Often touted as one of (if not) the greatest countries in the world, we can’t say this objectively about the United States, but it certainly is one of the most interesting nations on the planet. The success of the country is impossible to deny, looking at events like the moon landing (oh wait, they faked that, right?), and the fact that even the poorest in the country are, in many cases, morbidly obese. Sure, it is because of garbage food, but when a country creates enough wealth that even people on the brink of homelessness are breaking scales, something has gone right.
What started out as a rebellion against England turned into one of the greatest superpowers human history has ever known. And today, we see a deeply divided country (possibly the most divided it has ever been in its own history, but that’s a debatable claim), that some are suggesting is teetering on the brink of a civil war.
Much of this conflict comes down to economic struggle, poverty, and what the U.S. government should do about this issue. Looking at many neighborhoods throughout the United States, one would think things are going just fine (and for many people, things are just peachy). Most areas, even the ones that aren’t doing as well as they have in the past, are still inhabited and even pleasant. Other areas are downright beautiful, but many parts of the country are falling apart, in many cases due to urban decay and economically hard times.
While the United States does have cities and neighborhoods that exemplify affluence, charm, and wealth, it also has the polar opposite—places with crumbling buildings, overgrown vegetation, abject poverty, and destroyed infrastructure. While it is not the norm, there are some neighborhoods throughout the United States that look like third world countries. Here are fifteen of these neighborhoods.
15. City Airport, Detroit
We thought it fitting to show one of the most widely known of America’s devastated cities first. Nearly everyone has heard the tales of Detroit’s gradual decline and of course, the recent plummet that started in the mid 2000’s. Around 1900, Detroit was a small manufacturing center. With the invention and subsequent popularity of the automobile, Detroit grew in population from about a quarter of a million in 1900, to just under 1,900,000 by the start of the ’50s. In the 1950’s and ’60s, downtown Detroit’s decline started, as the suburban areas were becoming developed and people and their jobs began to move there.
The riots of 1967 are commonly considered a “final straw” turning point at which everyone with the means to do so began to leave the city. The mass exodus continued through the ’70s and ’80s and fast-forward to 2013, the city declared bankruptcy. These days, entire neighborhoods sit empty, and while money has been poured into the city to try to make it livable and attractive again, several neighborhoods are now overgrown, dilapidated wastelands. Years ago, there was a house in this picture. As of today, it is pretty much a vacant lot with some trash and building material.
14. Birmingham, Alabama
There are many other parts of Alabama that aren’t looking so hot these days, but Birmingham is an interesting case of a formerly beautiful city that has suffered the effects of decay, with families moving to the outlying suburban areas and those left in the downtown part of the city are left with crumbling neighborhoods, crime, and unemployment. With a bit of work, many neighborhoods, like the one in the photo, might actually look nice and be fairly livable, but there simply isn’t that much interest or money available to foster any kind of serious rebuilding effort. The inner city of Birmingham has been on a steady slope downward since the 1970’s when the industrial and railroad-related businesses that used to support that part of the city went elsewhere.
Year to year, the city remains one of the most dangerous in the United States, with violent crime rates significantly higher than the national average. Recent initiatives to start restoring parts of Birmingham have begun, but the progress is slow.
13. Camden, New Jersey
We’ll see over the course of this article that what happened in Detroit was not specific to that city, and while every major manufacturing and industrial area to descend into a state of decay has different circumstances, there are often similarities. Camden, New Jersey’s boom started in the early 1900’s, growing from about 20,000 people in 1870 to about 115,000 in 1920. The population continued to grow between 1920 and 1950, as factories for companies such as Campbell’s Soup and New York Shipbuilding (just for a few examples among many) set up shop and flourished for decades. Between 1950 and the early ’80s, the number of manufacturing jobs went down over 75%. Today, the population is around 75,000 and the city has been one of the most crime-ridden areas in the country for decades.
There are several indications that the city may be in for a brighter future, as the Philadelphia 76’ers NBA team opened a training facility in the city, and Subaru has said that their new American headquarters will be located in the city. While these are promising events, there is a lot to be done to turn this city into a state of prosperity.
12. Eads Elementary School, Outside Memphis, Tennessee
While we can clearly see that this is an elementary school, if those words were taken off the front of it, this could be a dilapidated building just about anywhere, and possibly somewhere in an impoverished third world country. Today, Eads is an unincorporated area, but some of it is loosely governed by the city of Memphis. There isn’t much there, but this old school is standing, and according to some who have seen first hand, their hardwood floors are the only part of the place that are still in decent repair (oddly enough), and the desks and chairs are all still sitting in the same place they were when children took classes there. The building was used as a local medical clinic for some time, but no longer has any purpose. This is not unique by any means, as there are countless ghost towns and abandoned buildings throughout the United States that have seen better days.
11. Gary, Indiana
Long gone are the days of the steel industry, which was what made Gary a booming city from 1910, when the population was just above 15,000, until 1960 and 1970, when the population was relatively steady at just over 175,000. When the plants started closing their doors, the city steadily lost tens of thousands of people through subsequent decades, and currently sits at under half of that 1970 number. For much of the 1990’s, Gary held the unfortunate name of “murder capital of the United States.” While conditions have somewhat improved, much of the city is still in a dreadful state of disrepair and much of the population lives below or near the poverty line, and it remains one of the most dangerous cities in the country.
10. Perlman Street, Baltimore
When you enter a neighborhood and think “gee, that sure is a lot of plywood,” it is never a good sign. There was probably a time, far in the past, during which this would have been a lovely little street where people could live. If the sidewalks were cleaned, the houses had windows and doors, and were given a quick once-over with a pressure washer, the only thing missing would be front years, but you can’t win ’em all. If you missed the news in the past couple of years, even the parts of Baltimore that are “doing well” (all things are relative, of course) had some significant riots.
9. Cleveland, Ohio
There may have been some improvement to this under-bridge area of Cleveland since this picture was taken, as we believe it is from the late 2000’s. Remember that theme song for The Drew Carey Show, back in the ’90s? Well, the show sucked and so do some parts of Cleveland. There are obviously plenty of livable and even very nice neighborhoods, but there are still some areas in which a kid playing with a BB gun can be shot and killed by a cop without so much as a word between the two. In this picture, along with the decades-old car and debris all over the place, there are also graffiti on top of graffiti (and not the nice kind of artistic graffiti), the garbage painted haphazardly by kids with no artistic inclinations whatsoever.
Like a few areas on this list, however, the news is not all bad about Cleveland, and while there are some neighborhoods that are absolutely dangerous, much of the city has been able to maintain a respectable level of affluence.
8. West Oakland
Oakland has come a long way from what it once was as a whole. But that doesn’t apply to the entire city. In the case of this house and the land on which it stands, the only thing that looks like a “developed world” about it is the architecture, in that the house does look like the kind of style typical in the United States. Other than that, however, it looks like this house and the entire neighborhood was abandoned in a big, big hurry.
Oakland’s decline really hit a problematic level in the 1980’s, when crack showed up in full force. West Oakland was particularly bad, and while it remains a rough place, things are getting better these days. Gang-related crimes have become a major target for local law enforcement in the last 20 years, but this part of the city still has a terrible reputation that doesn’t seem headed anywhere soon.
7. Fuller Park, Chicago
There are a few terrible areas of Chicago, and while the city has a vibrant history and remains a great spot for many people, there are certain neighborhoods into which nobody should venture. People have been fleeing this area of the city since the 1950’s and these days, there are an estimated 2,500 people in the area. Most people in Fuller Park live under the poverty line, and over 40% are unemployed. For several years, this neighborhood has been considered Chicago’s most dangerous. And out of the roughly 2,500 people still brave enough to live there, the percentage of them who become victims of crimes in a year is over 10%. Garbage is everywhere, the roads are a crumbling mess, and of course, the derelict buildings are rotting inside and out.
6. St. Petersburg, Florida
St. Petersburg is a city of great contrast, much like several of the cities in this article. On one hand, it remains a retirement destination and is a beautiful place to live, but these praiseworthy traits only extend to certain areas. Others are absolute death traps. The city is among the most violent cities in Florida, and has many neighborhoods that look like they belong in a movie about a civil war in some far-off nation. The picture above is of an unidentified building in St. Petersburg, which is likely unidentified because whoever took the shot was likely too apprehensive to walk up and knock on the door.
5. McDougall-Hunt, Detroit
Our first entry was near Detroit’s airport, but we decided to look to McDougall-Hunt in the east of the city for this shot. Once probably a nice, quaint street in a decent neighborhood, these houses in the lower east region of the city have long been abandoned and are an example of former domiciles that are little more than skeletons of homes. There is no telling how long that trash has sat there, what used to likely be a patio or small lawn area is now overgrown, and what windows that were not boarded up have been broken. Streets like this are common in Detroit, and frankly, they look like a scene from the Fallout video game series which tells the story of a post-nuclear war United States. In this case, however, there was no apocalyptic war, just a changing economy that outran a once-great city.
4. Baltimore, Maryland
We featured a shot of a street in Baltimore earlier on this list, but the level of decay, much like that in Detroit, warranted another look. The only thing that isn’t about to collapse in this picture is the fence around what once looked like a park. Boarded-up windows, missing doors, or boarded-up doorways, and of course, garbage and pieces of these crumbling buildings are everywhere. Like many of the cities on our list, Baltimore has had a funding problem for a long time, and while the city is in a state of massive disrepair, there has been very little money to either demolish these buildings or fix them up. So they have remained unkempt. And as we said, while there are initiatives underway, many areas will continue to sit, as they have, for some time.
3. Flint, Michigan
If you’ve followed the career of filmmaker Michael Moore or follow national news at all, you’ve likely heard some stories about Flint. It has endured financially hard times for several decades now, and in the past couple of years, things have gotten even worse as the water has caused residents lead poisoning. This crisis has not yet been dealt with.
The city’s roots date back to the mid 1800’s. And by the turn of that century, the city was booming and would become known as “Vehicle City” due to it’s manufacturing sector. The city had a population of almost 200,000 at its peak, but was unable to maintain relevance as a hub for General Motors once the company started downsizing its local work force. In the latter half of the 20th century, Flint spiraled into a decaying mess and remains that way to this day. Like several other cities on our list, there are entire neighborhoods with boarded-up windows and dilapidated houses throughout the city. While the graffiti on the house was likely meant to be humorous, such a joke about human sacrifices is a small glimpse into how dire the situation is in Flint.
2. Pagedale (St. Louis), Missouri
Pagedale is a small town in St. Louis County, Missouri with a population of just over 3,000 people. It is a short drive from the city of St. Louis, and despite being a growing suburb back in the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, the town has been losing people and jobs ever since. One of the largest employers in the town for many years was a Unilever plant, pictured above. But that closed back in the ’90s, leaving hundreds of people out of work. Other businesses in the area followed suit. Today, that Unilever facility looks like some abandoned industrial site in the third world, with trash all over the place, the building itself falling apart, and of course, the entire area being completely overgrown.
The local government of this same town came under some scrutiny in the past couple of years for levying massive fines against local citizens for tiny infractions, including hedges that are too high, and having mismatched blinds on the front of one’s house.
1. East St. Louis, Illinois
This shot was taken a few years ago (the exact date is uncertain), but still offers a perfect representation of what much of east St. Louis, Illinois looks like in many areas. The city, situated right on the Mississippi River across from St. Louis, Missouri, has suffered rapid decay to a level almost unseen even in many other severely impacted cities. This is just one of many large buildings throughout the city that are, quite literally, falling apart. The city is down to a third of the population than it was back in the 1950’s, and there are entire city blocks that look like this—just an abandoned wasteland with rapidly deteriorating buildings.