Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When cities die

Years ago, I was reading the ice climber Will Gadd's blog. Will had a post linking to photos of Detroit where nature was reclaiming parts of the city where people had basically left. I was so impressed by the photos I wrote a brief post myself linking to the same material. That was in 2007; since then I think the emptiness and devastation of parts of Detroit has become quite well known. I've even seen it used as a back story on some cop show where one of the "urban explorer" got bumped off for reasons I no longer recall. I remember hearing that some in Detroit are really quite annoyed now about the stream of journos and photographers who arrive from around the world to see the 'ruins' of a city where I suppose many hundreds of thousands do still live.

Anyway, today's Slate Culture Gabfest discussed a recent piece in the NYT Magazine called "Jungleland" on what's left of the 'Lower Ninth' in New Orleans. Slate hadn't got all their links up when I first checked out their show page, so I just went to Google Earth to get some idea of where the Lower Ninth is and looks like (I've never been to New Orleans). On the satellite imagery things look quite normal from some way above: lots of houses are visible, some parks etc. It just looks like many other spacious spread out American suburbs. But going to Google Maps and using Streetview, the desolation of the area is starkly apparent. Many of those roofs visible from above are on abandoned and derelict houses. Some people have rebuilt and are living there, but most of the houses were simply washed away, some of the inhabitants with them, and there's just scrub and rubbish left behind.
View Larger Map This is 2403 Flood Street, I've chosen it completely by random after clicking up and down various roads in the district. Spin around using streetview and you'll see the one little white house there, shiny and new with what looks like a wheelchair ramp outside, and then its surrounded by something that is going back towards wilderness, but as the Slate discussion revealed - its not even 'natural' wilderness, as the area is becoming dominated by mono-cultures of invasive species.

It is one of the saddest things I've ever seen.

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