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Ghost towns and ghost communities, past, present, and future

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 30th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The UK's Daily Mail is featuring an interesting gallery of photos taken from modern ghost towns. Ghost towns are frequently considered to be a phenomenon of the past, but they are as prolific today as they were a century ago. As economies shift and policies change, once-thriving towns are abandoned. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Daily Mail feature is concerned with the ghost towns of northern Chile, in the Atacama Desert.  The high, dusty plains of the Atacama are excellent for preserving most anything since the desert is one of the driest regions on Earth. Several small towns are quite well preserved, even to the paint, along the arid strip of land. 

Saltpeter production gave rise to the towns in the mid 19th century, which enjoyed nearly a hundred years of production. Saltpeter was in great demand for use in gunpowder and the towns production facilities boomed until the 1930s when synthetics came into widespread use. 

The towns lingered for another few decades, but by the late 1950s, they were largely abandoned. 

Some were abandoned completely, and in a few, hardy residents cling to the past, scratching a living out of the land one way or another. 

At least one town was seized for use by the Pinochet regime as a prison camp. 

Today several of the sites are national monuments and one of them a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Ghost towns naturally occur everywhere, for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, they are small communities in outlying districts that are focused on a single industry. When that industry changes, for example the a mine is exhausted or demand drops, the town economy collapses and people leave looking for better opportunities elsewhere. 

This can even happen in urban areas. Several major cities have blighted districts which are now devoid of human activity and inhabitants because of economic woes. Although such districts are not typically considered ghost towns in the proper sense, they are very much ghost communities sometimes spanning several blocks. 

In other places, ghost towns are deliberately built. The Chinese government is notorious for expending tremendous resources to construct entire cities, then leaving those cities idle for future habitation. Across the country, there are dozens of empty cities waiting for inhabitants. Unlike many ghost towns however, they will likely be populated someday in the future. 

Ghost towns are by no means a unique phenomenon of the past, but rather a common occurrence brought about by economic, social, and environmental changes. The Chilean towns featured by the Daily Mail show what life was like for workers but decades ago in the Atacama Desert. The waiting cities in China show what life will be like in the future for Chinese workers. 

In all cases, they stand as eerie testaments to the winds of change which blow constant around the globe.


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