance in 2016 wherein Adrienne, Ann, Sam & I recounted our circumnavigation of the city around the large floor-based map at the Philadelphia History Museum.

The Cathedral also conveniently had ten bays lit for artwork, which was perfect for our ten map segments.

(Huge thanks to Zachary Christman at Rowan University for his continued support of this project w/ mapping help and friendship through the years.)

With our maps & prompts ready, we were ready to start the retreat!

As participants arrived, they were invited to contemplate the map segments, using green stickers to mark areas on the perimeter that were familiar to them, or other areas of personal significance.

Participants began responding to the prompts…

… and this initial part of the program allowed for social time & the beginning of connections that would be reinforced through the next day’s experiences.

After the participants had their preliminary time surveying all of the maps, it was time to bring them all together…

Once assembled, I introduced the project and reviewed some of the goals and guidelines of our project, and then divided them into ten groups.

The groups had been designed such that each group included a few undergraduate fellows and one or two faculty/staff. We’d also polled the participants as to their levels of experience with a) reading maps, b) navigating public transit, and c) navigating unfamiliar terrain, and planned the groups such that each included a range of experiences that could work together.

At this point, the groups were invited to spend time together, reviewing the segment of the perimeter that they’d been assigned, and plan their morning departure logistics.

After gathering bright and early for breakfast, my group (Group 7) found our way to 30th St station to catch the regional rail to Bridesburg.

On our itinerary from Bridesburg towards Pier 68, the perimeter is pretty straightforward: it’s the middle of the Delaware river.

Our guidelines include “get as close to the perimeter as possible, within reason” and that’s where things would get interesting…

… and so we set out on our way…

… rapidly finding ourselves in industrial lands…

… finding our way through a fleet of parked trailers…

… before squeezing through some old dumpsters…

… before finding our way to our first glimpse of the river’s edge.

Photo: Lisa Marie Patzer

Meanwhile, Group 10 was navigating their way out of the airport on foot, which isn’t quite straightforward…

Photo: Lisa Marie Patzer

… and Group 8 was navigating the shipyards of the lower Delaware.

Photo: Pablo Cerdera

Quite a contrast from Group 1’s start in Cobbs Creek Park…

… or Group 6’s start at Glen Foerd on the Delaware further upstream.

Our group found our way onto an abandoned rail track that looks like it will eventually become part of the Delaware River Trail…

… but after a long hot slog along this old rail bed, we found ourselves trapped behind a fence!

… which our group of intrepid adventurers opted to wriggle their way beyond.

(Note: an operating principle of the walk is not to break into any place that is obviously off-limits. But sometimes when you find yourself trapped by bad signage and poor fence design that’s only closed on one side, well, you might find yourself having to break out!)

After that intense start in what was oppressive heat and humidity, this was a great moment for a break in the shade.

We took this opportunity to open one the first of our reflection prompts that we’d brought along. The questions posted were themed around Wellness, which is one of the Paideia program’s four pillars. (The subsequent ones being Dialogue, Citizenship & Service – all rich topics to engage with through the Walk Around Philadelphia experience.)

Photo:Eric Grau

Meanwhile, Group 9 was also baking in the heat…

Photo: Eric Grau

Having made their way across interminable expanses of parking lot to exit the Airport to the East…

(Why yes, that is my How Philly Moves mural way back there in the background… I do love that this largest piece of public art in the city is also on the perimeter, and thus my two biggest projects actually intersect in physical space…)

Photo: Eric Grau

… Group 9 set out for the long trek along Hog Island Road which circumnavigates the airport.

Only a section of the airport is in the city, and the perimeter itself cuts across the runways and is thus rather inaccessible here. Electing to go around the airport involves a bit of a detour into Tinicum Township and it’s a long hot way devoid of shade for a hot humid day like this…

Photo: Eric Grau

… but this long way along the airport allows for some sweet sights…

Photo: Eric Grau

… and refreshing glimpses of the Delaware.

While Group 9 was baking in the heat on Hog Island Road…

Photo: Steve Kocher

… Group 5 was cooling off in the Poquessing Creek!

I was delighted when I saw these images documenting this bit of adventuring, because it means that these explorers have gotten far closer to the perimeter in this segment than I ever have!

Because the Poquessing gets somewhat overgrown in the summertime and its banks are less passable than during the February editions of the Walk, I was expecting this group to simply go around via more suburban roads. I knew that everyone was diving into an adventure by signing up for this project, but I wasn’t expecting this choice… so cool!

Group 5 GPS trace

From this GPS trace, I know that Group 5 did eventually have to turn back and go back up the creek. But this kind of zigzag detour is exactly the kind of experience that is to be expected and encouraged in the walk.

( The cliché about prioritizing the journey over the destination holds true here. )

Photo: Steve Kocher

This valiant crew also found their way across the secret abandoned mystery bridge, which definitely doesn’t show up on Google Maps walking directions, but definitely exists.

Photo: Steven Chen

As they were finding their way into Benjamin Rush State Park…

Photo: Faustine Sun

Group 2 had made their way up the Manayunk Canal Trail…

Photo: Faustine Sun

… to the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education

Photo: Faustine Sun

… where a steep uphill awaited them.

(This leg of the walk is where you start to understand where the Chestnut Hill neighborhood gets its name)

By this point my group had made it through some more industrial lands…

… through some overgrown former industrial lands…

… which pretty much felt like original forest, but if you look closely there’s bricks, pavement, scrap metal and rubble below all of this…

Forging ahead through this wilderness, our group led me to a segment of the Delaware that I’d never seen before…

(even having completed the perimeter walk seven times at this point, the experience never fails to surprise…)

… we found our way to Graffiti Pier…

… where we were intercepted by the SNF Paideia program’s staffer Lisa Marie, who’d been bouncing around documenting a couple of the groups’ adventures…

Photo: Lisa Marie Patzer

… so this is where I start to show up in some of the pictures. 🙂

At this point, we’d heard a lot of lightning and the weather radar showed a big thunderstorm forming just north of us…

While we were just getting a few sprinkles, we knew that Group 6 was upstream of us and probably getting soaked…

Photo: Leah Seppanen

It turns out that they had run towards the “OPEN!” sign of a nearby fast food spot for shelter, only to find that it was open for ‘Drive Thru Only’…

… and Group 6 weren’t the only ones unsheltered from the rain…

Photo: Faustine Sun

Group 2 got soaked as they headed into Chestnut Hill…

Photo: Faustine Sun

… and still ended their day in great spirits, maybe all the better for the adventure?

My group ended up getting caught in the downpour as well…

… and maintained our great spirits right through down to Market St where the majority of the group peeled off on the train…

… leaving just Sarah and I feeling ‘completionist’ enough to push on to our original target of Pier 68, making a nice ’round 10 miles.

First note:

Sarah and I just met this day, but turns out that she lives one block east of me, and so I’ve been able to invite her and her family to our next block parties. The Walk always results in unexpected community connections…

Second note:

Being ‘completionist’ is all well and good, but the walk isn’t about covering any particular distance. You can always stop wherever you want, and in fact it’s far more important to enjoy and pay attention to whatever segment you do walk than to push yourself too hard to complete a longer segment. The perimeter isn’t going anywhere, so you can stop at any point and resume your exploration later!

And so the next day we found ourselves back at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, now with a whole different set of embodied experience in relationship to these maps…

We’d printed out some of the groups’ photographs, and so had them ready to annotate the maps.

Red dot stickers demarcated obstacles or challenges, and blue ones represented surprises or moments of beauty…

Now that we’d collectively experienced the perimeter, with its shipyards and farmyards, scrapyards and graveyards and more, we were ready to share some of our experiences with each other…

Each group took a few minutes to recount their day…

… reflecting on the unique facets of the city that we’d encountered…

… and the many many surprises that one makes when one sets out with this deceptively simple goal to Walk Around Philadelphia. This city that some of us thought we knew so well…

Gathering back together around the perimeter outline, we took some time as a large group to discuss some of the bigger issues that this project brings up:

… ecology & infrastructure, commerce & incarceration, social & environmental justice, development & decay, life & death, accessibility & privilege & more…

While reflecting on the experience through the lenses of the SNF Paideia program’s pillars of Wellness, Dialogue, Citizenship & Service, participants highlighted how the experience of the walk provided opportunities for them to learn more about themselves while forming deeper connections to each other and the city.

When I talk about this project I like to highlight how it can cultivate senses of civic pride and personal accomplishment, a rich sense of connection to place and a sense of scale / awe / humility. I also love how bonds are forged through the shared experience of navigating obstacles and setbacks, adventure and delight, and spacious time for conversation and silence through embodied practice.

I’m pretty sure that we accomplished all of this, and so I’ll call this a success and thank the SNF Paideia program for inviting me to facilitate this experience, and offer huge thanks to all of the participants who took a chance in embarking upon this adventure!

We closed out the day with a few minutes of silent contemplation, wherein we slowly walked around the space, reviewing the maps and images. Participants were given yellow dot stickers and invited to use them to mark spaces that they would like to discover next based on what they’d heard from their fellow walkers.

There were a lot of yellow dots.

As to what’s next for this project?

One of the other things that I like to talk about is finding ways to facilitate access to this unique experience for others… I’ll be working this fall w/ audio describer Nicole Sardella to pilot some experiences for folks who are blind or have low vision, but before that…

Register now for the fall Fringe version of the walk: Sept 10 – Oct 3rd!

… there’s the next version of the walk, which starts September 10th!

Join the walk via FringeArts Sept 1 – Oct 3rd!

Participants can join a group to walk one of the segments (capacity is limited, so register now!) – there’s also a “DIY / Anytime” digital version for folks who want to organize their own exploration.

And regardless of where you are or how much you’ve walked, you’re all invited to join us online on Sunday Oct 3rd at 7pm via zoom for the virtual reportback, and/or to make a contribution to support the continued development of this project.

I’ll also be selling stylin’ red Walk Around Philadelphia t-shirts to support the walk while supplies last.

(Another way to support my work is to refer new clients to my massage therapy practice which is my new earned income source now that I’ve retired from photography)

If you’ve read this far, I’m extra grateful for your time and attention – it is a gift and so are you!

Wishing you well wherever your walk takes you next,
-jj