Disused buildings are a factor of every town and city, but entire abandoned roads are arguably the most haunting. Devoid of the purpose for which they were built and heading for destinations that may no longer exist, they are a ghostly reminder of the generations of families that once occupied their crumbling houses, or travelled them by foot and vehicle. Streets might owe their disuse to population decline, urban renewal, armed conflict or simply a lack of purpose. But whatever the reasons, abandoned roads, streets and avenues take us on a mysterious historic journey through the urban landscape.
Few places in the western world reflect the gap between rich and poor like Baltimore, Maryland. This working class port city – the biggest independent city in America – is blighted by boarded-up houses lining derelict streets. A prime example of what happens when investment dries up and factories and other job creators cease operations, vast swaths of East and West Baltimore lie in ruins.
In some areas, abandoned homes, factories and schools now shelter more drug addicts and squatters than families. Ironically the traditional row houses are architecturally appealing, but are little more than ghostly reminders of Baltimore’s proud past and symbols of its troubled present. The decline of certain neighbourhoods has prompted residents to band together in a bid to tackle problems caused by the city’s many “slumlords”.
Urban Clearance and Condemned Buildings
Not all abandoned streets suffer the appalling fate that certain areas of Baltimore have endured. Some are demolished quickly to make way for modern redevelopment, while others are cleared one house at a time until the last residents have relocated. Either way, their abandonment is shortlived before the wrecking ball rips through generations of family homes to clear the path for the inevitable apartment building or modern office.
Post war redevelopment saw numerous roads containing Victorian slum housing cleared to make way for modern living, often in brand new high rise structures where many families experienced hot water and indoor lavatories for the first time. Ironically, many of these buildings later became havens of crime and drug use, and as the first decade of the 21st century draws to a close, they too are facing demolition.
Recession and Financial Crisis
Recession has a habit of stymieing ambitious redevelopment projects, often before the first stage – site clearance – has been achieved. The financial crisis of the last two years put an end to a period of unprecedented building boom, blighting skylines with half-complete concrete skeletons, while providing vandals and vagrants with a wealth of empty buildings previously scheduled for demolition.
War and Conflict
(Image: United States Department of Defense, public domain)
Conflict is another factor contributing to abandoned streets, as entire neighbourhoods are bombed or looted, and in many cases civilians are forcibly driven from their homes. This ruined street in Mogadishu, Somalia, was known as the “Green Line”, dividing the north and south of the city and the warring clans on either side. The derelict buildings, burnt-out car and uncontrolled foliage are a sad but common factor of wartorn towns and cities.
Abandoned Streets in Fiction
Their mysterious appeal has seen abandoned streets surface regularly in fictional works, especially science fiction. Those that read Elidor by Alan Garner may remember that the protagonists entered another world via an abandoned church on Thursday Street. Set in post war Manchester, the enigmatic Victorian street was itself earmarked for clearance, echoing the sad and unfortunate connotations connected to “Thursday” in literature and pop culture.
(Images: Stephen Carter Gardens)
The images above certainly look the part, but are in fact film sets using real streets as the dystopian backdrop. Created for the film Doomsday, in which a deadly virus infects Scotland and causes the country to be walled-off by the British government, the images depict abandoned streets in Glasgow. In reality, the burnt-out car sits on a real Glasgow street, while the more elegant “abandonment” is really the City Hall in Cape Town.
Abandoned Roads and Avenues
Of course, not all abandoned roads are found in cities and many of them are not lined with equally decrepit buildings. Roads are abandoned for various reasons, such as when newer routes and improved infrastructure are developed, but also due to natural disaster, landslides and general disuse. The top road once led to the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, now a ghost town due to an underground fire that still rages to this day. (Explore Centralia here.)
Tree lined avenues are some of the most visually attractive roads, and abandonment can transform them into some of the most mysterious. Forgotten houses set back from the road, cracked pavements and tangled greenery demonstrate perfectly the battle between man and nature, and emphasise how quickly manmade structures crumble when nature is left to take its course. The infrared processing makes the images look almost dreamlike, in contrast to the gloomy appearance of most abandoned roads.