Contemporary Ghosts Towns: A Photo-Essay

Contemporary Ghost Towns: A Photo-Essay


Following on from last week’s podcast, independent writer Emma Cummins continues her exploration of contemporary ghost towns through a photo-essay .  Her interest in the problematic phraseology of the term ‘ghost town’ inspired recent visits to many unfinished and unoccupied housing developments in Ireland and Spain.

The term ‘ghost town’ has been used for centuries to describe areas that residents vacated due to deindustrialization, urbanization, civil conflict, natural or man-made disasters or, most commonly today, the patterns of urban regeneration and development.  In contrast to the image of post-Fordist Detroit or a small town in America abandoned during the gold rush,  most contemporary ‘ghost towns’ never realise  their potential, in the first instance, as a site of community and economic activity.

In contemporary usage, the terms ‘ghost town’, ‘ghost estate’ and ‘ghost city’ often describe empty or unfinished buildings that proliferated in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis.  The terms imply that the developments ‘haunt’ us  and remind us of the problems of the past.  Although there are differences in approach between Spain and Ireland the search for a neoliberal solution to a neoliberal problem of ‘ghost towns’ is shared by both.  Rather than radically rethinking the workings of the housing market, the sole aim is to resuscitate a struggling construction market and continue to promote home ownership as the hallmark of a functioning, liberal society. How does the term ‘ghost town’ fit into this narrative? Is it a harmless and incidental addition to the contemporary urban lexicon?  Or does it function somehow as a means of hindering real change?

Download the essay ‘Pathological Geographies: The Materiality of the Global Financial Crisis‘ by Emma Cummins via MARA-STREAM, a digital platform hosted by the Centre for Research Architecture (CRA), Goldsmiths, University of London.