Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Modern Ghost Towns

In the old west a town bypassed by the railroads or that saw its silver veins peter out would just dry up. In the 21st century the causes are different but the effect is the same.

Cairo, Illinois
A hundred and fifty years ago Cairo was a mildly prosperous town of 13,000. Today less than 3,000 people live there. While the fortunes of this town on the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers suffered as railroads and automobiles lessen the flow of traffic on the rivers, the real death of the town is a matter of race. The controlling white population was dominated by the KKK. Lynchings were common. In the 1960's the town was racked by race riots and the flight, of both whites and blacks, began.

Economic Collapse
Humberstone, Chile
There is still room in this old world for the old fashioned way of ghost towning. Humberstone was built in the 19th century for mining saltpeter. But there are cheaper, more popular ways to manufacture fertilizer than digging for nitrates so the mines shut down and there was no other reason to live in that God forsaken desert. By 1970 the town was empty. I could have gone with Detroit or any of a number of Rust Belt towns.

Picher, Oklahoma
Another mining town, this one extracted lead and zinc and as you can see by the picture the mine owners didn't much care where they dumped the waste. Children loved to sled down the chat piles like they were snow drifts. Only problem was piles contained a fine dust of poisonous lead that was contaminating the groundwater as well as poisoning the children. The EPA shut down the whole town. In ten years the population dropped from 1,500 to 20. Also Centralia (coal mine fire) and Love Canal (chemical plant waste).

Kangbashi New Area, Ordos, China
In 2003, the Chinese government built a major city in Inner Mongolia, ready to house a million people. It has a massive art gallery, the world's largest shopping mall, and a state of the art sports facility. The only problem is a decided lack of actual people. The whole project has cost over $160 billion and yet only about 20,000 residents.

Pripyat, Ukraine
Twenty-six years ago the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had a catastrophic meltdown. The entire city of Pripyat, population 50,000, had to be evacuated. It is still to dangerous to live there but the Pripyat ghost town has a thriving tourism trade.

NOTE: The Fukushima disaster has been ranked by experts as the equal of Chernobyl but the Japanese government is intending on sending its citizens back into the exclusion zone to live this years. The nuclear industry is important to the Japanese economy and who can complain about a little patriotic thyroid cancer?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It figures that, in 1969, the mayor's "solution" to black protests was to issue a statement prohibiting the gathering of two or more people, all marches, and picketing. Reminds me of the Governor of Wisconsin.