As someone who grew up in the 1950s, the idea of progress was so ingrained into our way of thinking, that it was almost impossible to think that our way of life and standard of living could be something less than what it was. But it is a fact that middle class wealth has declined by 20% over the last 40 yrs, while the rich have become increasingly wealthy. According to recent statistical data the top 10% own over 70% of all wealth in the US. 1% owns almost 40%. The U.S. is now listed with Russia as one of the leading nations in wealth inequality.
My current series “Canal” began with a trip to the Welland Canal a couple years ago. Like nearby Hamilton, the Canal’s strategic importance made it a centre for many of Canada’s manufacturing industries. Also, like Hamilton and most of the U.S. rust belt, those industries have been hit hard over the past 30 years, losing approximately 40% of it’s manufacturing base. Growth in communities that stretch along the 30km length of the canal (pop. approx. 400,000) has declined or remained flat.
What is striking, as you travel along the canal is what you don’t see. You will see abandoned railway lines, scrubby fields, piles of gravel and wrecking yards. The towering concrete grain silos in Port Colborne are perhaps the most visible landmarks. But what you don’t see are the thousands of acres of demolished factories and contaminated brownfields, much of it permanently condemned because of prohibitive remediation costs.
Not all derelict properties remain abandoned. Hedge funds can often scoop up large holdings (avoid remediation costs or pension legacies) and restructure them into new enterprise, as was the case with Hamilton’s Stelco.
Also, industrial structures can be repurposed (a sort of reverse version of the old planned obsolescence idea). Instead of fully functional buildings being demolished because they appear dated, a company will retain or acquire old or dilapidated structures because of their inherent value.
While rural communities continue to decline, relaxed environmental and industry regulations will open up new land to large resource based projects.
With this series I wanted to suggest some of these themes - depopulated landscapes, abandoned infrastructure, cavernous buildings that are amalgamations, or structures whose purpose is unknown.