Abandoned US

Sitting in my cousin Dan’s car driving through some lovely central Connecticut landscape, he points to something huge coming up on the right side of the car. “Look back there, you’ll see a huge building!” Just beyond the trees that line the two lane road, I see what looks like a brand new shopping mall. Only with a second glance do I notice that the futuristic structure is surrounded by overgrown weeds and unfinished parking lots. Looking in the building itself, you can see it is completely empty. “That was going to be a headquarters for one of the big mortgage lenders, until they went under” he told me. In their wake these mortgage lenders have of course laid off many people, and as an enormous reminder of their recklessness, giant never used buildings dot our landscapes.

Driving through the different sections of Newark, I notice the familiar buildings that lay empty, “FOR RENT” and “SPACE AVAILABLE” signs that have turned yellow after sitting in the window for more than a decade. Housing projects, which were never paradise by any means, lay abandoned and boarded up… I’m reminded of my visit to New Orleans, and the fenced off condemned housing projects there. One block further up on Muhammed Ali Boulevard I slow down the car as I scan a vast open construction project, what looks like a huge amount of low income housing being constructed. A few blocks away, more abandoned store fronts.

Scanning the feed from the Portuguese newspaper “O Publico” I see the headline about a German toy company that once based its factory in Portugal and moved to China in the late 90’s. The story was about their return to Portugal due to the high costs of fuel and transport of their goods from China. Being once again based in Portugal now seems more economically sound for this company, which means new jobs… or perhaps.. the return of old jobs to some community.

Abandoned buildings have long been a fact of life in much of the United States, especially in Newark. As I thought back to them, reading this story about Portugal, I began to daydream about a scenario where factories and businesses that were once based in Newark returned. Picturing the abandoned buildings, long considered an eye sore, being now seen as valuable space to set up shop. How happy the people in the new houses and the old houses alike might be. A real renaissance for places long forgotten. Or perhaps some people and places not so long ago left behind and abandoned.

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3 thoughts on “Abandoned US

  • July 15, 2008 at 12:57 pm
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    I wish that would happen Mark. Maybe I’m a pessimist, because I always see the future as an empty, desolate world with empty buildings everywhere.

  • July 15, 2008 at 4:08 pm
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    Slowly, I think it will happen, if, among many other things, we can get beyond simply turning these buildings into over-priced “luxury” lofts. Those won’t be of any help when compared to the value such spaces have as the factories, warehouses, mills, etc they once were.

    Use Google Maps to find Michigan Ave and Junction in Detroit. It’s the intersection near where I’ve been teaching.

  • July 19, 2008 at 1:35 pm
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    Mark, I highly recommend you subscribe to James Howard Kunstler’s podcast, author of “The Geography of Nowhere”:

    I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.

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