Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ghost Cities

Against my better judgment, I started reading an article in Forbes magazine based on the cover teaser headline. Normally I avoid it, along with Fortune and Money, and only take the Economist in with my critical/skeptical antennae up. Despite what looked like a credible author, all the sentences in the first two paragraphs were spin, lies and mis-statements along the lines of the current Repub/Conservative/Fox propaganda memes. The place for this is hysterical internet pages like FoxNation.com, not a periodical with some claim to expertise.

However, I did delve into an odd, thankfully apolitical story about cities that may soon go to their graves. So, having given proper credit, here's what the Grim Reaper may be currently surveying.

Mexico City has about 20 million inhabitants, and that's way too many for such a dicey geological spot. It sits on an aquifer (an ancient lake covered up, in this case) which the population is draining dry. As it collapses, the city sinks about 8" a year; in the last century, parts have sunk as much as 9 meters. Streets are collapsing and the combination rainwater/sewage tunnels are tilting backward, recently flooding 4000 homes with waste.

The probable disaster threatening Mexico City would have a social and economic impact that would affect its neighbors in very bad ways. One of our own, however, will likely just quietly disappear. Cairo sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers at the southern tip of Illinois. It is the deteriorating home to 3,632 souls, down from about 20,000 in the 1920s (its namesake in Egypt is home to about 7 million and also claims a significant river, but seems to be holding its own otherwise). The proximate cause of death is not geological, but racial conflict. Violence in the 1960s and a ten-year boycott of white businesses (there weren't any other kind) led to everything closing up and leaving. One writer called the picture (above) taken in its empty downtown "ruins porn."

Lasting 1000 years, as the original Cairo has, is no guarantee that a city will endure. Equally old, Timbuktu, the ancient caravan stop in Mali, Africa, is being strangled by advancing desertification of lands bordering the southern Sahara. The same process is encroaching on northern China and the western United States. Parts of the city are already buried in sand as dunes swallow once greener acres.

Lack of water isn't the looming problem for the urban areas of the Netherlands (one much lower than New Orleans' Ninth Ward) or Male, the capital city of the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean (hang around Just Sayin' long enough and you will clean up on Jeopardy!). There is a range of predictions, but on average it seems ocean levels will rise about two feet in this century. The average elevation of the Maldives is six feet; the city of Male's highest point is 15 feet. Will it still be safe there, after subtracting two from six? Hardly; way back in 1987 high waves did $40 million in damage. The waves aren't going to get any kinder.

This is creeping me out. I need to find some cute furry animal pictures.

1 comment:

  1. I live on high ground but close enough to the river to gather water. An earthquake could still take me out, but so could bugs. Northside was built on swamps as so many areas due to cheap land. People build on fault lines or in tornado alley or on sandy beaches. And so it goes.