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  • We live in an increasingly urban world. Busy lives on busy streets, the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

  • But imagine, if suddenly everything stopped. The homes suddenly empty, and everything was abandoned.

  • Throughout history, there have been hundreds of ghost towns, places abandoned for a range of reasons.

  • In many instances, abandonment is rapid and locations transform abruptly from being live and 'in the present' to being dead and 'in the past', leaving behind broken but recognisable remnants of life, and often a pervading sense of melancholy.

  • The abandonment of towns is nothing new.

  • Remnants of human presence have inspired artists and poets dating back to ancient times, whether romanticized or dreaded, our fascination with ghost towns carries on to this day, creating a subculture of 'dark tourism'.

  • Traveling to these abandoned sites can take on the significance of a pilgrimage, especially where a location is associated with death.

  • Travel agents offer day trips to Chernobyl. For some, the opportunity to witness the aftermath of a nuclear disaster is too tempting to resist.

  • Visitors also flock to Epecuen in Argentina, a town semi-submerged after the dam above it broke in 1985.

  • There are many other reasons why towns are suddenly abandoned, one of them is war.

  • In June, 1944, the Waffen-SS murdered the entire population of Oradour-sur-Glane in occupied France, a total of 642 men, women and children.

  • The ruined streets and homes have remained untouched ever since: a memorial to the dead.

  • On the other side of the Channel, in the autumn of 1943, as Britain prepared for D-Day, the residents of Imber, in Wiltshire, were told that they had mere weeks to leave their homes as the Ministry of Defense needed places for troop training and target practice.

  • Residents assumed that they'd be able to return to their homes after the war, but in fact the Ministry of Defense retained the village. Imber is still used to this day for urban warfare training.

  • Not all ghost towns have such violent histories.

  • All over the world, practicalities such as clean water, electricity and transport led to the displacement of thousands of people who sacrificed their homes, schools and businesses to enable other cities to thrive.

  • The village of Capel Celyn, in Wales, was controversially vacated and then flooded in 1965 to provide a water reservoir for the city of Liverpool.

  • The action was, and still is, deeply resented by nationalists in Wales, furious that a Welsh community paid such a high price for England's gain.

  • At times, ghost towns represent a cautionary tale. A reminder of how humanity's own actions have also created a legacy of uninhabitable landscapes.

  • Abandoned mining towns like Gilman, Colorado, heavily mined for silver, lead and zinc since the late 1800s, then ordered to vacate in 1984, due to toxic pollutants that contaminated the groundwater. To this day, Gilman remains unsafe and off limits to the public.

  • Climate change too presents an existential threat to the populations of some towns and cities: flood, wildfires, weather and erosion cause people to have to abandon their homes all over the world.

  • The ancient civilisation of Harappa on the Indus River Valley was possibly a victim of climate change around 1800 BCE, when it was abandoned due to the disruption of river systems.

  • Today, the Welsh village of Fairbourne is facing an uncertain future. Built on the coast in the mid-19th Century, a large part of the village sits below sea level.

  • With levels rising due to climate change, defending the village is no longer sustainable.

  • The residents of Fairbourne are in danger of becoming among the first UK citizens to be displaced by climate change.

  • Are we witnessing the early days of a new ghost town?

  • What is the dark magic of ghost towns?

  • Is it because they lure us, they invite us to briefly visit our own demise? Or is it the thrill of experiencing a dystopian landscape we're familiar with from books and films?

  • Nobody in these abandoned communities expected that this would happen to them.

  • Our lives, homes and cities seem so permanent, it's frightening to realize we're largely powerless to prevent forces acting at scale.

  • Perhaps we're drawn to these ghost towns for a very simple and intimate reason: for the opportunity to imagine, "What if this happened to me?"

We live in an increasingly urban world. Busy lives on busy streets, the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

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Why are we so fascinated by ghost towns? | BBC Ideas

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    Summer posted on 2021/09/16
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