Urban Exploration Project Comes to Philly

For the first time since launching its urban exploration project CityLove, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is recruiting the public to take part as they tour Philadelphia in mid-June.

"We really want people to focus on the photography and looking at these places with a new set of eyes," said Grant Stevens, the National Trust's manager of community outreach.

CityLove kicks off June 14 with a 10 a.m. private, guided excursion through the Reading Viaduct -- the future home of the Rail Park.

"What will make this tour a bit different is its focus on combining hisory, photography and social media to emphasize the power of place," said Leah Murphy, president of the Friends of the Rail Park.

Eastern State Penitentiary, the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, Beth Sholom Synagogue and Philadelphia City Hall are a few of the other places on the CityLove schedule.

The National Trust is encouraging the shutterbugs who participate to post their shots from the week-long series of iconic Philly structure tours to Twitter and Instagram, part of its effort to captalize on the power of social media.

"Hashtag shots with CityLovePHL or SavingPlaces," Stevens said. "A lot of them will be repackaged at the National Trust and shared on our blog and through our newsletters."

The setup allows the organizations to share the historical places' unique qualities with the rest of the world, while drawing attention to efforts to preserve them, added Stevens, who referred to this iteration of CityLove as a test.

"A lot will depend on how many people turn out for this one," he said.

The nonprofit will assess the Philly programming before rolling out the "digital version" of CityLove to its next location, which will be announced sometime this fall, he said.

Friends of the Rail Park are hoping for a large turnout as the social media component could help draw more supporters to the group's efforts to bring a 3-mile linear park to the city.

"Social media is such a powerful tool for cultivating a community," Murphy said. "The 'viral' aspect of information sharing among social networks...has been and will continue to be a driver in spreading awareness."

Currently the Friends of the Rail Park are working to secure the $8.6 million alloted towards their cause in the state's capital budget, Murphy said.

However the organization is also waiting on the results of a study evaluating the feasibility of the bus rapid transit line SEPTA would like to install along the same corridor.

Regardless of the study's outcome, Murphy anticipates breaking ground on the first redevelopment phase, which will convert a small section of the Reading Viaduct known as the SEPTA spur, within the next year, Murphy said.

"What is happening with the Rail Park is a really good example of how passionate people are about a particular space," Stevens said. "We find that appealing at the National Trust too."

To get in on one of the Rail Park, or any other, tour, potential participants must follow @SavingPlaces on Twitter or Instagram and then tag previous photos showcasing the best of Philly on their own accounts with #CityLovePHL. Then complete an online registration before noon on June 8.

For complete directions and a list of the various site tours, visit their website.

The National Trust will inform those who register if they were selected by June 9.

Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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