Jonathan Cheng of the Wall Street Journal reports (2014-06-14) there’s a tour guide who specializes in taking people to experience blight-stricken, desolate places – North Korea and Cuba of course are favorite spots for viewing desolation overseas. The tour guide Christopher Graper’s favorite here at home is Buffalo NY which as a proud upstate New Yorker he says can seriously compete with the more publicized blight city Detroit.
One of his blight tourists Ivan Drucker declared to the reporter as he photographed: “I find beauty in decay.”
He must have huge photo collections of decay – abandoned strip malls, empty factory buildings, housing complexes without glass in a window, and of course vast derelict railroad terminals (see nearby.) And despite bulldozing of tens of thousands of unoccupied homes there are plenty of ghost town streets to tour in Buffalo.
The city has 70,000 abandoned buildings.
Buffalo’s population has halved on the past half century to little more than 250,000 people and of those 30% live below the poverty line. Drucker’s group toured Love Canal near Buffalo the site of a toxic waste dump that did much to launch the modern environmental movement and led to the founding of the EPA.
His favorite: Buffalo’s long abandoned insane asylum.
“”It’s like stepping into a time machine,” Drucker told the Journal.
Graper also takes tours to blighted areas of Pittsburgh, Cleveland and other ‘rust belt’ cities.
North Korea has a different kind of blight, well-kept blight: vast networks of expressways with hardly a car in sight, grand boulevards also without cars flanked by symmetrical empty buildings. In Cuba as in North Korea of course the blight tourists on official tours only get to see what the authorities want them to see.
But City Journal (Spring 2014) has a report from Michael J Totten a journalist who recently managed to evade the normal controlling escorts and see what is normally concealed – the blight underside of the communist state off the Florida coast. In “The Last Communist City: A visit to the dystopian Havana that tourists never see” he writes:
“Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami. Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic. I walked for miles through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists, though it makes up most of the city—tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke out a life in the ruins… almost everyone in Havana lives in a Detroit-style wreck, with caved-in roofs, peeling paint, and doors hanging on their hinges at odd angles.”
THOUGHT: Frederick isn’t really competitive with these places in the opportunities for big bucks blight tourism, but maybe we have enough to justify tour operators putting some of our blight on a self-guided list.
OUR OFFERING: Meet outside the Asiana mid-100 block west side of N Market, go south over the canal to Maggie’s South Market facades opposite the fire station, go east to City’s white elephant Carroll St parking station, view The coming soon Luxury Condominiums sign six years old now, then north to Frederick News-Post building, west again on E Patrick, various deserted city and county government buildings, end at remnants of North Pointe blight at 11W6th, subject of current HPC workshops.