Posts Tagged ‘Urbex’

We’re trashing the planet. Everyone gets that, right? I’ve written several posts about trash, debris, and refuse littering and orbiting the planet, one of which is arguably among my greatest hits owing to the picture below showing The Boneyard outside Tucson, Arizona. That particular scene no longer exists as those planes were long ago repurposed.

I’ve since learned that boneyards are a worldwide phenomenon (see this link) falling under the term urbex. Why re-redux? Two recent newbits attracted my attention. The first is an NPR article about Volkswagen buying back its diesel automobiles — several hundred thousand of them to the tune of over $7 billion. You remember: the ones that scandalously cheated emissions standards and ruined Volkswagen’s reputation. The article features a couple startling pictures of automobile boneyards, though the vehicles are still well within their usable life (many of them new, I surmise) rather than retired after a reasonable term. Here’s one pic:

The other newsbit is that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now as much as 16 times bigger than we thought it was — and getting bigger. Lots of news sites reported on this reassessment. This link is one. In fact, there are multiple garbage patches in the Pacific Ocean, as well as in other oceanic bodies, including the Arctic Ocean where all that sea ice used to be.

Though not specifically about trashing the planet (at least with trash), the Arctic sea ice issue looms large in my mind. Given the preponderance of land mass in the Northern Hemisphere and the Arctic’s foundational role in climate stabilization, the predicted disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic (at least in the summertime) may truly be the unrecoverable climate tipping point. I’m not a scientist and rarely recite data or studies in support of my understandings. Others handle that part of the climate change story far better than I could. However, the layperson’s explanation that makes sense to me is that, like ice floating in a glass of liquid, gradual melting and disappearance of ice keeps the surrounding liquid stable just above freezing. Once the ice is fully melted, however, the surrounding liquid warms rapidly to match ambient temperature. If the temperature of Arctic seawater rises high enough to slow or disallow reformation of winter ice, that could well be the quick, ugly end to things some of us expect.

A long while back (8 years ago), I drew attention to a curious bit of rhyming taking place in the world of architecture: the construction of skyscrapers that twist from base to top (see also here). I even suggested that one per city was needed, which seems to be slowly manifesting. Back then, the newest installment was the Infinity Tower, now fully built and known as the Cayan Tower. The doomed planned Chicago Spire has yet to get off the ground. Another incarnation of the basic twisting design is the Evolution Tower in Moscow, completed in 2014 (though I only just learned about it):


There are plenty more pics at the Skyscraper page devoted to this building.

News of this development comes to me by way of James Howard Kunstler’s Eyesore of the Month feature at his website. I draw attention to Kunstler because he is far better qualified to evaluate and judge architecture than am I, even though most of his remarks are disparagement. Kunstler and I share both aesthetic and doomer perspectives on stunt architecture, and the twisting design seems to be one faddish way to avoid the boxy, straight-line approach to supertall buildings that dominated for some fifty years. Indeed, many buildings of smaller stature now seek that same avoidance, which used to be accomplished via ornamentation but is now structural. Such designs and construction are enabled by computers, thought it remains to be seen how long maintenance and repair can be sustained in an era of diminishing financial resources. (Material resources are a different but related matter, but these days, almost no one bothers with anything without financial incentive or reward.)

When the last financial collapse occurred in 2008 (extending into 2009 with recovery since then mostly faked), lots of projects were mothballed. I note, however, that Chicago has many new projects underway, and I can only surmise that other skylines are similarly full of cranes signalling the return of multibillion-dollar construction projects aimed at the well-off. Mention of crumbling infrastructure has been ongoing for decades now. Here’s one recent example. Yet attention and funding seems to flow in the direction of projects that really do not need doing. While it might be true that the discrepancy here lies with public vs. private funding, it appears to me another case of mismanaging our own affairs by focusing too much on marquee projects while allowing dated and perhaps less attractive existing structures to decay and crumble.

The Chicago Reader has a feature article on something I have blogged about repeatedly, namely, infiltration of abandoned structures to take photographs and video(s) in the interest of documenting modern ruins and establishing an aesthetic I called “post-industrial chic.” The Reader article provides new nomenclature for this behavior and sensibility: urban exploration, or urbex for short. The article cites Detroit, Chicago, and Gary (IN) as urbex hubs, but my previous surfing around the Internet revealed plenty of other sites, including those on other continents, though perhaps none so concentrated as the American rust belt. The idea is proliferating, perhaps even faster than abandonment of structures built to house our more enterprising endeavors, with Facebook pages, Meet.Up groups, and an already defunct zine/blog/book complex called Infiltration, which is/was devoted to penetrating places where one is not supposed to be. It would be suitably ironic if Infiltration had itself been abandoned, but instead, its founder and chief instigator passed away.

It’s impossible to know what may be going on inside of the minds of those who are, by turns, documentarians, aesthetes and artists, thrill-seekers, and voyeurs. Have they pieced together the puzzle yet, using their travels to observe that so many of these crumbling structures represent the ephemeral and illusory might of our economic and technical achievements, often and unexpectedly from the Depression Era with its art deco ornamentation? Is there really beauty to be found in squalor?

Answers to those questions are not altogether apparent from urbex sources. Whereas artistic statements are de rigeur in galleries and artist’s websites, urbex purveyors tend to be uncharacteristically silent about their drive to document. There are frequent paeans to the faded, former glory of the abandoned sites, but what resonates is the suggestion of human activity and optimism no longer enjoyed but held over in the broken fibers of the structures rather than a recognition that, by not even being worth the bother of tearing down, these ruins are close reminders of our own uselessness in old age, impermanence, and mortality.

To those more doom-aware, if I can be so presumptuous, another deeper significance flows from late-modern ruins: our self-defeat. The Pyrrhic victory of human success (in demographic terms) over the rest of creation has lasted long enough to span entire lifetimes, which has been enjoyed innocently by those born at the propitious historical moment (if, indeed, they managed to survive various 20th-century genocides and wars). But for those of us born only a little later, we are already witness to the few decayed bits (thus far) of the far more expansive human-built world we will leave behind.

This fate was explored by the History Channel film Life After People, which omits the obvious reasons for our disappearance but simply leaps ahead in time to contemplate how the natural world reacts to our absence. The film, as it turns out, became the pilot for a series that appears to have run for two seasons, largely on its own recycled bits. Invented imagery of this eventuality is echoed in all manner of cinematic demolition derbies, with New York City and the White House among the most iconic locations to undergo ritual destruction for our, um, what? Enjoyment?

Surfing around the web, it’s becoming commonplace to find blogger-photographers chronicling the ongoing collapse of industrial civilization, though few characterize their subjects that way. The ruins and wrecks of past civilizations have always held a strange fascination for us, whether they be Egyptian pyramids, the Moai statues of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Stonehenge, the Roman Colosseum, the Greek Acropolis, Machu Picchu, the lost Mayan cities, or any number of others scattered through time and across the globe. The poignancy of such sights is usually the absence of people in what appear to have been thriving, bustling hubs of human activity. The plethora of modern ruins have none of the mystery of ancient archeological sites but point instead to how short-lived many of our monuments truly are and how quickly they fall into ruin. Photographing them has become a fetish, and the aesthetic is developing into post-industrial chic.

None of the links I’ve provided over the past few years have come close to Modern Ruins for the number of click-throughs. However, it’s only one of many websites offering photography of ruins: see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here. (This group doesn’t even include Flicker galleries.) No modern U.S. city can surpass Detroit, Michigan, for the sheer grandiosity of its decline and the number of sites devoted to it (see here and here and here and here and even a video here). For other examples of city-wide abandonment, pictures of Centralia, Pennsylvania (see here) and Chernobyl, Ukraine (see here) are worth a look. Two more lengthy treatments are given here on rural Japan and several bike trips across of North America, the second of which includes quite of few images and videos of the effects of heavy industry on the landscape.

Of course, many districts in many U.S. cities have the same bombed-out, abandoned look as Detroit in the wake of recent financial destruction and business collapses. While many techno-utopians and market fundamentalists believe we’re only suffering a temporary setback, doomers believe we’re seeing the early stresses of peak oil playing out. I’m in the second camp. That’s not to say that there won’t be further technological development and some temporary trend reversals, but the overall trend is almost undoubtedly more like J.H. Kunstler’s long emergency.

Living Among Refuse

Posted: July 26, 2007 in Consumerism, Culture

My perspective about the excessive level of consumption we’ve established in the modern world, especially in the West, has typically been informed by collateral issues including unsustainability, demographics gone mad, ecological destruction, commodity culture, advertising (programming, actually), and the sheer absurdity of manufacturing, buying, and consuming so much stuff, much of which we don’t need. All of these things come at a not-so-hidden cost, naturally, even while our style of consumption seems to make our lives happier and more comfortable. (I say “seems” because it’s not entirely clear or agreed upon that plenitude equates to physical, spiritual, or psychic wellbeing, either as individuals or as societies.)

I recently caught wind of a few details surrounding a further issue that threatens to overwhelm us: what to do with all the refuse we create. The “dump” or regional landfill is by now so well-established in our thinking that it hardly bears comment. Still, that’s the subject of a documentary movie called Trashed. I haven’t seen the film so can’t comment knowledgeably, but I can discern its message from viewing the trailer.

I’m really more intrigued by some of the perhaps less obvious instances of the impact and scale of our material and manufacturing processes. For instance, many of us have seen pictures of the airplane graveyard outside Tucson, Arizona, known as The Boneyard:


This image (if my research is correct) dates from 1994, when the U.S. military lined up acres of decommissioned warplanes (bombers) from the Vietnam War era to demonstrate compliance with the SALT II Treaty to Russian satellites. Those particular planes have by now been chopped up, recycled, and repurposed as, among other things, soda cans.

Another startling example is the Staten Island Ship Graveyard: