5 Modern Metropolises Primed to Become Ghost Towns
If you live in a big city, you might generally think that you’re not subject to the rough-and-tumble bits of nature more rural areas might be. You might have even moved there specifically out of a predilection for easily available sushi and generous bar hours over smelling wet dirt more than once a year. But just because you spend your days encased in what is more or less a large-scale concrete pachinko machine doesn’t mean you’re completely out of the woods, no pun intended.
Even the world’s biggest cities can still be reminded of their insignificance with a particular brusque sack-tap from Mother Nature. Whatever your influence on the global economy, if the earth’s tectonic plates decide to shift the wrong way, or a system of warm and cold air mingle in a less-than-lucky pairing, you might find yourself facing down a natural disaster regardless. The fact that, thanks to ease of transport, a lot of the world’s bigger trade centers ended up close to the coast puts them a lot closer to Atlantis status than they’d like to admit.
Here are five big cities that are one global shudder away from becoming ghost towns…
Most people who didn’t use their high school history class as naptime are aware of the unpleasant end of the city of Pompeii. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in the year 79 AD, the city of Pompeii caught an absolute faceful of ash and volcanic runoff, and many of its inhabitants suddenly became statues against their will. The name Pompeii still remains shorthand for the idea of a thriving city getting absolutely dumpstered by an unlucky natural dice roll, and the original site remains unoccupied ruins to this day.
What you might not know is that a beloved, thriving Italian city also exists in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, one that happened to draw the long straw and escape that ancient eruption with occupants’ lives intact. That’s the city of Naples, famous across the world for its contributions to pizza and tri-flavored ice cream cartons with everything but strawberry carefully scooped out. If Vesuvius was to undergo another large-scale eruption, though, there’s a chance that Naples would be the city on the receiving end, with it possibly being scorched to a crisp no matter how much gelato they had available.
Every time you wake up in the middle of the night with cottonmouth, you’re reminded just how essential water is to human life. Those blissful glugs from the jug, glass or repurposed Gatorade bottle from your nightstand are a wet blessing over your withered little tonsils. Civilizations and population centers spring up around the availability of water to the potential people within.
Now, water isn’t exactly the type of beverage most commonly associated with Las Vegas. Those generally come in yard-long souvenir glasses and end up regurgitated between sidewalk planters. Regardless, without water, the odds of Vegas’ ability to nurture a population, both permanent and transient, would dwindle dramatically. Unfortunately, the Colorado River and the reservoir of Lake Mead that quench Vegas’ thirst are drying up to a degree that it’s visible to the naked eye. You can see rings that show the water level of years past in Lake Mead, and the Colorado River itself is no longer guaranteed to reach the ocean. More years of climate change and drought and Vegas might find itself dustier than the jeans bottom of a drunk man just tossed from a strip club.
Outside of New York City, Tokyo might be the cultural image that comes to mind of a bustling metropolis, dotted with cheap street food, neon lights and humans stacked vertically like Nike boxes in the back of a Foot Locker. An interlocking mesh of residences and commerce extending deep in all directions, feeling only a couple steps away from a sci-fi backdrop, it’s a testament to the human ability to create their own landscape.
Beneath it all, though, the Earth’s holding a trump card that could at any time give it the last laugh: a massive fault line. Reminding us all that you can build as many skyscrapers and office spaces as you want, their proximity to a place where two tectonic plates meet can still decide if it all comes literally crashing down. Tokyoites, deep down, know just how much destructive power is sitting and shifting beneath them. They’re already attempting to plan and prepare for what feels like the inevitable, but they also likely know that even the best-laid plans can only mitigate (at best) what would be one of the world’s biggest disasters.
Ironic for a city known for people obsessed about their day-to-day health, L.A. lives under a constant existential shadow of destruction. Not only does it also famously exist on the San Andreas fault, exposing it to constant danger of serious earthquakes, it somehow exists in the contradictory push-pull dangers of too much and too little water. On one hand, the same sort of droughts that threaten Vegas also threaten Southern California, with the added danger of wildfires from the vegetation that’s lacking in the Nevada desert. On the other hand, there’s the possibility of the whole city just, you know, being underwater at some point.
Making top 10 lists of cities for potential natural disasters isn’t exactly the sort of buzz Hollywood is built on. It also takes a little of the sheen off the glitz of the City of Angels when you know the city’s history is riddled with enough natural disasters to provide local websites with listicle fodder. On the bright side, if and when the shit finally hits the fan, everybody there will have a phenomenally stylish pair of sunglasses to slowly lower while witnessing disaster.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Now, Jackson Hole isn’t exactly what you’d call a metropolis. In fact, the natural beauty and majesty is kind of the whole selling point. The strange thing, though, is that, for a mountain town, it’s filled with a preposterously large percentage of the world’s richest people come vacation time. It’s also only a couple dozen miles from Yellowstone National Park, under which resides a supervolcano. If that supervolcano were to erupt during tourist season, although it might not make for the visual spectacle of a metropolis in ruin, it could suddenly torch the people behind huge chunks of the American economy. Which would be a bad thing, I think.