World’s Top Ten Ghost Towns

April 10, 2013 No Comments

The world is increasingly populated, and we’re more used to seeing towns filling up and growing as populations rise, or people are attracted to the jobs and vibrancy of the big city. But there are towns where the opposite is true. These ghost town are home to almost no-one, though a few tough sticklers often hang on in circumstances that would drive you or me to join the exodus. Some of them were built to exploit resources that no longer exist or don’t matter any more, while others were deserted after natural – or man-made-disasters.

Yet others were built seemingly without purpose and the chances of them ever becoming real towns can seem slim. What they all have in common is the bizarre feeling, as you look over their empty streets or read the remarks from visitors, that they would make great places to film shows like The Walking Dead: places where it looks like the world has already ended. And where it’s all too easy to imagine ghosts really do walk the streets. After all, no-one else does…

Centralia, Pennsylvania, United States

Centralia was named more in hope than accuracy – it’s not even central to Pennsylvania. It’s a coal town, that blossomed after its founding in 1866 as a community for employees of the Locust Mountain Iron and Coal Company. A classic ‘company town,’ Centralia was always reliant on coal and owed its existence to the newfound ability to exploit anthracite, an unusually hard kind of coal that requires special technology to make it burn.

Unfortunately while the technology to make anthracite burn was perfected in 1831 by Dr. Frederick Gesenheimer, the technology to put it out again remains a moot point. And Centralia remains a ‘community’ of a dozen souls, so desolate that it doesn’t even have a zip code.

In 1962, the town set its municipal waste dump alight to clear the ground – though perhaps not the air – for Memorial Day. Flames spread and ignited the anthracite seam from which the town drew its reason for existence, its economic base – and on which it stands. The fire spread through the mine tunnels, igniting the ground under the homes, businesses, schools and streets of Centralia. In 1981, a hole opened up at the bottom of Todd Dobrowski’s garden and he survived only by hanging from tree roots over the eighty-foot drop until he could be rescued. Stories of pets, properties and even children falling into burning pits that suddenly yawned open in gardens and even in streets began to persuade residents that the time might be right to move, but some sticklers remain even now.

Every year they’re joined by visitors willing to share the ‘burning eyes, the taste to sulfur, and an acrid odor accompanied by headaches, lassitude, and respiratory troubles’ described by local jornalist David DeKok in his book on the town, Unseen Danger.

But Centralia’s actual population remains tiny, and locked in dispute with the state over its right to require them to leave. Meanwhile the town is still sitting on a fire that might burn indefinitely.

Pyramiden, Svalbard, Norway

Pyramiden meand ‘The Pyramid’ in Norwegian, and the town is an abandoned coalmining community, founded by Sweden in 1910. The then-thriving community, sited on the Svalbard archipelago in Norway, was sold to the Soviet Union in 1927 and consequently acquired not only a population of about 1,000, but the inevitable statue of Lenin that gives all deserted Soviet towns an air of desolate hubris lacking in their counterparts in other countries.

In July of 1998 Pyramiden was abandoned by the Russian state-owned enterprise that owned it and became a ghost town. It’s now the home of the world’s northernmost Grand piano, and the target of several investigations into the rate of decay and collapse including a major US TV series on the subject.

While Pyramiden was always tiny, its decay was due to economic forces after some major investment by the USSR in the 1940s and a second round in the 1970s and 80s. As a result many of its structures date from the 40s, while ambitious brick buildings date from the 1970s and 80s. Like many of the places in this list, Pyramiden was a single-economy town that boomed and made a significant contribution to the economy of its home country and then equally quickly was wound up. Now it’s much-visited and vandalism is a problem, with many visitors illegally entering buildings and stealing souvenirs.

Ordos, Mongolia, China

If the statues of Lenin in windswept ex-Soviet towns, deserted or not, seem to form a commentary on the places themselves, how much more so do Ordos’ public ornaments? The city, built by the People’s Republic of China in inner Mongolia, is dominated by gigantic statues of Ghengis Khan, the world’s most famous Mongol, and the entrance to the city is a decorative gate formed by two leaping horse crossing each other. It’s almost as if the designers had watched a little too much Game of Thrones…

The city was built in response to a coal rush that began about 20 years ago, when private mining companies began pouring into the green Inner Mongolian steppes and beginning both opencast and traditional tunnel mining. Suddenly, the area offered jobs and boom times, and the municipality decided to build a boom town…

But Ordos has almost always been deserted. Although many of its buildings are owned, almost nobody lives there and the streets, parks and squares, as well as the shops, are empty.

Observers say they’re looking at a bubble in property in China that threatens to engulf the PRC. Ordos isn’t alone, and while it might be the first city ever built to be constructed around Ghengis Khan Plaza, it’s far from the first empty city built to order by the Chinese government. The PRC is currently running on a model whereby the central government builds homes and sells them to small private investors. But without a strong market for the homes themselves, how long can this ghost town building boom go on?

Belchite, Aragon, Spain

Belchite is no victim of economic forces. Rather, this now-deserted Spanish hillside town is a casualty of war. In 1936 an Army General called Francisco Franco led a military uprising against Spain’s left-wing government, and Belchite was held by the Francoist forces in the ensuing civil war, one of Europe’s bloodiest conflicts.

Belchite has another unique place on this list, too. Other ghost towns are evidence of misjudgements – of accidental results of decisions, even if those decisions were as ill-advised as ‘let’s set the floor on fire.’ Belchite looks the way it does because it was deliberately left this way.

In the years after the Civil War, General Franco used forced labour made up of his enemies to reconstruct the town of Belchite. However, he made them rebuild the town next to the ruins which were to remain pristine. Belchite isn’t the ruins of a statement: the ruins are the statement.

Gary, Indiana, United States

Gary was once a thriving industrial community. It was home to the US Steel Corp. which built the town in 1906, and at its peak was home to over 200, 000 people. Just as other industrial towns across the US, from Detroit to Chicago, suffered as the 1980s downturn in manufacturing bit, Gary slumped and slumped and never recovered.

The town’s high point was extremely close to its fall. In 1956 the 10, 000 capacity Gilroy Stadium in Gleason Park was built; in 1976 it was in ruins, only seven years after hosting the city’s most famous export: the Jackson Five.

Gary is a kind of mega-ghost town – it’s really a ghost city and a reminder of whole areas of the US that were once single-economy communities – and whose economies have collapsed.

Where many of these have simply fallen apart or disappeared into the woods, Gary still has all its large public buildings: its concert halls, stadium, its cinema, and its theatre. Yet Gary is only an economic ghost town. While its centre is dilapidated families continue to live there, though 22% of its population is below the poverty line.

Eyam Plague Village, Derbyshire, United Kingdom

Eyam isn’t a ghost town, it’s a small, pretty village on a Derbyshire hillside and it still has a yearly traditional well dressing festival. But it was, in the past, both a near-ghost town and the scene of terrible natural disaster.\

Eyam in known as the ‘plague village’ in the UK. That’s not because the plague affected Eyam: the plague affected everywhere. But Eyam’s residents heroically quarantined themselves instead of fleeing, and spreading the plague by doing so. By bolting their doors Eyam’s villagers saved the villages around them from the Plague.

The village of Eyam is crowded with plaques and notices pointing to the individuals who lived and died there during the plague can make it a spooky place to visit, though it’s also very cosily attractive now.

Sesena, La Mancha, Spain

Sesena was conceived during the pre-2008 boom years as the ‘Manhattan of La Mancha,’ a development that hoped to provide 13, 000 apartments in a brand-new satellite town to house some 30, 000 people.

However, it’s now five years since work began on the project and it remains substantially unfinished, with only 5, 100 apartments built and less than a fifth of them occupied.

If Gary and Centralia point to the death that awaits single-economy towns, perhaps Sesena points to the stillbirth we can expect when that economy is housing-based.

Construction of Sesena has been halted, until a solution can be found to the problem defined by Jose Luis Alvarez Arce, head of the economics department at the University of Navara: ‘Who is going to buy these homes?’

And Sesena, like Gary and Ordos, is a type. Spain has a major problem with these developments, dating from the boom years, which were simply built on expected income from the property business. Without local or foreign investors in a mood to buy, Spain’s government has ordered the nation’s banks to set aside a ‘toxic asset fund’ to cover toxic real estate assets nationwide valued at €175bn,

Pripyat, Ukraine

Pripyat is an abandoned city in Northern Ukraine. The reason for its abandonment makes it closer to Centralia than any other town on this list: the local economy didn’t peter out, or even catch fire. It exploded.

Pripyat was built to house the workers for the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and the whole town is inside the so-called ‘zone of alienation,’ with entry or habitation forbidden due to radiation levels that killed 31 people outright and are expected to cause between 30, 000 and 60, 000 additional deaths from cancer.

Chernobyl and its environs, including Pripyat and the nearby Pripyat Amusement Park, are so severely radiation-contaminated that they’re expected to remain closed of to humans, except occasional short-term visitors, for ever. But wildlife is reclaiming the damaged city, which still stands as it was on the morning of April 27, 1986, the morning after the disaster, when evacuation began. Because evacuation was by public transport residents were permitted to take only documents and personal possessions; the busses required to evacuate 200, 000 people created a 15-mile convoy, leaving little space for a baggage train. As a result, though the area has been looted extensively, structures are still mostly extant and items such as suitcases, newspapers and even shoes and drugs at the hospital lie abandoned as they were in April 1986.

Gunkanijma, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan

Gunkanjima is a slang name, meaning ‘battleship island.’ The island’s real name is Hashima, and it lies about 15 kilometres off the coast of Japan. The slang name comes not from any military purpose the island was ever put to, but from its physical resemblance to a battleship. That in turn came about because the island was home to one of Japan’s first large-scale concrete building programs at a time when most Japanese had never seen anything but traditional architecture.

Gunkanjima holds two contradictory claims to fame. Right now, it’s a ‘forbidden island’ – one of a group of small coastal islands to which all access is forbidden. But in 1959, at its heyday, it was one of the most densely populated places in history with a density for the island of 835 people per hectare, and for the residential district of 1, 300 people per hectare.

The island began life as a coal-mining settlement, and the concrete buildings were the Mitsubishi corporation’s worker accommodation, offering protection against hurricanes. After 1960 the coal business began to wind down, and in 1974 operations ceased completely and the island was abandoned and access forbidden. Almost the only visitors in the 30 years since were the film crew and actors who went there to use it as the location for Battle Royal.

Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong, China

Kowloon is among Hong Kong’s busiest districts. And buried in the heart of Kowloon was Kowloon Walled City. In 1993, the city was torn down by joint Chinese and British intervention. So it really is a ghost city – only its memory remains.

Kowloon Walled City was built as a fortification against pirates and then occupied by Japanese troops in the Second World War. Afterwards, neither the Chinese nor the British government wanted to take responsibility for it. So no government took responsibility for it.

In a unique social experiment, Kowloon Walled City was left to its own devices for nearly 50 years. In that time, the streets became so clogged with rubbish that they were impassable and walkways were constructed for the purpose. The buildings were built upon and the process repeated until the sun was blocked out entirely and the whole area had to be illuminated with fluorescent lights. A criminal haven playing host to brothels, casinos, gangsterism and opium dens as well as sweatshops and more, the district was a bad smell ion the noses of Hong Kong’s residents in more ways than one.

Written by of Property Abroad Ltd

Tags: , European Property News, Global Property Data, International Property

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