Have you guys ever been to Camden, NJ?
I drove through downtown Camden accidentally one night while trying to find my way back to my hotel. I have been in some sketchy places in my life, but nothing shook me like driving through Camden. I will never forget it, and I have been fascinated by it ever since. It's astounding to me that an American city would even be allowed to decay to that degree. The buildings are all old, made of bricks, and crumbling. They've haphazardly crumbled to nothing, so there are big holes on every block, but the buildings that are still standing are largely in awful shape. It is the most desolate and forsaken place I've ever seen, and yet people still live there.
I didn't take any pictures that night; I didn't think it was a good idea to stop, much less aim a camera at anyone or anything. I know I sound like a shrinking violet here; trust me, I am not, and it takes a lot to actually scare me, although I know enough to go on high alert when I'm places where I should really be paying attention. Oldtown Camden is pretty extreme--and I didn't even know about its murder-capital reputation until after my accidental venture. Not to mention, it seemed terribly rude and intrusive to even think of taking pictures; poverty is not a tourist's novelty. Anyway, when I google for pictures of Camden streets I almost never see any pictures with people in them. The worst parts of Camden all look abandoned in pictures, but believe me, they are not. There were lots of people hanging out on the streets and stoops of these boarded-up houses in the dark. I only saw an occasional electric light; it seemed like a lot of dwellings were occupied by squatters, but that's just an impression.
In this picture, for instance, you'd think that the buildings were abandoned, if only because of the broken windows in a place with harsh winters. But many houses that aren't completely boarded up are occupied. The streets I drove down looked just like this and there were people hanging out all over the place.http://www.flickr.com/photos/thepingoin/3496709609/in/pool-86359966@N00
And here's an example of house in decent shape on a block that used to be full of similar houses. Everything else has crumbled and it's the only one standing, but at least the others have been cleared away.http://www.flickr.com/photos/thepingoin/3531440755/in/pool-86359966@N00
And this one's for sale:http://www.dvrbs.com/Camden-Streets/WW2-H-Binnix-ARL-2013.jpg
I was googling for pictures this morning and found this really cool site:http://www.dvrbs.com/Camden-Streets/CamdenNJ-Streets.htm
It lists the streets of Camden, and most streets have their own page consisting of address-by-address street pictures, obits, ads and stories from newspapers, names and sometimes pictures of people who lived at the houses, etc. What a cool history project! Many of the current pictures of the buildings are from firefighting sites, which is a whole 'nother internet neighborhood I'd never visited.
If I had unlimited funds and time, one thing I'd love to do would be a street-by-street history project like that Streets of Camden site. San Francisco would be fun, impossible and overwhelming, but at least it's been here a while so it would have some interesting history. (Did you know that SF's population went from 500 in 1847 to 25,000 in 1849 due to the gold rush? And that there were nearly 350,000 people living in SF by 1900, which is just less than half of the current population? And that even though we have less than 800,000 residents now we're still the 13th largest city in the US?) But east coast cities would probably have much richer history. In fact, I think EVERY town should have a Streets of Camden-style history site. In my perfect world, every town would appoint a historian to maintain the project, and most of us would know a bit about the history of the people who had occupied our homes before us. Maybe if we had a greater sense of history it would help connect us to each other in a way that our society is rapidly leaving behind.