A Collection of Abandoned Cities and Suburbias

The term ‘ghost town’ conjures haunting images of abandoned buildings from another era, empty streets and personal possessions that never began. From the Unites States to China, these images capture the eery reminder of a possible future (or past civilisation) abruptly ended. Their abandonments have occurred through various means of natural or manmade disasters, war, economic or financial loss, a failing industry or inadequate planning.

Mojave Desert City, located in California:

The 1950s and 1960s represents an ambitious era for developers. In 1958 developer, Nat Mendelsohn purchased 80,000 acres (320 sq km) of land in the Mojave Desert. Today, the Majave Desert City is an empty mirage of suburbia; a “failed utopia” that was intended to rival Los Angeles.

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Mendelsohn designed, developed and named a vast network of streets to support a city to rival Los Angeles. Mendelsohn’s dream faded quickly and though California City is the third-largest city by area in California, it is home to just 14,000 people who live in the south west corner of the city. Soon it may no longer be a ghost town, Atlasobscura notes it is currently the 12th fastest growing city in California.

Lehigh Acres, located in Florida: 

Lehigh Acres also began in the 1950s and remained empty until the housing boom hit Florida. Lehigh Acres was founded in 1958 when Chicago businessman Lee Ratner needed a tax shelter. He had sold his pest control business, and he faced the possibility of losing most of his earnings to high capital gain tax.

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Ratner bought and began developing 18,000 acres (73 km²) in Florida. Lehigh Acres boomed in 2003 but crashed once again by 2007. 90% of Lehigh Acres remains vacant, many of the homes are foreclosed and sit empty or incomplete. In 2011 Lehigh Acres was named one of the “World’s Eeriest Abandoned Places” by Travel + Leisure magazine.

Rotonda Sands, located in Florida

Rot0nda Sands is another failed development in Florida and feels like “a kind of architectural mausoleum or a bombed-out city,” according to Ransom Riggs of Mentalfloss.


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Founded in the 1960s, the Rotonda Sands is a mile in diameter and shaped like a circle. 3/4’s of the circle currently remains incomplete or vacant. Roads, fire hydrants and even street signs await its future population.

Environa, located in Australia: 

The city of broken dreams is not just an American phenomena. Established in 1924, Environa located in NSW, Australia was the vision of Henry Ferdinand Halloran.

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A stone entry arch was constructed as well as roads, ornamental pillars and bandstands, but the Great Depression put the awaiting city indefinitely on hold. No housing plots were ever sold.

Pripyat, located in Ukraine:

The above cities capture economic failure, Pripyat however, captures evacuation through man-made disaster. Pripyat was established in 1970 however in 1986 an explosion from the Chernobyl nuclear power station released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. From 1986 to 2000 over 350,400 residents were evacuated and resettled, a new city called Slavutich was constructed specifically to replace and rehouse many residents. 

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During the accident 31 people died while the long-term effects of cancers and deformities are still being accounted for. Residents took nothing and so the city to this day remains frozen, capturing the moment in time when tragedy stuck. 

Sewell, located in Chile:

Cities throughout history have also been established for industry and may subsequently become abandoned when that industry dies out, the most common are mining cities that are evacuated when the mine is exhausted of resources. Sewell, located in Chile perches on a peak in the Andes Mountains. Nicknamed “The City of Stairs,” the layout was inaccessible by vehicle.

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The town containing houses, hospitals, service departments, playgrounds, plazas, shops and social venues was founded in 1904. By 1920 15,000 residents occupied Sewell, by 1977 most residents had evacuated and large parts of the town were demolished. In 1998 the Chilean Government declared Sewell a National Monument. The UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site in 2006. Today remaining buildings are filled with sand. 

Villa Epecuen, located in Argentina:

Other towns vanish through natural climatic conditions, the Villa Epecuén was a tourist village located in the Buenos Aires Province of Argentina. The town was built on the shores of Lago Epecuén, a lake with salt levels 10 times higher than the ocean and was well known for its therapeutic power. 

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To support the demand of tourism, Villa Epecuén reached a permanent population of 5,000 in 1970. In 1985 a long lasting wet weather condition caused an enormous volume of water to instantly submerge the town under 1.2 meters of water, over the years to follow the town became fully submerged under 10 metres of salty ocean water. In 2009, the water began to recede. Today the city is covered in salt and has a lonely population of 1; 81-year-old Pablo Novak.

Kowloon Walled City, located in China:

Other cities remain perpetually incomplete. The Kowloon Walled City was a densely populated, largely ungoverned settlement in New KowloonHong Kong. The history of the city can be traced back to the Song Dynasty (960–1279), when an outpost was established to protect against pirates. By 1987 the city had a dense population of 33,000 residents. 

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Over time the city became the most dense city in the world and degraded into a “city of sin”, devoid of government or law. Floors were constructed on top of buildings until they reached over ten stories, and residents created a labyrinth of stairs and walkways above the street that enabled them to travel from one end of the city to the other without ever touching ground. Eventually, natural light could not penetrate street level. The city was demolished and replaced with a park in 1993.

Burning Man; the temporary “Black Rock City”, located in the Nevada Desert:

Imagine a city with a population of  70,000 in the middle of the Nevada desert that is assembled and dissembled within a week, only to be reassembled the following year. Burning Man is truly a perpetually unfinished city, though many designers regard it as a paradigm for urban planning.

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The “Black Rock City” is organised in concentric circles, which are renamed each year in alphabetical order. These rings are bisected by radials that align with the numbers on a clock, making it simple to explain your location.

The Phantom City, located in New York:

Ironically, when you google the term “unfinished cities,” many of the resulting sites discuss New York City. How could such a thriving metropolis feel unfinished? The Museum of the Phantom City app for the iPhone depicts “the city that never was but could have been,” according to co-founder Irene Cheng, sort of an alternate future.

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An interesting interpretation of the “unfinished city”, the Museum of the Phantom City is a interesting public art project that allows individuals to browse the visionary designs for New York city on their computer or iPhone. Users can checkout images and descriptions of projects including Buckminster Fuller’s dome over midtown Manhattan or Archigram’s pop-futurist, “Walking City.”



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