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Jakob Ehrensvärd | profile | all galleries >> Deurbanization in the United States tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Deurbanization in the United States

What would it all look like when we're gone? Without explicitly considering Armageddon or an abrupt extinction of mankind, the thought sometimes crosses my mind, especially when seeing complex structures, such as larger factories and cities with its various aspects of infrastructure.

Metropolitan Detroit, Michigan or Gary, Indiana is as probably as close one can get to visualizing that scary thought actually turned into reality. Blocks after blocks of decayed, abandoned, demolished and partially destroyed buildings kind of blows your mind away. Where these neighborhoods probably twenty years ago were very dangerous, full of rage and violent crime, there is more an omnipresent sense of misery and desolation. Years out on the street with drugs and alcohol, former warriors now more appear more like shadow-like zombies in their middle-ages, wandering around in delirium.

Both these cities are both scary and fascinating at the same time and the sense and it really gives perspective on modern history and how fast and violent things happen in the industrialized era. Where the steel- and automotive industries were the high-tech sectors of the early 1900s, cities like Gary and Detroit became centers of gravity in their respective industries and soaring profits created prosperity and skyscrapers formed the skyline. The boom of the 1950s did affect cities like Detroit in a opposite way as once modern factories from the boom in the early 1900s had played out their role and new modern mega-factories were built around a newly created infrastructure of highways, away from the city centers. The upper- and middle classed followed suit and moved to suburbs where newly built malls killed the business in the city centers.

What during the 1960s was intended to become de-segregation became the opposite and the phenomenon of "white flight" created a spiral downwards spinning even faster where crime and despair took over the life in the cities, accelerating the de-urbanization even further. On top of these factors, and even though a steeply increasing demand, the increased productivity and modernized processes caused layoffs and both the steel- and automotive industry became problem sectors. The time from the late 1960s and onwards have been a violent trajectory downwards. When business and citizens leave, tax income disappears and property becomes abandoned. Boarded up abandoned property without value then falls into decay and becomes a shelter for squatters. Property then gets "negative value" as it requires funds for police action and later has to be demolished. Just as if these plagued cities did not had problems enough.

A large part of what photographing abandoned environments is about is a sense of mystery, melancholy and afterthought. However, these cities gives such an overdose of destruction and misery that some of the more subtle aspects gets lost. The phenomenon of shrinking communities and deurbanization is by no means anything specific to the US, but it shows up so much more brutal here. Without explicitly or implicitly suggesting that government action is the ultimate solution to things, similar regions and cities in Europe at least show some signs of relief to the misery due to some coordinated cleanup or other initiatives. Again, no political- or ideological judgement here or claiming that using other people's money is the right thing to do when things fail, but just giving up and leaving everything in a state of despair just seems so utterly depressing and cynical in a civilized country. Maybe this is just an expression of a suppressed fear that this phenomenon will spread without anyone caring, like the message is "things come and things go". A somewhat compelling and to me disturbing fact is that the 2009 recording of "Nightmare on Elm street" was done in downtown Gary...
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Gary GPO
gallery: Gary GPO
Hotel Americana
gallery: Hotel Americana
The City Methodist Church
gallery: The City Methodist Church
Another abandoned church
gallery: Another abandoned church
Automotive industry in decline
gallery: Automotive industry in decline
Downtown decay
gallery: Downtown decay
Dixie Square Mall
gallery: Dixie Square Mall
Abandoned schools
gallery: Abandoned schools
The abandoned freemason's temple
gallery: The abandoned freemason's temple
Gary Sheraton
gallery: Gary Sheraton
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