Saturday, June 18, 2005

After we've gone

Trolling around the web this morning I got sidetracked from somewhere and ended up discovering Gunkanjima, in Nagasaki Prefecture.

Sometimes, when I am cycling or walking around the city here, I look at all the concrete under my feet and imagine the earth sleeping under there, waiting, waiting, to spring back to life. One day we will be gone, I think. One day those weeds growing through the cracks in the concrete will break through, and grow, and grow, and grow, because there will be nobody here to stop them. The cracks will get larger, tendrils of green will climb the buildings, the concrete will crumble, and vegetation will take over. We will be gone.

On Gunkanjima the people have been gone for thirty years. There appears to be very little green, perhaps because of the salt spray and the small size of the island, but the wind and weather have taken over.

Saiga Yuji, a photographer, is also fascinated by the decay of manmade structures, as evidenced by this photograph taken on Shijima, and particularly by Gunkanjima. Saiga has an online gallery of photographs of Gunkanjima, and they are extraordinarily evocative. He writes:

I was twenty-two when I first visited the island I had dreamed about ever since childhood. Much like a fortress built upon the sea, surrounded by high walls,the island possessed an air of a small kingdom, where its denizens boasted "There is nothing we don't have here." They were right. They did have everything within their miniature kingdom - except a cemetery. But, the irony of it was proven by the passage of time. Already, the island had been doomed to turn into an enormous graveyard.

Eventually, the mines faced an end, and in 1974 the world's once most densely populated island become totally deserted. The island, after all its inhabitants departed leaving behind their belongings, became an empty shell of a city where all its people disappeared overnight, as if by some mysterious act of God.
A more comprehensive account of the history of the island tells of the use of forced labour in the coal mine that was the island's only industry, and of the complete dependence on the people of the island on daily resources from the mainland.

the dead island of Hashima delivers a lively warning about the importance of foresight. It offers a view of the end result of "development," the fate of a community severed from Mother Earth and engaged in a way of life disconnected from its food supply. In short, Hashima is what the world will be like when we finish urbanizing and exploiting it: a ghost planet spinning through space—silent, naked, and useless.
I recommend reading this article before looking at the photographs.

How long is your city going to last? And what will it look like after it has been abandoned for thirty years?

(Addendum: There is some green on Gunkanjima. A German photographer, Juergen Specht, has a huge series of colour photographs online of Gunkanjima. Highly recommended.)

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Robert said...

Thanks for those links. We're not talking about a little old ghost town with a few shacks. There was enormous development at one time. It's hard to imagine it simply being deserted like that.

kenju said...

I'ts hard to believe that a place that well developed is now totally uninhabited and left to die like that.

Badaunt said...

Isn't it extraordinary? It's like your worst nightmares (or dreams) of urban decay come true. The whole place, just DESERTED, and so suddenly.

I was reading somewhere that there are a lot of developments from the bubble years that have been abandoned like this, but not whole communities. The deserted developments are more often recreational parks, or training facilities, things like that, built with tons of concrete in the years when there was money to throw away. They were built in remote areas, with the idea of 'developing' those areas, and with no research to find out whether they were sustainable or not.

Mary said...

Thank you for the links. It is like a bad future realized. Similar abandonments exist scattered in major US cities; to see it in a larger scale is a shock.

I liked seeing the trees and other plant life taking over. I would like to see photographs of any animal life that is there now. At least insects or birds. I believe that Mother Nature would find a way of reclaiming it.

melinama said...

This is actually happening on a smaller scale all over America. When old malls die, for instance, they often are left standing for many years. Land was so cheap for so long, people did not scruple to wreck it to put up something which would rapidly deteriorate or become obsolete. And then walk away and never look back.