On Sundays, Gothamist runs opinion pieces on issues relevant to life in New York. The views expressed below are solely those of the author.

gothamist.jpgOne of the things that Gothamist publisher Bluejake and I have in common is a love of urbanity. It’s not so much the clubs, and the businesses, and the Beautiful People. We look for the alleys, and the graffiti, and the urban decay.

Jake’s primary focus is street art and, more broadly, street culture. I go a step further into the darkness. I am an Urban Explorer. Urban Exploration can be—incorrectly—defined as simple breaking and entering. In actuality, it is the hobby of going into empty buildings, discarded spaces, abandoned edifices. I call it the Archaeology of the Now. It’s about seeing things that once had meaning but are now forgotten, and lost. There’s a bleakness to standing inside an old factory that holds a great aesthetic appeal, knowing that it was once a thriving place where people worked and created. And now, it simply is. Or in another sense, it isn’t. When buildings lose their purpose it’s like they have died. Usually when a building dies I consider it a worse tragedy than when a person does, since building are meant to live forever. But sometimes this is not the case, and it wasn’t the case this past August when a man by the odd epithet of Ninjalicious left us.

It is not a name that most people would know, but within the UE community Ninjalicious was the Prime Mover, a pioneer among neo-pioneers. It is perhaps appropriate that a subculture dedicated to things hidden in plain view should be led by a man who so few outsiders had heard of. He started Infiltration in 1996. Its tagline, “The Zine About Going Places You’re Not Supposed to Go”, sums up the UE worldview succinctly. This was before blogs, and the internet, and the 300,000+ Google hits for Urban Exploration.

Authority figures see UE as trespassing, and putting oneself into danger for no gain. But like a subtle painting, it takes a certain mindset in the viewer to appreciate that which he is seeing. One doesn’t need to climb a fence or sneak past a guard to get a sense of what Ninjalicious wrote about. A trip into a rotting neighborhood can be like entering Narnia. Looking at a crumbling brownstone is entering a time machine. Walking past a gutted structure of brick and broken glass tells a story. It’s there if you just take a moment to see.

Ninjalicious’ book, Access All Areas, has just been released. I wince every time I glance at the back cover, to read that “He lives in Toronto.” He was only 32 years old when he passed. This to me isn’t just tragic; it is simply unfair. It is further unfair that he will never receive the reactions of people to this superb work. “From what I’ve seen, people who don’t use the law as a substitute for their own moral compass tend to develop stronger consciences and greater self-discipline simply through greater use,” he writes. A casual observation, and yet profound.

Jeff—his real name—wasn’t famous by any means. But if I had ever had the pleasure of meeting him, I would have been struck with awe. I would have taken a moment to step back and admire this man who brought an entire movement into being. I’ll never have the chance to meet him, but I’m still taking that moment now.

Michael Malice is the Libertine Director of Outreach for The Jinx Project, NY's premiere UE group.