Re: Exploring and Decoding Urban Ruins

From: Eirikur Hallgrimsson (
Date: Wed Jun 07 2000 - 21:35:59 MDT

Ever since I was young enough to come to the conclusion that the
handfuls of big granite blocks in the woods near where I grew up were
the leftovers of the pharoahs, I've been interested in such things.
The blocks date to CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) era work on the
Boston area water supply and backup reservoirs, not even the Civil
War era work for the base aquaduct system. (West of Boston)
No quarry-mark controversies there.

The thing that always strikes me about urban ruins is that they are
generally in areas where the value of the real estate is cosmic.
I'm probably seeing it wrong due to the microstructure of
desirability in the urban landscape, but it's pretty amazing--as was
wandering through Manhattan with a local woman who would periodically
say something like "I woudn't walk on that side of this street, on
this block," while having chosen to walk on this side. In general
she could not say why--she'd grown up there. I grew up in a suburb.
I can believe in microstructure, but I don't see it well.

>From my larger perspective on what's happening, abandonment makes no
sense. I know that it will turn out that the company that owned the
property as a tax loss is now held by a holding company that's being
acquired by off-shore interests intending to..... and has in some
cases just been lost, but surely that kind of thing couldn't cover
the number of cases that seem to be out there.

Ugh, my economics sense has reared its head. Pier properties and
other urban abandonments may be due to things that you can't easily
see about the site that make the cost of construction or repair
unbearable. Also, the land could be so valuable that just paying
the taxes on any improvements might mean that you would have to
charge very high rents. Like any other kind of parameter space,
there can be locations that are very hard to get into.

Nice book on the subject of what's going on when cities arise and
drain the rural areas: "Falling Apart" by Elaine Morgan (she of the
aquatic ape business, on more conventional ground here). I've always
liked Morgan. I really like her concept of urban "convection." The
more people arrive, the more people are drawn. This would run away
but density limits show up pretty fast (for example in tenement
construction technology in Roman times). I see that "Falling Apart"
is out of print. Sigh.

I love to photograph urban ruins, but it's been done to death, and I
haven't found a personal angle on it yet.


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